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Army Chief of Staff, ex-defense minister differ

Liberia’s Army Chief of Staff Major General Prince Charles Johnson, III, and immediate past Defense Minister defendant Brownie J. Samukai have provided differing answers to prosecutors’ question that sought to establish who were the beneficiaries to a compulsory saving funds that was dependent on deducting soldiers’ salaries.

Testifying Tuesday, 17 March as prosecutors’ rebuttal witness, the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), Gen. Johnson said [the saving] was for those who contributed to the funds, in response to the State’s question if “only those who contributed to that account under the arrangement are to be the [beneficiaries].

The prosecution says it brought in Gen. Johnson as rebuttal witness on account of former Minister Samukai’s earlier testimony given on Tuesday, 10 March in which he explained that the State was not correct when asked if only those who contributed to the account were the beneficiaries.

“No. You are not correct, I as Minister of Defense as a principal officer accountable to the Commander in Chief, took actions that were evolving and subject to the authority of the Commander in Chief, took action as authorized,” former Minister Samukai had said.
But in his rebuttal testimony Tuesday concerning who were beneficiaries of the funds, Gen. Johnson said “It was for those who contributed to the funds.”

Further, Gen. Johnson testifies that to the best of his knowledge, the account was established as pension account for retirement and death of personnel.

But former Minister Samukai had testified earlier that the account was established to complete welfare challenges facing the AFL, including death and other purposes as authorized to the benefit of the AFL.

Former Defense Minister Samukai, former Deputy Defense Minister Joseph Johnson and former Defense Ministry Comptroller NyumahDorbor are on trial for allegedly embezzling funds generated in the compulsory saving scheme established in July 2009 for AFL personnel during former President Ellen Johnson – Sirleaf’s rule.

The officials were indicted on 9 October 2019, accusing them of committing economic sabotage, theft of property, and misuse of public money, among others.

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Through the compulsory savings funds, prosecutors here alleged that Mr. Samukai, Mr. Johnson and Mr. Dorbor deducted the salaries of AFL officers from all ranks to serve as supplementary pension benefits for assistance to wounded soldiers and deceased soldiers’ families.

Over US$1.2m of the US$1.9m deposited was allegedly misapplied by Mr. Samukai, the prosecution alleges, and claims further that the defendants made themselves the only signatories to the account, leaving out the then AFL Chief of Staff and other ranking officers.

Meanwhile defense officials have testified that President Weah and former President Sirleaf held talks over the soldiers’ savings during the period of transition in January 2018, and that President Weah had committed his government to pay back the money.

Following Gen. Johnson’s testimony on direct and cross examinations Tuesday, the prosecution and the defense rested with the production of oral and documentary evidence in the case.
The Judge has assigned the next hearing of the case to Thursday, 19 March at 9 A.M., during which the two parties will provide their final argument.By Winston W. Parley

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