LACC Chair Blasts Courts For Not Supporting Corruption Fight
Monrovia – Commissioner of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) says the courts should be held responsible the dismissal of several corruption cases which indictment was sought by the Commission.
Report by Bettie K. Johnson-Mbayo/ [email protected]
Cllr. James Verdier said the LACC interprets the laws progressively as compared to the court, citing that of the Clemenceau Urey, Alomiza Ennos, Stephen Dunbar and Fodee Kromah Economic Sabotage case.
The case involving Urey and others was dismissed by the court on grounds that the prosecution (LACC) refused to indict and prosecute the defendants within 5 years which runs contrary to what the law provides.
The Government thru the LACC claimed that those individuals, between the periods of May 2006 to May 2007, allegedly engaged in solicitation payments and receipt of money for the ratification by the 52nd Legislature of oil contracts entered into by NOCAL and several oil companies.
They were charged with multiple crimes, which included “economic sabotage, criminal conspiracy and bribery” of which GOL sought the court’s intervention to convict the defendants.
At that time, the presiding judge of Criminal Court ‘C” Judge Peter Gbeneweleh stated that “the state failed to commence prosecution of the defendants within the statutory period of five years, as provided for in Section 4.2 (a) of the Criminal Procedure Law.”
Section 4.2 (a), according to him, provides that “a prosecution for a felony must commence within five years after the alleged offense had been committed.”
In an exclusive interview with FrontPage Africa, the chairperson of the Commission said that there is no law that encourages bribery so if one commits a crime, they must be punished.
“There is no flaw on our part, it is the court which must have the greater responsibility. There is always a judge who is not progressive in his act, these things are happening because all sectors of our country is tainted and the court is no exception,” Cllr. Verdier said.
“We are having problem with the court—the form in which they interpret the law based on their own interest and those kinds of thing, so the court carries greater responsibility in the fight against corruption.”
On the Japanese Oil grant, Cllr. Verdier wondered why the judge granted severance and dismissed the indictment and is now prosecuting one of the defendants when there was allegedly a collusion on the part of everyone.
“Why did the judge stretch the case when the defendant colluded, but it was based on judge experience or inexperience he interprets the law and all we have to do is to take an appeal to the Supreme Court,” he added.
The Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) was established in August 2008 to directly investigate, recommend for prosecution all acts of corruption in all sectors of government including the private sector and to institute measures aimed at eradicating the practice and its impact.
“We have these things in our society and try to be flexible in terms of addressing the issue of impunity; unfortunately, the judge or the court was very insensitive to our cases mainly the dismissed cases. They were not keen to understand the issue of corruption that we called public enemy number 1.”
Like Urey and others who were indicted by the LACC, the Anti-graft body later indicted Miatta Beyslow, former Minister of Commerce, former Managing Director of the Liberia Petroleum Refining Company (LPRC), T. Nelson Williams, Steve Flahn-Paye and others on crimes of economic sabotage, misapplication of entrusted property, criminal conspiracy and facilitation and violation of the Public Procurement Concession Commission (PPCC) procedures and process.
It is alleged that they connived with Aminata & Sons, a petroleum firm to dupe government of over US$5 million from the sale of the donated Japanese petroleum products.
The Liberia Anti-Corruption commission in its indictment stated that the defendants intended to deprive the government and people of Liberia of the proceeds from the sale of petroleum products valued at US$13,083,350 donated by the Japanese Government for economic and social development efforts.
“The defendants did knowingly, feloniously, purposely, criminally, maliciously, wilfully, intentionally steal, pilfer, take and carry away, exercise unauthorized control over and converted the total amount of US$5,764,110.84 for their use and benefit or the use of the other under various schemes and thereby committed the felonious crimes of economic sabotage, misapplication of entrusted property, criminal conspiracy and criminal facilitation”, the indictment stated.
“The defendants are charged for allegedly violating chapter 25, sub-chapter “F” (Economic Sabotage), section 15.80 (a), (b) and (c), section 15.81 (a, b and c) and section 15.82 (a b and c), section 15.56 (misapplication of entrusted property) and chapter 10, section 10.2 (Criminal Facilitation) and 10.4 (Criminal conspiracy) of the Penal Law of the Republic of Liberia”
“. Under Chapter 15, sub-section F, a person commits the crime of Economic sabotage when such person knowingly conspires or colludes to defraud the Government of Liberia; knowingly makes an opportunity for any person to defraud the Government of Liberia by another and does or omit or does any act with the intent to enable another to defraud the Government of Liberia.”
Though Beyslow and Williams were released off the indictment by the court without prosecution, the LACC chairperson said they are not totally free of the charges.
He disclosed that they (commission) have a high expectation that the Supreme Court will overturn the lower court’s ruling.
“Have you people wondered why Beysolow’s case was dismissed expeditiously, but that worth critical thinking. Why was her case singled out? LACC should not be faulted to bring people who are involved in corruption. We using our law and reducing the level of impunity. If you heard corruption fought back, it’ss in interest, relationship, all over these things happen, the court is not an exception,” Cllr. Verdier added.
The LACC chairperson said that there is a need for the Supreme Court to review the judges, adding that he is not deterred by their decisions.
Cllr. Verdier, sitting parallel to Cllr. Augustine Toe said that the commission will not be deterred and will be persistent in prosecuting those who are involved in acts of corruption.
“We are pursuing all the cases as we serve this commission. We will take advantage of the remedy of law to seek the high court attention. When we are defeated it is not a deterrence, we are not saying our commission is perfect, but we are doing what we can do internally to build the capacity of our legal department,” he stated.
Laying blame further afield, he said the LACC is grossly underfunded.
“Our budget is not in conjunction with what we do. Some of the things is the public moral support, we sometimes experienced backlashes.”
“We are not backing down, we will aggressively prosecute those who are involved, One of the major elements in prosecuting is evidence and if you don’t have it, that kills the case. Whistleblower also helps because people are in different position and they have access to information that we don’t have.”
“We have a current case that the witness is refusing to testify and we also have another that we have taken the burden so all of these lower our 2.4 million dollars budget that we have.”
During the trial of many of the cases, including Miatta Beysolow and T. Nelson Williams’, the prosecutorial arm of the Ministry of Justice was absent.
The state reportedly declined to coordinate with the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) to prosecute former Minister of Commence Miatta Beyslow, along with four other former senior public officials.
Sources disclosed that the MOJ initially advised the LACC not to proceed with the case on grounds that they lacked sufficient evidence, an opinion the LACC rejected.
The 2007 Act creating the LACC states, among others, that “The prosecution of cases of corruption shall be carried out by the Ministry of Justice in coordination with the Commission.”
In the event, the Act says, an investigation report by the Commission “finds that there is substantial evidence of corruption and recommends that the person(s) or entity (ies) involved be formally charged and prosecuted, the case and the records thereof shall be forwarded to the Ministry of Justice along with a written request signed by the Executive Chairperson requesting that the case be prosecuted.
“The Commission shall prepare and maintain a register of all cases forwarded to the Ministry of Justice for prosecution along with details indicating those accepted for prosecution, those not accepted for prosecution, and those actually prosecuted.
“The Ministry of Justice may decline to prosecute a case of corruption recommended for prosecution if it determines that the evidence adduced by the Commission is manifestly inadequate. In such case, the Commission shall be given the opportunity to augment the evidence or to show that the evidence is in fact adequate. In considering the adequacy of evidence, due regard shall be given to the special competence of the Commission in matters of corruption and the law thereof,” the document noted.
Notwithstanding, the Act says the Commission may, without the necessity of any reference to the Ministry of Justice or the prior consent of the Ministry, directly prosecute acts or cases of corruption if:
“The accused is an elected official, a member of cabinet, a head or a senior official of a public agency, commission or corporation, or a senior official of the Ministry of Justice…”
The LACC chair welcomed call from former Foreign Minister, Augustine Ngafuan, for the Legislature and the Judiciary to be audited.
“We are opened to audit, we have just been audited by GAC, even the Legislature asked for our financial records when we were investigating former House Speaker Alex Tyler.”
He boasted that many changes have been done, adding: “When we came in my view the LACC was ill-equipped in the sense that there were no division and lot of redundancy and now we have infused specialty in the commission.”
Meanwhile, the co-chairperson of the Commission Cllr. Augustine Toe requested that the act be amended in giving the commission prosecutorial power instead of the Ministry of Justice having oversight.
“The laws must be stronger and we don’t have to wait 90 days for the Ministry of Justice to say go on with prosecution, in the 90 days many things can happen so if there was specialize court, it will be a boost to us.”