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Court reserves decision on Milton Weeks

Criminal Court “C” Judge Peter W. Gbenewelleh reserves ruling into prosecution’s efforts to uproot from the trial, lawyers defending indicted former Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) Executive Governor Milton Weeks and to disqualify a bail bond filed for his release by an official heading a state – owned corporation.

In a motion filed before the court, the prosecution claims there is a conflict of interest that arises when National Social Security and Welfare Corporation (NASSCORP) boss Dewitt vonBallmoos and his wife Rhonda proffer a surety for Mr. Weeks’ release because Mr. vonBallmoos is an official of the government that is prosecuting the indictee.

Further, the prosecution notes that Weeks’ lawyers from the Heritage Partners and Associate (HPA) are equally conflicted because the law firm has a retainer contract with state – owned Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) and are paid by taxpayers’ money for the legal advice and other services they render the LRA.

Mr. Weeks and the son of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Charles E. Sirleaf, also a former Deputy CBL Governor are on trial along with Mr. Dorbor Hagba, CBL Director for Banking; Mr. Richard H. Walker, Director for Operations and Mr. Joseph Dennis, Deputy Director for Internal Audit in relation to their alleged roles in Liberia’s LRD$16 billion scandal.

From the legal calculation provided by law to justify and provide sufficiency of bond value, the County Attorney Cllr. Martin says it [the bond value] seems to have been in the tune of USD$1,673,735.44 plus LRD$5,290,000,000.

The ex-officials have been indicted for multiple charges, including economic sabotage, criminal conspiracy and criminal facilitation following their arrests for their alleged roles in the billions of Liberian dollars scandal.

The Presidential Investigative Team (PIT) set up by President George Manneh Weah found that the CBL reported receiving a total of LRD$15,506,000,000 from its contracted firm Crane Currency AB, but analysis of the packing list submitted by the CBL to PIT actually reveals that 18,151,000,000 was printed and shipped by the firm.

The ex-officials are expected to account for an excess amount of LRD$2,645,000,000 which the indictment indicates that the indictees had no authority to print and infuse into the Liberian market.

The LRA through its internal counsel on Monday, 27 May submitted to the court a retainer contract between it (LRA) and the HPA in honor of a subpoena by the Criminal Court “C”.
The government’s lawyers say the criminal appearance bond filed in favor of defendant Weeks has a title deed in the name of NASSCORP boss Mr. vonBallmos and his wife.

Further, they indicate that conflict arises where the LRA which is government – owned, is paying HPA for legal advice and other services being rendered, but the same law firm is using its precious time, energy and resources to defend someone that is being prosecuted by government, undermining government’s war on graft, abuse and massive corruption.

On the basis of these observations, prosecution wants the court to strike vonBallmos and his wife’s bond proffered for Mr. Weeks.The State says “it is the practice and procedure” here that once in government, “a public official is barred from holding any contrary opinion or engaging in any conduct that will undermine any action, decision or public policy by the government of Liberia.”

Montserrado County Attorney Edwin K. Martin says the Government through LRA is a client to HPA, adding that the law firm cannot go to court against government interest to defend a person being prosecuted particularly in an economic sabotage case.According to him, the retainer contract between HPA and LRA extends to June 2019, saying the law firm is in breach of the code of professional ethics.

As for Mr. vonBallmoos, Cllr. Martins indicates that the official is in breach of the Code of Conduct by proferring his deed to bail a private citizen that has been charged by government.

Liberia’s Solicitor General – designate Cllr. Saymah Syrenius Cephas believes that Mr. vonBallmoos wants to embarrass the government by taking his personal property to aid the legal defense of a private citizen against government.

On the contrary, defendant Weeks’ lawyers argue that neither HPA nor the “vonBallmoos” is conflicted in the case because none of them has any interest to the government of Liberia that conflicts with their interest in securing bail or ensuring the successful defense of defendant Weeks.

Besides, Mr. Weeks’ counsels insist that the government’s exceptions to the qualification of one of Weeks’ sureties and his legal representation by the HPA is barred by statute because it was filed outside of the three days required in Section 63.5 (1) Subsection 1 & 2 of the Liberian Code of Law Revised.

Before Mr. Weeks’ indictment, the HPA argues that it has been representing him at all stages of the investigation before the Presidential Investigation Team (PIT) held at the Liberia National Police (LNP) headquarters, the Monrovia City Court and subsequently filed bond on his behalf at Court “C” without prosecution’s objection.

In response to prosecution’s assertion that HPA is conflicted because it has contract with LRA and it also represents Mr. Weeks, defense lawyer Cllr. Abrahim Sillah says LRA is separate from the government.

He says like GSM companies Lonestar MTN and Orange Liberia, LRA employees are not covered by civil service laws, therefore any labor related disputes held by its employees are taken to the Ministry of Labour but not the Civil Service Agency.

He emphasizes that the LRA Act of 2013 says employees of LRA “shall not be deemed civil servants,” making the entity from from other government institutions.

Further touching on Mr. vonBallmoos and his wife’s bond for Mr. Weeks, Cllr. Sillah insists that the entity which the surety heads, NASSCORP, is also separate from government just as LRA and other corporate institutions here.

Cllr. Sillah says government has no connection to Mr. vonBallmoos’ property that he has proffered as surety.

Given prosecution’s argument, Cllr. Sillah fears that government will be telling officials here tomorrow that once they are in government, they cannot lease their properties to opposition.

He suggests that the current government has not removed Mr. vonBallmoos from office he occupies because he is serving a five – year tenure. By Winston W. Parley–Editing by Jonathan Browne

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