Four of the indictees in the alleged theft and economic sabotage of billions of Liberian dollars including former Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) Executive Governor Milton A. Weeks and Ex- Board of Governors member David Fahart have pleaded not guilty to their indictment after being arraigned before court on Wednesday, 24 June.
It’s the third of a set of indictments drawn out by the state in this case, containing seven charges which are higher in number compared to the five charges levied against the defendants in the previous indictments. Except for former President Ellen Johnson – Sirleaf’s son Charles E. Sirleaf, all his alleged accomplices werereindicted.
At Wednesday’s proceedings, all the four defendants in the dock informed the court through their various counsels that they did not need jury trial, but rather a bench trial in which the judge sits and decides both issues of facts and law in a matter before the court.
Following the defendants’ request, presiding Judge Yamie Quiqui Gbeisay ruled that the court had no choice but to grant the defendants’ request as trial by jury is a matter of statutory right, but had been waived by the accused, acting through their lawyers.
Prosecution included in the new indictment CBL’s Board of Governors and its officials as indictees, including David M. Farhat, Melissa A. Emeh, Elsie Dossen Badio and Kollie Tamba, all of whom were not listed in the previous indictments which have already been nolleprosequi in the same case.
The other defendants are former CBL Executive Governor Milton A. Weeks; Dorbor M. Hagba, former Director of Finance; Richard H. Walker, former Director for Banking and Joseph Dennis, former Director for Internal Audit.
The government here indicted the officials in 2019 for their alleged roles in the misapplication of $16 billion Liberian Dollars printed and shipped to Liberia to replace old local currency after a series of mass protests led local and international institutions to investigate a claim that the money had gone missing.
The billions of Liberian dollars scandal emerged at the CBL when Mr. Charles E. Sirleaf served as CBL’s Deputy Governor for Operations, just as the other defendants did in working in their various positions which they held before their indictment.
Last month prosecutors nolleprosequi (drop charges against) Mr. Sirleaf “with prejudice,” and nolleprosequi Hagba, Walker and Dennis “without prejudice” as Mr. Weeks remained on separate trial. Meanwhile the $16 billion local currency which prompted their indictment remained a mystery.
While Mr. Weeks was being nolleprosequi on Monday, 8 June for the previous indictment, a new indictment was issued against him.
The defendants are accused of flagrantly violating Chapter 15, Section 15.51 of the New Penal Law of Liberia.
According to the indictment, the CBL Board of Governors in exercising their corporate power and authority, passed a resolution dated 28 April 2016 for the purpose of selecting and subsequently selected Crane Currency as the vendor to print the Liberian banknotes.
Defendant Weeks and the Board of Governors including Farhat, Emeh, Badio and Tamba are accused of deliberately failing to revert to the Legislature in line with a communication that demanded that appropriate details of the amount or quantity and denominations of the replacing banknotes be submitted to the Legislature prior to the printing and minting of coins.
Additionally, the Board is accused of mandating defendant Weeks to enter into a contract on June 12, 2019 with Crane Currency to print L$10,000,000,000 banknotes at the cost of US$10,121,689.20 before receiving the July 19, 2017 communication [from the Legislature].
At the time of selecting Crane Currency to print L$5,000,000,000, the indictment says the quantity of Liberian banknotes in circulation at the time was L$9.940 billion and that a significant number of the banknotes had worn out and mutilated, prompting the need to replace L$5,000,000,000 approved as the objective of legislative joint resolution.
The indictment says it is demonstrably inconceivable for the CBL Board of Governors to have requested the printing of L$10,000,000,000 to replace all legacy notes when they knew that the total amount in circulation that should have been replaced was L$13.792 billion. The indictment alleges that the defendants conspired to willfully conceal the actual amount in circulation for the purpose of committing theft, depriving the Government of Liberia of its resources.
Further, the indictment notes that defendants Weeks, Hagba, Walker and Dennis knew or had reasons to know that from packing lists reviewed by the investigation, the total amount printed was L$13,004,750,000 and not L$15,506,000,000, but “they maliciously and purposely concealed and understated the actual amount…” because they had criminally connived.
By Winston W. Parley