Roughly five of the indicted former officials of the Forestry Development Authority have jointly waived their rights to jury trial on multiple criminal charges, including economic sabotage, criminal conspiracy, forgery or counterfeiting, among others.
The defendants’ request was granted Wednesday after pleading not guilty to an indictment that accuses them of issuing up to 61 illegal Private Use Permits between April 2010 [and] December 2011 that authorized commercial logging operations on nearly 2.5 million hectares of land area, defrauding government of over US$6 Millions in revenues.
Those indicted include former FDA Managing Director, Moses Wogbeh; former FDA Technical Manager, John Kantor; former Manager for Commercial Forestry, Jangar Kamara; former Manager of FDA Geo Information System, Augustine B.M. Johnson; former County Surveyor for Grand Bassa County, David Blayee; and former Director of Cartography at the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy, Maxwell Gwee.
The FDA’s in-house legal counsel, defendant Cllr. Benedict Sagbeh, was on Tuesday, 31 March 2015 granted separate trial from his co-indictees by Presiding Criminal Court “C” Judge Peter W. Gbenewelleh.
The lawyer will have to separately address charges brought against him by prosecutors that he did not adequately advice FDA management on existing laws regarding the issuance of PUPs to prevent losses government has incurred. But instead, he allegedly conspired and colluded with the other co-defendants to the detriment of the State.
However, hearing of the case has been assigned to Monday, April 6, 2015 at 9 a.m. based on prosecutors’ request for continuance, which the court granted.
Prosecutors claimed that the former FDA boss defendant Wogbeh and co-defendant Kamara, in disregard to President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s moratorium placed on all PUP activities, instructed that shipment of logs that had been harvested under the illegal PUPs from the Port of Buchanan be allowed as long as all requisite financial obligations were settled in order to make PUP holders defraud government in August 2012.
State lawyers additionally said the defendant’s action resulted to the [shipment of] over 40,000cm3 of logs.
The State lawyers said co-defendant David Blayee issued certificates of correction of deeds without authority to do so, thereby increasing the land areas of the deeds by approximately 26,186 hectares with the intent to defraud government and creating an opportunity for PUP holders to defraud the government.
Co-defendant Maxwell Gwee allegedly failed to do due diligence in validating deeds, but rather impersonated and signed validation letter as Acting Assistant Minister of Lands and Mines, when the actual Assistant Minister, George Miller, was here in Liberia.
By Winston W. Parley