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Sherman challenges indictment

Ruling Unity Party Chair Sen. H. Varney G. Sherman, Ernest C.B. Jones and Nigerian national Christopher Onanuga are jointly asking Criminal Court “C” at the Temple of Justice in Monrovia to dismiss prosecution’s indictment drawn against them over claims that it is belated.

“… Since the Republic of Liberia (prosecution) did not obtain an indictment for them on or before September 16, 2015, the time limitation for the alleged crimes has passed. That is, all four (4) criminal charges (bribery, economic sabotage, criminal facilitation and criminal solicitation) are barred forever.

And co-defendants/movants pray Your Honor to rule that the trial for the crimes are barred by the statute of limitations,” the indictees said. The Grand Cape Mount County Senator Cllr. Sherman, Mr. Jones and Mr. Onanuga are raising arguments that the maximum period prosecutors had to commence legal action against them for charges of bribery, criminal conspiracy, economic sabotage, criminal solicitation and criminal facilitation is five years, which they argued, required indictment on or before September 16, 2015.

It is not known yet when the prosecution will respond to the defendants’ motion filed with the court on 27 June to dismiss the indictment drawn against them. Prosecutors indicted the accused along with House Speaker Alex Tyler in May this year as part of a wider investigation into a Global Witness’ report, accusing several past and present Liberian officials of allegedly soliciting and receiving bribes of over US$950,000 to declare the Wologizi mine “non-biding area” to be awarded to U.K.-based Sable Mining.

Citing statute of limitation, the accused further contend that for felonious crime like economic sabotage (first degree felony), the state had not later than September 16, 2015 to take action; while in the case of bribery and criminal solicitation (second degree felony) and criminal facilitation (third degree felony), the government had not later than September 16, 2013 to act, respectively.

They insist that the time limits for the prosecution of all the crimes is September 16, 2010 – the date on which the restated amended Public Procurement and Concession Commission or PPCC Law was published in handbills, noting that “it is for this law that the crimes are alleged to have been committed.”

They contend that the indictment fails to state the time, place, circumstances and condition under which the alleged crimes were committed in 2011, as claimed by the prosecution. In addition to argument over statute of limitation raised by the defendants, they also want the court to dismiss the indictment on the basis of defects due to reliance on inadmissible evidence, insufficiency of notice, while also claiming that the indictment did not mention defendant Onanuga, among others.

Counsels representing Sen. Sherman, Mr. Jones and Mr. Onanuga recalled that at the outset of investigation by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s Special Taskforce, their client Sen. Sherman responded to an invitation thru communication that he was not prepared to appear before the Taskforce except in court for prosecution to prove his guilt.

Concerning Mr. Jones, the counsels say he denied the allegations of the Global Witness report; adding that while trying to deliver his written response to the Taskforce on May 24, an indictment had already been obtained against Sable Mining and Speaker Tyler.

As for defendant Onanuga, his counsels say he appeared before the Taskforce on the afternoon of May 19, and denied in his testimony to the Taskforce, allegations made by Global Witness. After a further inquiry was conducted by the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission or LACC with defendant Onanuga on 24 May, his counsels say the indictees were arrested on 25 May and copy of the indictment served each of them by the Sheriff of the Criminal Court “C”.

“…Throughout the Indictment and the evidence used in support of it, the name of Christopher Onanuga is not mentioned even though he had been invited to meet with the Special Task Force and met with them twice as averred in Count Six (6) above,” the counsels say.

They concluded that failure of the indictment to name Onanuga and say what part he may or may not have played in the alleged commission of the crimes is good and sufficient reason to dismiss the indictment against them.

By Winston W. Parley-Editing by Jonathan Browne

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