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EDITORIAL: Solicitor General-Designate Syrenius Cephus Cannot Go After the Corrupt With Tainted Hands

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GIVEN THE CHANCE to address the conflict of interest issue dogging his confirmation as Solicitor General of the Republic of Liberia, Thursday, Cllr. Syrenius Cephus chose to stay silent on the issue of his representation of Andrew Grove, chief executive officer of the London AIM-listed Sable Mining, who was indicted by a grand jury in June 2016, in connection with an alleged bribery scandal involving several senior Liberian officials, said he could not comment on the matter because he has not yet been confirmed.

AS MR. GROVES’ lawyer, the Solicitor General Designate is on record in an affidavit on behalf of Groves signed by him, in which he is quoted as saying: “The prosecution had come “to the stark realization that neither Sable Mining Africa nor Andrew Groves had any criminal intent.” But in an email to GW, the lawyer was more ambiguous. “Only the prosecution can clarify” why the Nolle Prosequi was filed, he said. “Perhaps a holistic and comprehensive review” had “discovered an error of judgment.”

ADDRESSING THE WEEKLY, Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism press briefing, Cllr. Cephus sidestepped the issue by saying:  “The question answers itself. When you say you are solicitor general designate you cannot answer that question. So, I cannot say anything about that. If I was Solicitor General, I would be in the position to address that but because I’m not a solicitor general I’m still a designate I cannot respond to anything of that nature.”

CLLR. CEPHUS, who was suspended by the Supreme Court of Liberia from practicing law for three months – – from April 7, 2015 to July 7, 2015 for what the court believes was misconduct while representing his client, did little to dispel concerns many have about his ability to impartially go after the corrupt without fear or favor.

AS CLLR. CEPHUS prepares for his confirmation today, we hope that this issue will be fully and thoroughly brought up by the Senate and that Senator Varney Sherman, as chair of the Senate Committee on Judiciary would recuse himself from the proceedings because he is in fact, one of the indictees from the Sable Mining Bribery Saga.

WHILE IT IS THE RIGHT thing to do for a nominated official to recuse themselves from possible conflict of interest situations, it is not enough when those are finally confirmed because they now are in charge of controlling prosecutors and dictating the pace of the case they were previously involve with.

WHEN THE ISSUE of conflict of interest came up in the case of the United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was facing withering criticism for failing to disclose meetings with Russia’s envoy to the United States during the former Alabama senator’s confirmation hearing, he did the right thing by recusing himself from overseeing the FBI investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 US elections. “I have decided to recuse myself from any existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for president of the United States,” Sessions said.

RED FLAGS are waving all over this scandal, just as it waved in the case involving Madam Matilda Parker, former head of the National Port Authority(NPA) who was recently set free after several continuance and delays.

IN APRIL, the Criminal Court ‘C’ freed Parker and her comptroller, Christina Paelay, on corruption charges of awarding a falsified wreck removal contract for US$800,000 to Denmar Martin Flomo of Denmar Enterprises.

MADAMS PARKER and Paelay were freed due to state lawyers’ inability to ensure the appearance of several witnesses, who were to testify against the defendants; thereby leaving the judge with no option, but to drop the multiple corruption charges against them.

THE CHARGES included economic sabotage, theft of property and criminal conspiracy. “We have reached out to our principal witnesses that we intend to use in these proceedings, and having contacted them, because their testimonies are germane and cogent to the proceeds. In the eleventh hour, we noticed that the witnesses were inconspicuously absent in the courtroom, and that every effort made to establish contact with them yielded no fruitful result,” prosecutors explained to Judge Boima Kontoe.

THIS IS WHY we feel strongly that Cllr. Cephus is the wrong man for the job contrary to what he said Thursday.

THE SOLICITOR GENERAL’S pledge to go after the corrupt is diminished by his own record, particularly owing to the major role he played in the impeachment of former Associate Justice Kabineh J’aneh as lawyer for the House of Representatives. 

MANY SEE HIS APPPOINTMENT as a reward, making it all the more reason why his appointment is unlikely to be taken seriously by key stakeholders.

ON THURSDAY, CLLR. CEPHUS said all the right notes. “There would be no hiding place, no one would be too big to confront, there would be no mountain too high to climb and no valley too low to walk.  “We are resolve that this fight would even continue if we are confirmed by the Honorable Liberian Senate. But until then, the process of review of all the audit reports has started. So, I want to announce to you that the fight or the war on corruption is not today, it’s not hereafter, it’s not tomorrow but begins now. And the focus is to recover the resources of the Liberian people and to root out looters and those who believe that they can reduce the national treasury to a sorry state.” 

THE SOLICITOR GENERAL Designate says he has begun the review process of all audits and investigations by the General Auditing Commission and the Liberia Anti Corruption Commission, declaring that the goal is to create a conducive atmosphere where those who have been audited and found liable would be invited and given two choices to make – our priority choice number one is the recovery process, it’s call restitution and when you are invited after the review process, you would be given these two choices – restitution or prosecution.”

ON ANY GIVEN DAY, Liberians, at home and abroad would welcome this with open arms. But this is Liberia, the oldest country on the continent of Africa on the verge of turning 171 years old.

THIS IS LIBERIA, a country that has seen so many bad times, been through to so much and where majority of its citizens have been denied the basic necessities of life due to bad governance, corruption and a breakdown of the rule of law.

THE MAXIM – “He who comes into equity must come with clean hands” – applies here because the principles of equity and justice are universal in the common-law courts of the world. While no maxim is ever absolute, it is universally accepted that all of the principles must be weighed and fitted to the facts of an individual controversy, as is the case with Cllr. Cephus.

LIBERIA HAS COME TOO FAR to turn back now. We must not allow our justice system to suffer unjustly and we must not continue turning a blind eye while disregarding respect for the rule of law. 

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