Prosecutors clashed with indicted ruling Unity Party Chair Sen. H. Varney G. Sherman’s lawyers at Criminal Court “C” on Thursday, 16 June over a request to compel the indictee to submit certain instrument he earlier declined to provide, and fled to the Supreme Court to challenge a Criminal Court “A” ruling.
The case involving the Grand Cape Mount County Senator grows out of a U.K.-based watchdog group Global Witness’ report that accused him and several individuals, including indicted House Speaker Alex Tyler of allegedly requesting and receiving bribes amounting to over US$950,000.
Sen. Sherman, Speaker Tyler, Ernest C.B. Jones and a Nigerian national Chris Onanuga got a fast-tracked indictment of economic sabotage, fraud and criminal facilitation, having rejected to be investigated by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s Special Investigative Committee headed by Cllr. Jonathan Fonati Koffa.
To strengthen the investigation, prosecutors earlier succeeded in winning a battle at Court “A” that ordered Sen. Sherman and his Sherman and Sherman Law firm and numerous commercial banking institutions to produce instruments demanded; but a subsequent challenge against the decision at the Supreme Court necessitated a “stay” against the subpoena which is still pending.
At Thursday’s hearing, Sen. Sherman’s lawyers wondered whether the Criminal Court “C” could grant prosecutors the subpoena when their client’s challenge against Court “A” ruling to produce similar documents was still pending at the Supreme Court with a stay order issued.
But the state lawyers clarified that the case before the Criminal Court “C” is distinct from what was before the Criminal Court “A” where defense had earlier argued that no matter was pending; arguing that at Court “C”, Sen. Sherman has been indicted and has secured bond for his release.
Cllr. Arthur T. Johnson insisted that the Criminal Court “C” has the authority to order Sen. Sherman to submit the instruments because the case before him was not what Criminal Court “A” dealt with; clarifying that what was before criminal Court “A” was not a criminal trial unlike the one before Criminal Court ”C”.
Besides, Cllr. Johnson said the “criminal agency” is in the authority of the accused, and the court has the authority to order him submit it if the prosecution request it. Where the court demands certain information from an indictee, Cllr. Johnson says the defendant has no privilege to privacy tosubmitting information about himself.
He says in a criminal investigation, the accused could be compelled to allow his or her email for instance, to be read or exposed to the court, adding that it is in the law. “They want this court to be used to assist them in impeding the investigation,” Cllr. Johnson said, as he begged the court to compel the indictee to produce what he has.
He was buttressed by Cllr. Theophilus C. Gould, who emphasized the distinct nature of the cases before the Supreme Court and the Criminal Court “C”, stressing that what is before the lower court is an indictment with a writ of arrest that results to a criminal trial “They cannot claim privacy when there is request before court. They do not have cover in the constitution; they do not have cover in the statute. What is their problem?” Cllr. Gould wondered.
He concluded by asking the court to order the subpoena served inaccordance with the law. But one of Sen. Sherman’s lawyers, Cllr. Cyril Jones argued that the prosecution was trying to put the Criminal Court “C” against Criminal Court “A”, saying “that’s what they are trying to do, Your Honor.” “When we start like this, there will be no turning back. This case has international implication,” Cllr. Jones said, and added that the resistance filed by prosecution against their motion to dismiss was evasive.
For his part, Cllr. F. Musa Dean said prosecution is asking them to produce evidence against themselves, noting “we are not producing evidence.” “The purpose of prosecution in Liberia is to convict and to convict,” he said further, noting that the matter is pending based on exception that was filed, concluding prosecution’s action at Court “C” was contemptuous to the Supreme Court.
After the argument, Criminal Court “C” Judge Emery S. Paye suspended ruling to “a later date” anytime next week.
By Winston W. Parley-Editing by Jonathan Browne