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Court permits video in ex-defense minister’s trial

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Criminal Court “C” Judge Yamie Quiqui Gbeisay on Tuesday, 25 February permitted prosecutors to introduce demonstrative video evidence in the trial of former Defense Minister Brownie Samukai and two other former officials of the ministry over the alleged misapplication of money deducted from soldiers’ salaries as compulsory saving for pension.

Prosecutors introduced the video evidence which they say shows then Minister Samukai holding a press conference so as to ascertain from their second subpoenaed witness – the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), Major General Prince Charles Johnson what he recognized the instrument to be.

In allowing the use of the video evidence, Judge Gbeisay says to play the video does not prejudice the defendants in that the defense will also have an opportunity to view and cross examine the witness.

The introduction of video evidence in the trial came Tuesday following Gen. Johnson’s testimony before the court that a halt was put to the monthly deduction from AFL personnel’s pay and there was a press conference called by the Minister of Defense at the time.
The witness identified the video in court, saying: “The video was the press conference that [preceded] the investigation and the action after … the investigation.”

According to Gen. Johnson, there had been a roadblock and dependents of AFL personnel from the Edward Benyan Kesselly Barracks (EBK) had gone on a protest which was later quiet down by retired AFL Chief of Staff, now Defense Minister Daniel D. Ziankahn.

Following the protest by the AFL personnel’s dependents, Gen. Johnson narrates that the AFL decided to form a committee to do a report that had to go to the Chief of Staff.

Former Defense Minister Brownie Samukai, co-defendants Joseph P. Johnson and J. Nyumah Dorbor and others are standing trial for allegedly embezzling funds generated in a compulsory saving scheme established in July 2009 for AFL personnel during Mrs. Sirleaf’s rule.

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

Through the compulsory savings funds, prosecutors here allege that former Minister Samukai, former Deputy Defense Minister Joseph Johnson and former Defense Ministry Comptroller Nyumah 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.

In his testimony, Gen. Johnson recalls that around October 2017, his boss Minister Ziakahn [who was at the time, Army Chief of Staff], received a letter addressed to the Manager of ECOBANK under the signature of former Deputy Minister Johnson about the change of the name of the AFL pension account to the AFL Morale and Welfare Account.
He says Minister Ziankahn decided that he (Gen. Johnson) should work along with Deputy Minister Johnson.

Gen. Johnson recalls that during talks with the then Minister of Defense, his first point was why change the account’s name, adding that he was told that the need was the way “we been operating with this account, it cannot be pension but rather we should go for Morale and Welfare.”

He says he suggested to Ziankahn that they must be given an account statement to know what had been happening with the account, given that the two of them were about to be put on as signatories to the account.

“The statement was provided later by Kennedy Sackie who was the internal auditor at the Ministry of Defense. In that account statement, it had a total around 688,964.92 in November. In December, we got a new statement that also carries 711,000.00. so we affixed out signatures and I signed as “B,” that was like three months of the transition …,” he explains.By Winston W. Parley