Even Ellen couldn’t save Samukai
-Supreme Court nominee tells Senators
By Winston W. Parley
President George Manneh Weah’s Supreme Court nominee Judge Yamie Quiqui Gbeisay says even if former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf had testified, it would not have changed former Defense Minister Brownie Samukai’s conviction.
Gbeisay presided over a trial at Criminal Court “C” when Samukai, Joseph P. Johnson, and James Nyumah Dorkor were found guilty in 2021 of misapplying US$1,147,656.35 of Armed Force of Liberia (AFL) soldiers’ private money.
“But in my interpretation of the law, even [if] the president had appeared to testify, I would have still ruled as I did,” said Judge Gbeisay.
He faced a Senate confirmation hearing Monday, 24 October 2022 following his nomination by President Weah to serve as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.
In responding to a question posed by Lofa County Senator Joseph K. Jallah, Judge Gbeisay began by saying he did not know why he was being hunted by Mr. Samukai.
Senator Jallah, a counselor-at-law, won a by-election held this year in Lofa County after Samukai was disallowed to occupy the senatorial seat because he had been convicted in a criminal trial last year.
Judge Gbeisay told Senator Jallah and the Senate Committee on Judiciary that the issue was “did the president of Liberia have [the] authority to order the use of that money?”
In answering this himself, the nominee explained that he knows by law that the president did not have the authority to order the use of private money.
“President nowhere in the world is allowed to use private money, and that money was private money because it was deducted from each soldier’s salary based on their rank and placed in an escrow for a specific purpose,” said Judge Gbeisay.
He added that if you do it for any reason other than that, it is a form of misapplication of entrusted property.
He said Samukai did not deny it, but all he said was that the president ordered the use of the money.
But the judge contended if a president is allowed to use private money, tomorrow the president could order the use of Senators’ or their families’ money.
Moreover, he stated that in Samukai’s trial, former President Johnson-Sirleaf never appeared in court to testify to her order.
Judge Gbeisay argued that presidents elected all over the world in democratic societies use money that is budgeted, and that’s why lawmakers pass a budget every year.
The Supreme Court nominee told Senators that the money in question was deducted from soldiers’ salaries and placed in an escrow account for three purposes written in the bank statement.
According to Judge Gbeisay, the three purposes were when a soldier died, when a soldier was sick, or when a soldier retired.
“But the record clearly showed that instead of using that money for that purpose, it was used for different [reasons] including the uniform, death benefits, including sending people abroad,” said Judge Gbeisay.
Gbeisay narrated that he was in a different jurisdiction when Samukia was indicted, but the matter appeared before him when he took an assignment in Montserrado County.
He said the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) paraded witnesses and documentary evidence against Mr. Samukai.
He argued that Samukai was represented by a lawyer, and he did testify in the trial.
Judge Gbeissay stated that when Mr. Samukai took the witness stand, he did not deny the allegation, instead, he justified it.
“He didn’t say no, I didn’t take the money; he didn’t say no, I didn’t use it. He said, ‘I used it on the order of the president, and that the present government is also aware of it’”, said Judge Gbeisay.
Samukai won the 2020 senatorial by-election in Lofa County, but he was prevented from taking a seat at the Liberian Senate because he had been found guilty in a criminal trial relating to the soldiers’ private money.
That decision led to another by-election being held which Senator Jallah won this year. In 2020, Mr. Samukai and his two Defense Officials were indicted for theft of property, criminal conspiracy, and economic sabotage, among others.
The AFL private pension fund was established in July 2009 and used to deduct portions of serving officers’ salaries and placed it in an escrow account with the understanding of using it when they are sick, retire, or die.
Liberia’s Supreme Court convicted the three former officials and ordered them to restitute the money or face jail terms.
Mr. Samukai made some efforts aimed at paying 50 percent of what he thought was his portion of the total judgment sum, but the Supreme Court said he and his two deputies were convicted together and so they had to pay the money collectively.
As stated, if the money was private, all those associated with spending the money should be held liable. Your former President was an accessory to the crime, including the government at the time. What that judge did was a travesty of justice. The Liberian Senate should not confirm him. He may do the worst thing in the future. Do not let him in to the Liberian Supreme Court.