The indicted former Managing Director of Liberia’s Forestry Development Authority or FDA, Mr. Moses Wogbeh, has told court proceeding that he and his co-indictees were “ambushed” into a criminal investigation by a Special Independent Investigative Body set up by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.
Defendant Wogbeh testified Thursday, June 4, 2015 in the case containing charges of alleged criminal conspiracy, economic sabotage, forgery or counterfeiting, obtaining and issuing deceptive writings, and obstruction of government function by public servant, after the Criminal Court “C” declined to dismiss the indictment this week.
He and four others were indicted for allegedly issuing 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 Million in revenues.
But taking the witness stand Thursday, Mr. Wogbeh claimed that the process of deriving at US$6m by the SIIB was wrong, misleading and [a] fallacy, “deeply rooted in ignorance.”
He alleged that the SIIB chaired by Mr. Dorbor Jallah, who now heads the Public Procurement and Concession Commission or PPCC, “ambushed” him and his indicted colleagues into a criminal investigation, after they had been told that the “investigation was administrative just to help them to compile their report.”
He said they did not go with their lawyer to advise them on legal proceedings before the SIIB.
“They did not also tell us that the recording was going to be used for criminal prosecution,” he said.
Reacting also to claims of violating President Sirleaf’s moratorium on logging activities, defendant Wogbeh testified that it was upon the order of the Supreme Court of Liberia that he and his management team authorized the shipment of logs at the Port of Buchanan, Grand Bassa County and its surroundings, “provided all the fees and taxes are paid.”
He testified that contract holders had taken the FDA management before Justice in Chambers Associate Justice Kabineh M. Ja’neh when they acted in compliance to the President’s moratorium, halting all logging activities, after which he claimed to have been ordered to return to “status quo” following argument before the Justice.
Defendant Wogbeh narrated that the FDA’ in-house lawyer interpreted to the management that the Supreme Court’s mandate had ordered that “contract holders should go back to where they were” prior to the issuance of the moratorium.
Out of the 61 PUPs in question, he said eight were active and in production, meaning they are engaged in pre-felling requirement, harvesting and trucking timbers to respective ports of exit.
The former FDA boss said those that were in production or harvesting “generated revenues approximately above US$5 million at the time.”
According to him, after he and his indicted management team had departed their various offices at the entity, FDA authorities “continued to ship” these logs that were harvested “and additional revenues were also generated.
He claimed that all of the 61 PUPs, including the two allegedly issued by his predecessor were approved by the chairperson of the FDA Board of Directors, though he claimed the SIIB did not capture it in their land rental calculation.
Liberia’s forest sector has faced repeated pillage by successive administrations, including ex-rebel leader cum-President, Charles Taylor, who used resources from the forest to finance his war campaign from 1989 to 2007 when he was elected President. By Winston W. Parley – Edited by Jonathan Browne