Presiding Criminal Court “C” Judge, Peter W. Gbeneweleh, has granted prosecutors’ request and amended a portion of the indictment against former officials of the Forestry Development Authority to reflect an increase of US$51,538.20 as amount co-defendant John Kantor allegedly received from the Universal Forest Corporation instead of previous charge of US$4,500.
Co-defendant Kantor is jointly facing multiple criminal charges along with former FDA Managing Director, Moses Wogbeh and three others for alleged criminal conspiracy, forgery or counterfeiting, obtaining and issuing deceptive writings, and obstruction of government function by public servant.
Prosecutors claim that the defendants allegedly issued up to 61 illegal Private Use Permits or PUPs between April 2010 and December 2011 that allegedly authorized commercial logging operations on nearly 2.5 million hectares of land area and caused government to loss over US$6 Millions in revenues.
After few state witnesses had testified, prosecutors asked the court to amend Count 4 Sub- paragraph 4.4 of their indictment alleging that between 2010 and 2011, co-defendant Kentor, former Technical Manager of FDA received the total amount of USD$51,538.20 from the Universal Forest Corporations instead of USD$4,500 contained in Section 4.4 of the indictment.
It is the change of the figure that the defense team interposed objection to, contending among other things, that the amendment attaching the amount of $51,538.20 was “material,” and therefore prejudices the rights of co-defendant Kentor, who earlier pleaded not guilty to the multiple offenses contained in the indictment.
The defense additionally objected to the amendment on grounds that it has been over a year since the defendants were indicted in February 2014 for prosecutors to come and seek amendment, having produced witnesses in the case.
The defense claimed the prosecutors should have done the amendment at the time the case was called for hearing.
But Judge Gbeneweleh ruled that the amended figure stated… was an allegation to be established during trial; and that co-defendant Kantor has the opportunity to take the [witness] stand to testify to disprove the allegation contained in the indictment.
“He is not therefore taken by surprise and is not also prejudiced for the amendment of the amount he allegedly received,” the court noted, saying, the statute provides for an amendment of an indictment to confirm to evidence.
The relevant law relied upon (Section 14.7 Sub Paragraph One) provides that “The court shall permit an indictment or complaint to be amended at any stage of the proceedings to correct the formal defects.”
Additionally, the judge said Section 14.7 clearly states that the court shall permit an indictment or a complaint to be amended any time in the criminal proceeding as in the instant case to correct a formal defect.
The court further said the provision also provides that the court “may” direct amendment of an indictment or complaint [if] there is a variance between an allegation in the indictment and the evidence presented in proof.
The statute however says… additional or different offense shall not be charged in amending a complaint or an indictment.
“The key contention of the defense team is that co-defendant John Kantor was originally charged in Count Four Sub-Section 4.4 of the indictment for allegedly receiving the sum of $4,500 United States Dollars from the Universal Forest Corporation to which he pleaded not guilty,” the court said.
“But the submission made by the prosecution for an amendment of count four sub-paragraph 4.4 of the indictment has increased the amount to USD$51,538.20, which he allegedly received from the Universal Forest Corporation to which said amount was never pleaded.”
But the court determined that the amended figure was an allegation to be established during trial; and that co-defendant John Kantor by law has the opportunity to take the stand to testify to disprove the allegation contained in the indictment.
In its ruling, the court amended “Count Four Sub- Section 4.4 of the Indictment” to reflect the sum of $51,538.20 USD. The defense team has taken exception to the ruling and gave notice to take advantage of the laws controlling.
By Winston W. Parley