One of former President Ellen Johnson – Sirleaf’s longest – serving cabinet members, former Defense Minister J. Brownie Samukai, Mr. Joseph P. Johnson and Mr. James NyumahDorkor are found guilty of multiple criminal charges and ordered to restitute US$1,147,656.35 in relations to funds withdrew from soldiers’ private pension saving account.
“The defendants are hereby ordered to restitute the amount of USD 687,656.35 to the AFL [Armed Forces of Liberia] pension Saving account and USD 460,000.00 to the government of Liberia account, making a sum total of USD1, 147,656.35,” Criminal Court “C” Judge YamieQuiquiGbeisay ruled Tuesday, 24 March.
The former officials were indicted last year for alleged theft of property, criminal conspiracy, economic sabotage, misuse of public money & money-laundering in the wake of prosecutors’ claim that the accused embezzled funds generated through a compulsory savings scheme established in July 2009 in which soldiers’ salaries were deducted and placed in an account as supplementary pension benefits for assistance to wounded soldiers and deceased soldiers’ families.
Probably due to the guilty judgment, the ruling in Mr. Samukai, and former Deputy Defense Minister for Administration Joseph P. Johnson and former Defense Ministry Comptroller NyumahDorkor’s trial did not get the usual cheers and disruptions that sometimes erupt in some cases when prominent figures on trial finally sit for court’s ruling.
Relatives, friends and well-wishers of the former officials sat calmly in the courtroom Tuesday and listened intently just as the defendants did until the judge said the last word in his ruling, followed by defense lawyers’ exception to the ruling and an announcement of an appeal to the Supreme Court.
Ruling Tuesday, Judge Gbeisay dismissed the crimes of money laundering and economic sabotage against the defendants because he says he did not see the element of economic sabotage and he is not also persuaded by the prosecution that money laundering was committed by the defendants.
Having adjudged the ex-officials guilty of theft of property, misuse of public money and Criminal conspiracy, Judge Gbeisay orders the clerk to communicate with the probation service of Montserrado County to proceed to conduct pre-sentence investigation of the defendants and report to the court in 15 days as of the date of the ruling.
The judge notes that defendants acted in concept and as such criminal conspiracy lie because they illegally, wrongfully, and intentionally withdrew funds from the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL’s) account by their directive and authority by using the comptroller of the Ministry of Defense.
The court says it perfectly agrees with co-defendant Samukai’s [explanation relating to use of the money] when he said that had the government failed to make representation at the funeral of [former AFL Chief of Staff] General Aburrahman who made sacrificial services to Liberia, such failurewould have amounted to ingratitude.
However, Judge Gbeisay rules that such gesture cannot be implemented with the “poverty stricken AFL pension funds without their implied or expressed consent.”
The judge continues that the co-defendant contended that he was ordered by the ex-Commander in Chief Mrs. Sirleaf to use the AFL funds in the manner and form as he did, but failed miserably to cause former President Sirleaf who is right here in Monrovia to appear or representative of current President George Manneh Weah to testify to the truthfulness of this contention.
According to Judge Gbeisay, the only form and manner in which a government can legally interfere with a private property in this jurisdiction is by condemnation proceeding otherwise known as eminent domain.
He asserts that assuming that ex- President Sirleaf made commitment to pay, and President Weah also made commitment to pay, the act of an individual president is not the act of the government of Liberia.
He indicates that it is the government of Liberia which is prosecuting the defendants that made partial payment to the AFL account and, not the defendants.
Concerning whether or not the changing of the name of the AFL account by the defendants without consulting the rank and file of the AFL, the judge says it was not legal.
“The court says that, none of the defendants charged is a member of the AFL, because by law, the AFL starts from private soldiers and end up with a Chief of Staff,” he says.
He rules that the minister served in a fiduciary capacity for the AFL personnel whenhe opened the AFL’s pension account, but the power of a fiduciary has serious limitation and a breach thereof carries serious multiple civil and criminal consequences.
He adds that the minister was under legal duty to have consulted the rank and file of the AFL as he did from the beginning, if he had tangible reason to change the name of the account.
“The court says that, it appeared that the sole purpose for changing the account title was to widen the scope of operation of the account, so as to enable the account to cover all illegal withdrawals that were made not within the perimeter of the objective of the account as named,” Judge Gbeisay continues.
“Even, at that, the court observed that by the time the name of the account was changed in October 2017, most of the illegal withdrawals had already been made,” he says further.
According to Judge Gbeisay, the intent of the change of the AFL account from AFL pension and saving account to AFL morale and Welfare account has criminal motives and intended to camouflage, disguise, and concede the misapplications by the defendants.By Winston W. Parley