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Public Works’ indictment upheld

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Supreme Court of Liberia NDThe Criminal Court “C” at the Temple of Justice in Monrovia has declined to acquit indicted Public Works Ministry Spokesman, Jusufu Morris Keita from multiple criminal charges, deeming his request for acquittal as “premature.”

Mr. Keita stands trial for alleged economic sabotage, misapplication of entrusted property and criminal conspiracy for allegedly defrauding government of US$12,600, having allegedly “colluded and connived” with Flash Point Newspaper publisher Mr. David Kortee, whom prosecutors have already “nolle prosequi” or dropped charges against.

The indictment of Mr. Keita and Mr. Kortee was the outcome of investigation instituted by the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission or LACC, which subsequently submitted names of both men to the Justice Ministry for further action.

Following review of defense lawyers’ motion for acquittal and resistance by prosecutors, presiding Criminal Court “C” Judge Peter W. Gbenewelleh ruled Thursday, June 11 that the granting of nolle prosequoi in favor of Mr. David Kortee was not a legal ground for a motion to dismiss indictment.

“…Therefore court declines to grant the motion to dismiss the indictment… the motion is hereby denied and dismissed, and the resistance thereto sustained,” the Judge ruled yesterday.

During the February Term of Court in 2010, the Grand Jury for Montserrado County indicted Flash Point publisher David Kortee and Public Works Communication Director, Jusufu Morris Keita for alleged economic sabotage, misapplication of entrusted property and criminal conspiracy, surrounding funds pertaining to some alleged contract.

The indictment alleged among other things that Mr. Kortie and Mr. Keita conspired, connived, colluded and defrauded the Liberian Government of the sum of US$12,600.

At the call of the case for hearing on Tuesday, June 2, 2015, the Criminal Court “C” says prosecution entered a plead of nolle prosequi in favor of co-defendant David Kotie.

Subsequently, the indictment was read to co-defendant Keita, who pleaded not guilty to charges spelt out in the indictment, thereby taking issues with prosecutors.

The burden of proof of the allegations as contained in the indictment was then shifted on prosecution. According to the court, Mr. Keita prayed to waive jury trial.

But prior to submission of evidence to the court by prosecutors, defendant Keita filed a motion to dismiss the indictment over claims that the indictment was “defective.”

His point of argument in declaring the indictment defective was that prosecution had “instituted criminal proceedings” against him “instead of a civil action for breach of contract before the Civil Law Court since the criminal proceedings grew out of a contract.”

The Criminal Court “C” then deferred hearing of the case pending the hearing of defendant Keita’s motion to dismiss the indictment.

Besides, defendant Keita contended that prosecution’s evidence was “insufficient” on grounds that the principal defendant Mr. David Kortee had been dropped from the case by prosecutors, therefore, he must be granted a judgement for acquittal.

But prosecutors resisted defendant Keita’s motion and said among other things that the plea of nolle prosequoi of David Kortee was not grounds for the dismissal of the indictment.

The state lawyers contended that defendant Keita’s motion was premature on grounds that the prosecution had not produced evidence and rested with the production of evidence for which the defendant would file a motion to seek acquittal.

Judge Gbenewelleh ruled yesterday that “it is the legal right of the state to drop charge or charges against one defendant or all of the defendants in a criminal trial” as provided for in Section 18.1 of Liberia’s Criminal Procedure Law.

The judge agreed with prosecutors that the granting of nolle prosequoi in favor of Mr. Kortee was not a legal ground for a motion to dismiss indictment because the burden of prove rested on the prosecution to establish the defendant’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt during trial.

As such, the judge said defendant Keita cannot pray for judgement of acquittal under Section 20.10 of the Criminal Procedure Law when the “prosecution has not commenced” the production of evidence before court and has not rested the production of evidence.

“This court says that the prayer for a judgement of acquittal is premature as there is no evidence before court which the movant consider to be insufficient for which he prays this court for judgment of acquittal,” Judge Gbenewelleh ruled yesterday.

The lawyer representing Mr. Keita in the case, Atty Lamine Kpaquoi has taken exception to the court’s ruling. Meanwhile, Judge Gbenewelleh has assigned hearing the case to Friday, June 12, 2015 at 10am. By Winston W. Parley – Editing by Jonathan Browne

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