The Criminal Court “C” at the Temple of Justice that is hearing the alleged US$950,000 economic sabotage trial of past and present Liberian officials says the introduction of internet and internet crimes has brought in challenges “for Court”, not only in Liberia but around the world.
“The Court says that the introduction of internet and internet crimes has introduced challenges for Court not only in Liberia but around the world, especially with respect to obtaining witnesses and documentary evidence from other jurisdiction to [another] jurisdiction,” presiding Judge Yamie QuiquiGbeisaye, Sr. said Tuesday, 4 April.
Judge Gbeisaye was speaking Tuesday after granting prosecutors’request to [suspend] trial of the case for ten days to enable themprocure additional witnesses who may not be in the bailiwick of Liberia.
The case results from allegations levied by U.K. -based watchdog groupGlobal Witness that Sable Mining, also a U.K. – based mining firm, hadbribed Liberian officials over US$950,000 to influence change in aconcession law to be awarded Mount Wologizi contract in Lofa County.
The aspect of internet emerged after prosecution claimed to havesecured evidence from witnesses that include emails and spreadsheetsin addition to the Global Witness report that accused several Liberianofficials and a Nigerian national, Christopher Onanuga.
But the defendants including former House Speaker J. Alex Tyler,former ruling Unity Party Chair, now Sen. H. Varney G. Sherman andformer National Investment Commission Boss Richard Tolbert objected tothe evidence, claiming that prosecution obtained them illegally byallegedly “hacking the emails line of Sherman or Sable Mining Africa”.
But the government lawyers have insisted that the emails andspreadsheets were “voluntarily given to the Government of Liberia’sinvestigating team by Heine Van niekerk, Sable Mining Executive forWest Africa with whom Cllr. h. Varney G. Sherman had the series ofemail exchanges”.
In opposition to government’s request to suspend the trial for tendays, the defense team for Cllr. Sherman claimed that the applicationwas being applied for primarily to create undue hardship to thedefendants, embarrass them and violate their personal liberty.
Counsels for former House Speaker Tyler said if prosecution had nofurther witness, it should rest with the production of evidence toallow Mr. Tyler and other indictees to take the witness stand andproduce their evidences.
The Court said in support to its argument, the State obtained anotarized affidavit in which Heine Van Niekerk confirmed the contentsof the emails and deposed that he gave the emails to the LiberianGovernment under an immunity agreement.
In its decision on Tuesday, the Court said while it understood theconcern of the defendants with respect to the protection of the rightto a speedy trial, it however said the speedy trial mandated in thisjurisdiction is based on the fact and circumstance of a specific casewhich lies with the sound discretion of the trial Judge.
“This Court is of the opinion that based on the peculiar facts andcircumstance of this case and the involvement of foreigner, therequest by the Prosecution in the mind of the Court is notunreasonable”.
But in granting the prosecution’s request, the Court made somemodification, telling the prosecution that the case will be[suspended] for seven days. Judge Gbeisaye warned prosecution that effective as of Tuesday up toMonday, 11 April at 9am, all of its witnesses whether local orforeign, be present in the Court and on time. He warned further thatfailure on the part of the prosecution, it will be penalized,including fines for each of its lawyers.
By Winston W. Parley