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Gov’t, CBL officials lock horns

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Ahead of the judge’s decision, prosecutors and defense counsels have battled intensely in final arguments over the sufficiency of bonds and the quality of sureties submitted by indicted Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) officials in relation to Liberia’s L$16bn scandal.

Judge Peter W. Gbeneweleh is expected to decide on the sufficiency of bonds and quality of sureties representing five indicted CBL officials in persons of former Governor Milton Weeks; the son of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and former Deputy CBL Governor Charles E. Sirleaf; CBL Director for Banking DorborHagba; Director for Operations Richard H. Walker and Joseph Dennis, Deputy Director for Internal Audit.

In relation to government’s contention and resistance by the defense, the Criminal Court “C” is expected to make determination as to whether lawyers from the Heritage Partners and Associate (HPA) that have retainer contract with state – owned Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) can also represent Mr. Weeks, a government indictee.

Additionally, the court will also address government’s contention-that is whether National Social Security and Welfare Corporation (NASSCORP) boss Dewitt vonBallmoos and his wife Rhonda can legally proffer their property as surety for Mr. Weeks, while Mr. vonBallmoos heads a state – owned corporation.

The ex-officials have been indicted for multiple charges, including economic sabotage, criminal conspiracy and criminal facilitation following their arrests for their alleged roles in the missing 16 billion Liberian bank notes scandal.

The Presidential Investigative Team (PIT) set up by President George Manneh Weah found that the CBL reported receiving a total of LRD$15,506,000,000 from its contracted firm Crane Currency AB, but analysis of the packing list submitted by the CBL to PIT actually reveals that 18,151,000,000 was printed and shipped by the firm.

The defendants are expected to account for an alleged excess amount of LRD$2,645,000,000 which prosecutors say the accused former officials had no authority to print and infuse into the Liberian market.

The government says it has problems with the property deeds submitted by businessman Benoni Urey and the vonBallmoos family to justify the bond proffered for former CBL Executive Governor Milton Weeks’ release because of ambiguity to the locations of the properties and their lack of distinction.

The bond proffered for co-defendant Weeks is valued at US$909,319.88.

Further, through private insurance agency Accident and Casualty Insurance Company (ACICO), the defense team representing Charles Sirleaf, Joseph Dennis, Richard Walker and DorborHagba tendered $60,000 for each of the defendants, totaling $240,000.00.

But prosecution says the amount of the bond that the defendants should have proffered is US$1,673,735.44 plus LRD$5,290,000,000, because they are indicted for US$835,367.72 plus LRD$2,645,000,000.00.

The government is uses as reliance a 1976 statute that calls for double the gain, which means the indictee must submit a bond which is valued double the value of the amount charged in the indictment.

But the two separate defense teams for Mr. Weeks and Mr. Sirleaf, Hagba, Walker and Dennis insist that after the passage of the Economic Sabotage Act of 1986, the Supreme Court in 1994 handed an opinion which declared the provision relied upon by the State relies to apply double the gain in the economic sabotage case as unconstitutional.

At final arguments on Tuesday, 28 May, Montserrado County Attorney Cllr. Edwin K. Martin wondered how the sureties can be qualified when all of the deeds provided by Mr. Urey and the head of NASSCORP Mr. Dewitt vonBallmoss and his wife Rhonda were ambiguous.

Earlier, defendant Weeks’ lawyer Cllr. AbrahimSillah said there is no law that requires any pre-trial detainee to double the gain, on grounds that the Supreme Court declared as unconstitutional the statue cited by the prosecution.

According to him, the prosecution’s reliance does not apply in economic sabotage case because there is separate statutory provisions enacted by Legislature for economic sabotage.

He concludes that his client’s bond is sufficient and adequate, adding that the surety is adequate.

According to counsels representing defendants Sirleaf, Hagba, Walker and Dennis, the Supreme Court has ruled that insurance companies must meet certain conditions which include articles of incorporation, business registration certificate, tax clearance and certificate from the Central Bank and an audited financial statement.

The defense team says all of these requirements were met and presented in the case at bar.

Further, the counsels explain that ACICO which proffered bonds for the four defendants is worth more than $1.6m that includes assets, referencing the audited financial statement.
They conclude that the surety for the four defendants is not only qualified, but it is also sufficient.By Winston W. Parley-Edited by Othello B. Garblah

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