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Govt. seeks maximum penalty for indicted FDA officials

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Prosecutors have asked court to give “maximum penalty” to five former officials of Liberia’s Forestry Development Authority or FDA at the end of final argument into an economic sabotage, forgery or counterfeiting, and criminal conspiracy case against the ex-officials.

Prosecutors made the request Thursday, July 16 after both defense and state lawyers concluded with their side of final argument in the case in which presiding Criminal Court “C” Judge Peter W. Gbeneweleh has reserved ruling for Tuesday, July 21. Former FDA Managing Director Moses Wogbeh has been on trial for several  months along with his team of officials, including former Technical Manager John Kantor; former Manager for Commercial Forestry, JangarKamara; former Manager of Geo-Information System, Augustine B.M. Johnson; former Grand Bassa County Surveyor, David Blayee and former Lands, Mines and Energy Director of Cartography, Maxwell Gwee.

The indicted ex-officials allegedly issued up to 61 illegal Private Use Permits or PUPs between April 2010 and December 2011, authorizing commercial logging operations on nearly 2.5 million hectares of land area, which caused government to loss over US$6 million in revenues.

During final argument yesterday, Liberia’s Solicitor General Madam Betty LaminBlamo, said the court should give the defendants a maximum penalty and also orders them to restitute the US$6m for which they are being held accountable. One key point emphasized in the prosecution’s argument was that the defendants allegedly issued wrong PUP licenses to logging companies for community forest lands when they should have instead issued such licenses under the Community Rights Law, which would have enabled government to generate rental fees.

Due to the alleged issuance of the wrong licenses, Cllr. Blamo contends that the defendants deprived government of its intended revenues. Out of the 61 PUPs the defendants were said to have issued, Solicitor-General Blamo says government is holding them for 56 that were issued between 2010 and 2011.

She said in just one day in 2011, the defendants allegedly issued 14 PUPs in the month of October to get more eating, with fear that after the presidential elections, they may not return to their offices since they were not sure enough that the sitting government would have been re-elected.

But the defendants have denied the charges, claiming that the process of deriving at US$6m dollars by a Special Independent Investigative Body or SIIB was wrong, misleading and [a] fallacy, “deeply rooted in ignorance.”

The indicted former FDA Managing Director Wogbeh claimed that he and his co-indictees were “ambushed” into a criminal investigation by the SIIB set up by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, following a presidential moratorium on all logging activities here in 2012. Defendant Wogbeh testified that his administration authorized log shipment upon the order of the Supreme Court of Liberia. 

Defense lawyer Cllr. Albert Sims says out of the 61 PUPs in question, eight PUPs were active and in production, which defendant Wogbeh had earlier said meant “doing pre-felling” requirement, harvesting and trucking timbers to respective ports of exit.  By Winston W. Parley – Editing by Jonathan Browne

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