-Supreme Court sentences ex- Defense Minister
Liberia’s Supreme Court has upheld a lower court’s ruling but with modification, convicting ex-President Ellen Johnson – Sirleaf’s longest serving Defense Minister, now Lofa County Senator – elect Mr. Brownie Samukai and two other former defense officials for the unauthorized spending of soldiers’ pension money.
In a ruling Monday, 8 February at the Temple of Justice in Monrovia, the Supreme Court sentenced former Minister J. Brownie Samukai, his deputy Joseph P. Johnson and Mr. James Nyumah Dorkor to serve a term of two years each in a common jail.
After initially being given a suspended sentence by the Criminal Court “C” last year, Mr. Samukai later in December 2020 won the Senatorial election in Lofa County, but has not been seated yet in the Senate due challenges brought against the election results by his rival.
All three officials were last year adjudged guilty by the lower court of the crimes of misuse of public money, a felony of the first degree, theft of property for over a million USD, a felony of the second degree, and criminal conspiracy.
However, the Supreme Court ruled in the corruption case Monday that the sentences shall be suspended provided that the convicted officials shall restitute the full amount of US$1.147,656m or (pay) 50 percent within the period of six months, and following that, make appropriate arrangement to pay the remaining percent in one calendar year.
Should the defendants fail on these mandates, the Supreme Court says they shall be incarcerated in common jail and remain there until the full amount is paid. In its judgement, the Supreme Court says every withdrawal from the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) Pension Account should have been by authorization or consent of the AFL soldiers.
The Court therefore says the unrelated expenses of US$1.147,656m on the instruction of former President Sirleaf was without the pale of the law, and the appelants (defendants) are held personally liable for the unauthorized expenditure on the account.
Last year, Criminal Court “C” Judge Yamie Quiqui Gbeisay sentenced Samukai and his deputy Joseph P. Johnson to two years suspended imprisonment, provided that they resituate the whole or substantial amount of the judgment sum within six months and stipulate restitution of the balance within 12 months.
Further, Judge Gbeisay had sentenced the third defendant James Nyumah Dorkor to a suspended six months imprisonment, provided that he resitutes his share of the judgment sum in whole or in substantial part in six months and files a stipulation to pay the balance in 12 months.
Announcing the sentences Thursday, 23 April 2020, Judge Gbeisay recalled that the court, following a regular trial, adjudged all the three defendants guilty of the crimes of misuse of public money, a felony of the first degree, theft of property for over a million USD, a felony of the second degree, and criminal conspiracy.
The three former Defense Ministry officials had been awaiting sentencing after they were convicted through a bench trial for allegedly misusing funds generated through deducting the salaries of officers of the Armed Forces of Liberia for saving into a compulsory retirement funds account established in 2009.
Judge Gbeisay said he was suspending Samukai and Johnson’s two years sentence provided that they elect to make restitution, as failure on their part the convicts would have served the full two years sentence.
Further, Judge Gbeisay said though defendant James Nyumah Dorkor elected to reserve the right to the privacy of his health status, the court, considering his physical condition and his minor role in the commission of the crime, sentenced him to six months imprisonment.
Judge Gbeisay added that the six month sentence for Dorkor was also suspended, but warned that failure for the defendant to restitute, he shall serve the full six months in common prison and make restitution.
The judge explained that under Chapter 50.5 and Chapter 15, Section 15.4 of the Penal Law, misuse of public money is a felony of the first degree with a maximum prison term of 10 years.
Under the provision, he said theft of property in which the value of the property exceeds 50,000.00 is a second degree felony with a maximum prison of five years respectively.
He continued that the minimum term of imprisonment not being stated, it is presumably left within the sound discretion of the trial court, giving due consideration to the fact and circumstances of the commission of the crimes and the defendants’ previous records.
Judge Gbeisay recalled that in the court’s final judgment, it ordered the restitution of US$687,656.35 to the AFL retirement funds and US$460,000.00 to the Government of Liberia’s account and further ordered the Probation Services Division of Montserrado County, to conduct a pre-sentence investigation of the defendants’ conducts and file its report with the court in 14 days, in obedience to Chapter 31.5 of the Criminal Procedure Law.
Judge Gbeisay noted that the report was filed with the Clerk of the Court, adding that the synopsis indicated that it found no previous criminal record against any of the defendants.
However, he said it concluded that the crimes as charged and proven by the State post a national security threat to the nation, considering that the money, subject of the crimes, is for men and women of the Armed Forces of Liberia. By Winston W. Parley