By Lincoln G. Peters
Presidential hopeful Mr. Simeon Freeman angrily criticized the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Liberia, Cllr. Frank Musa Dean, for what he terms “irresponsible face shielding” comments made against the Judiciary in the US$100 million drugs burst case that has turned a fiasco.
Last week Thursday, May 18, a jury panel at Criminal Court “C”, Temple of Justice in Monrovia handed down a not guilty verdict in favor of four defendants put on trial in the $100 million Cocaine case, calling for their release which the court complied with and they have reportedly escaped the country.
But Minister Dean over the weekend described as appalling the not guilty verdict of Criminal Court “A” of the first judicial Circuit of Montserrado County at the Temple of Justice presided over by Judge A. Blamo Dixon.
The Attorney General contended that the verdict clearly undermines the collective efforts of Liberia and its international coalition to clamp down on the illegal transit of illicit drugs using West Africa as the conduit to trade narcotics internationally from Latin America and elsewhere.
He said it becomes worrisome and shameful as in the case of the recent verdict, for the courts to be setting hardcore criminals free when the evidence is overwhelming in the face of international security collaboration that tracked and brought the perpetrators of this heinous crime before the law.
However, speaking in an interview with journalists at his Banjor Community residence in Brewerville outside Monrovia on Monday, May 22, Mr. Freeman, political leader of the Movement for Progressive Change (MPC) described the assertion by Minister Dean against the Judiciary as reckless and irresponsible face shielding.
According to him, it’s totally out of order for the Minister of Justice to blame the court for their missteps and presents the Judiciary as a corrupt institution when in fact, the Attorney General knows what exactly they are doing.
“This statement from the Minister, Cllr. Frank Musa Dean, in my mind, is completely irresponsible and reckless. This is just face shielding. What I see the Justice Minister doing here is a disclaimer for the international community. This appears to say we are fighting back. But, I think it’s now time that Chief Justice Yuoh hold the Justice Minister for contempt for branding that branch as corrupt”, Mr. Freeman suggests.
He notes that for the Justice Minister to make such a statement against the court and the judicial branch of government in general is irresponsible because he has cast a dark cloud on the court.
He argues that there are potential negative impacts of such carelessness in handling the drugs burst trial by the Government of Liberia, because it has a propensity of denying Liberians from accessing visa to travel to other countries and even put them in the perceived position of being drugs processors, pushers and smugglers.
“The Minister of Justice should now be asked why he didn’t take an appeal when the verdict was read. To say this kind of statement is to cast dark on the court, which is totally irresponsible to say the least. Now, when you heard the ordinary man saying the court is not correct, they are following the lead of the government, who says the court is not correct. This is irresponsible and I think the Chief Justice needs to bring the Justice Minister to book to account for this kind of irresponsible statement”, Mr. Freeman reiterates.
He describes the entire situation surrounding the trial by the government, especially Cllr. Dean’s action as complete hypocrisy and blame game.
He wonders how could Minister Dean, who presides over a budget prosecute a most important case involving US$100 million drugs burst that is one of the second largest in the world and makes fun of it but now wants to shield face.
“Recently, the Government of Italy also arrested US$100 million worth of drugs. The same was also done with Columbia. Those people in other countries are taking steps to prevent such, but for the accused to be released and later the Minister of Justice come up with a statement condemning the verdict is irresponsible and face shielding.”
Mr. Freeman asks why the Justice Minister didn’t take all the time he took to write his nice press statement to put together all the best lawyers and gather pieces of evidence, weigh them before going to court to ensure the government won the case, noting “These are the things we call hypocrisy and pretense that we continue to see in the government.”
He further wonders that under the Ministry of Justice, how much money had the government allotted to the Liberia Drugs Enforcement Agency (LDEA) when the Office of the Vice President has more money than the LDEA.
According to him, the last time he checked, the LDEA budget was US$460,000 for the entire year, while the operational fund for the Vice President’s Office is US$ 1.5 million and the Speaker, US$1 million.
“The LDEA only has one operational vehicle. I believe that even if the LDEA wants to hold government commitment to fighting drugs, how much money the government has placed in the hands of the largest drugs enforcement agency to enable that. I hear the other day that there is a new drug called Kush and it’s killing people. Where is that drug passing? These things hurt our country”, he laments.
Mr. Freeman wants to know who released the four defendants after they were found not guilty by the 13-member trial jury and who gave them the right to pass thru the border and leave the country.
The MPC leader notes that if he were President of Liberia, he would have fired both the Solicitor General and the Justice Minister and charged them for collaboration to serve as deterrence.
“This says a lot about our country and the people that are in power. This is a stigma and this stigma will always be on us. This case talks about the quality of lawyers, the legal system, and the capacity of government. It talks more about the government’s legal system and not the court. This also says a lot about the seriousness we attached to this case.”
He says the CDC administration is flooded with lapses from the financial sector, health, education, and the economy, which speak to the kinds of people President Weah appoints in his government. Editing by Jonathan Browne