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Former FDA authorities under trial

The former Managing Director of Liberia’s Forestry Development Authority, Mr. Moses Wogbeh and several of his key senior officials are jointly facing prosecution at the Criminal Court “C” in Monrovia for allegedly issuing up to 61 illegal Private Use Permits, and causing government to loss over US$6 Millions in revenues.

Defendant Wogbeh will jointly be tried along with FDA former Technical Manager, John Kantor; former Manager for Commercial Forestry, Jangar Kamara; FDA’s former Manager of Geo Information System, Augustine B.M. Johnson; former County Surveyor of Grand Bassa County, David Blayee, and former Director of Cartography at Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy, Maxwell Gwee.

They are jointly indicted on multiple crimes of economic sabotage, criminal conspiracy, forgery or counterfeiting, obtaining and issuing deceptive writings, and obstruction of government function by public servant.

The indictment claims that between April 2010 [and] December 2011, the defendants conspired to defraud Government of revenues by facilitating the wrongful and illegal issuance of 61 PUPs that authorized commercial logging operations on nearly 2.5 million hectares of land area of Liberia.

But just before FDA’s main case could commence this morning Wednesday, April 1, 2015, Criminal Court “C” Presiding Judge Peter W. Gbenewelleh earlier on Tuesday, March 31, 2015 granted a motion for separate trial for FDA’s in-house legal counsel defendant Cllr. Benedict Sagbeh, on grounds that it would be prejudicial to jointly try the lawyer and the other co-defendants when the [offenses] are separate and distinct.

In Section 1.9 of the indictment, prosecutors alleged that the FDA in-house lawyer defendant Sagbeh knowingly and purposely failed and omitted to give adequate legal advice to the management of FDA with regards to laws which govern the issuance of Private User Permits or PUPs, but allegedly conspired and colluded with the other co-defendants to the detriment of the State.

In order to make PUP holders defraud government, prosecutors claim that in August 2012, 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 in Grand Bassa County be allowed as long as all requisite financial obligations were settled. 

State lawyers are claiming that the defendant’s action resulted to the [shipment of] over 40,000cm3 of logs. As for defendant Cllr. Sagbeh, he  failed to render adequate legal advice to the FDA, and instead conspired with other co-defendants to cause the issuance of the PUPs in violation of Section 5.6 and 18.9 (b and c) of the National Forestry Reform Law of 2006, among others.

Co-defendant David Blayee was alleged to have 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.

Additionally, the government is indicting former FDA’s GIS Manager co-defendant Augustine Johnson; FDA’s former Technical Manager for Research, John Kantor; former GIS Coordinator at FDA, Torwor Yanty, for allegedly receiving directly from several logging companies in excess of US$100,000.00 as compensation or reward.

By Winston W. Parley


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