-former FDA officials face five years imprisonment
The Criminal Court “C” at the Temple of Justice in Monrovia has brought down a guilty verdict against Liberia’s former Forestry Development Authority (FDA) Managing Director, Moses Wogbeh, and four co-defendants. The court has ordered the convicts to restitute US$6m or face five years imprisonment.
This concludes the first phase of the legal battle between the government and its former top employees that began exactly on Wednesday, April 1 this year following the convicts’ indictment in the February 2014 term of court.
But prosecutors say the sentence by presiding Criminal Court “C” Judge Peter W. Gbeneweleh is not “the maximum 10 years prison sentence” that defendants, who are guilty of economic sabotage, deserve, while also taking exception to the court’s waiver to fine the convicts.
Already, defense counsels for Mr. Moses Wogbeh, Maxwell Gwee, David Blayee, John Kentor and Jangar Kamara have announced an appeal to the Supreme Court against the lower court’s ruling. The indicted ex-officials were alleged to have 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, caused government to loss over US$6 million in revenues.
Judge Gbenewelleh ruled Tuesday, 25 August that the 61 PUPs granted under the tenure of defendant Wogbeh were in contravention of the national forestry law. The defendants had contended that they cannot be prosecuted without the FDA Board chairperson [Florence Chenoweth], but the court ruled that the Ministry of Justice here is the prosecuting arm of government and it has the prerogative to prosecute any person in any given case.
As to the case in point, he says innocence or guilt verdict is premised on evidence produced during the trial. Besides, Judge Gbenewelleh found that prosecution established that defendants Moses Wogbeh and Jangar Kamara did not immediately halt logging activities as mandated by the FDA Board of Directors.
He says the records show that the board imposed a moratorium on logging activities in February 2012, but its mandate was affected in June 2012, charging them with obstruction of government function by public servants.
The court says the illegal issuance of the 61 PUPs by the Wogbeh-led administration and the verification letters and certificate of correction deeds which facilitated the granting of said PUPs are in contravention of Section 18.9 of the National Forestry Reform Law of 2006.
Judge Gbeneweleh found defendants David Blayee and Maxwell Gwee guilty for the crime of obtaining and issuing deceptive writings; co-defendants Moses Wogbeh and Jangar Kamara guilty for obstruction of government function by public servants before jointly fining all of the five defendants, including John Kentor guilty for economic sabotage in the tone of US$6m.
He orders that this money be restituted to the government and people of Liberia, failure of which the defendants be “detained for the period of five (5) years in the common jail for Montserrado County or any suitable prison facility” in the country. Editing by Jonathan Browne