The Supreme Court of Liberia has reversed a lower court’s ruling and ordered the resumption of trial against several past and present Liberian officials indicted for their roles in an alleged Sable Mining bribery money laundering exposed by U.K. – based watchdog group Global Witness in 2017.
Liberian authorities indicted several serving officials last year along with Sable Mining officials after Global Witness (GW) claimed that the British company allegedly used money to influence the change of concession laws to favor Sable to win the Wologisi Mountain concession contract in Lofa County.
Former House Speaker Alex Tyler, former ruling Unity Party Chair Sen. H. Varney Sherman, Nigerian national Chris Onanuga, former National Investment Commission boss Richard Tolbert, Eugene Shannon, Sen. Morris Saytumah, Willie Belleh, E.C.B. Jones were among those indicted in the US$950,000 money laundering case.
Part of prosecutors’ evidences were emails allegedly exchanged between some of the indictees, but the accused claimed that these emails were hacked and should not be admitted and accepted by the Criminal Court “C” as evidence against them.
But the judge who presided over the case at Criminal Court “C” during the trial Judge Yarmie Quiqui Gbessay placed “temporary marks on some of the documentary evidence objected to by the defense, thus prompting a request for a writ of certiorari before the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday, 22 August overturned Judge Gbesay’s decision and has instructed its clerk to send down a mandate to the court below, ordering that permanent marks be placed on the documents objected to by the defense.
The Supreme Court instructs that the judge presiding there should resume jurisdiction over the case and place permanent marks on the documents objected to so that their authenticity and materiality will be determined at the appropriate time.
Ruling further, the Supreme says Judge Gbessay was in error “to have required the State to prove that the documents were not hacked.”
“That the law extant is that he who makes an allegation carries the burden of proof,” the Supreme Court rules and shifts the burden on the defense to prove that the emails and other documents which were produced by prosecutors were hacked.
Chief Justice Francis S. Korkpor, Sr. said the petition for the writ of certiorari was dealt with in chambers at the Supreme Court by retired Justice Phillip A.Z. Banks before his departure.
The Supreme Court says certiorari is the appropriate remedy to correct the action of a judge in the conduct of a trial, or to review an intermediate order or interlocutory judgment of a court.
“[The] Justice in Chambers was therefore within the ambit of the law when he granted the writ of certiorari in this case,” the Supreme Court adds.
Chief Justice Korkpor says they agree with their colleague Banks’ judgment.
The high court says the Co-respondent/Co-appellants in this case having alleged that the emails and other documents objected to were hacked, they had the burden of proof.
“[It] was therefore an error by the trial judge to have required the State to prove that the documents were not hacked,” the ruling continues.
The Supreme Court additionally says that the “temporary” marking of documentary evidence is alien to the jurisdiction here.
It notes that documentary evidence when testified to by a witness, marked and confirmed by the Court should be submitted to the jury or received by the judge sitting at a bench trial to determine its authenticity and materiality.
By Winston W. Parley-Edited by Othello B. Garblah