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State rests with evidence in ex-defense minister’s trial

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Prosecutors here have announced they are resting with the production of demonstrative, oral and documentary evidence in the trial of former Defense Minister Brownie J. Samukai, former Deputy Defense Minister Joseph Johnson and former Defense Ministry Comptroller NyumahDorbor, but note that they shall produce rebuttal witnesses if need arises.

The State announced the decision during hearing Wednesday, 26 February at Criminal Court “C” at the end of the testimony of its third subpoenaed witness Mr. Stephen S. Howard, head of Corporate and Investment Banking at privately run ECOBANK Liberia.

Mr. Howard’s appearance in the trial Wednesday followed subpoena of ECBOBANK by the State to produce the bank records on an account titled “AFL Pension Funds,” Ministry of Defense that was later changed to “AFL Welfare and Morale Account.

The bank produced the original of the instruments subpoenaed, following which the State announced that it had rested with the examination of witness Howard as well as the production of evidence in the case.

Following the cross examination of the witness, the court on Wednesday ordered the defendants to organize their witnesses and parade them for trial.The next hearing of this case has been assigned by the court to Monday, 2 March at 9:00 A.M. at which time the defendants are expected to parade all of their witnesses.

Former Defense Minister Brownie Samukai, co-defendants Joseph P. Johnson and J. NyumahDorbor and others are standing trial for allegedly embezzling funds generated in a compulsory saving scheme established in July 2009 for Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) personnel during former President Ellen Johnson – Sirleaf’s rule.

The current regime of President George Manneh Weah indicted the officials on 9 October 2019, accusing them of committing economic sabotage, theft of property, and misuse of public money, among others.

Through the compulsory savings funds, prosecutors here allege that former Minister Samukai, former Deputy Defense Minister Joseph Johnson and former Defense Ministry Comptroller NyumahDorbor deducted the salaries of AFL officers from all ranks to serve as supplementary pension benefits for assistance to wounded soldiers and deceased soldiers’ families.

Over US$1.2m of the US$1.9m deposited was allegedly misapplied by Mr. Samukai, the prosecution alleges, and claims further that the defendants made themselves the only signatories to the account, leaving out the then AFL Chief of Staff and other ranking officers.

Earlier on Tuesday, 25 February Criminal Court “C” Judge YamieQuiquiGbeisay permitted prosecutors to introduce demonstrative video evidence in the trial following AFL Chief of Staff Major General Prince Charles Johnson’s testimony.

Gen. Johnson had testified that around October 2017, his boss Minister Ziakahn [who was at the time, Army Chief of Staff], received a letter addressed to the Manager of ECOBANK under the signature of former Deputy Minister Johnson about the change of the name of the AFL pension account to the AFL Morale and Welfare Account.

According to him, a halt was put to the monthly deduction from AFL personnel’s pay and there was a press conference called by the Minister of Defense at the time, Mr. Samukai.
Prosecutors introduced the video evidence which they say showed then Minister Samukai holding a press.

The court heard in Gen. Johnson’s testimony that there had been a roadblock and dependents of AFL personnel from the Edward BenyanKesselly Barracks (EBK) had gone on a protest which was later quiet down by retired AFL Chief of Staff, now Defense Minister Daniel D. Ziankahn.
Following the protest by the AFL personnel’s dependents, Gen. Johnson narrated that the AFL decided to form a committee to do a report that had to go to the Chief of Staff.By Winston W. Parley