Liberia: Lofa Citizens Vow to Raise and Restitute US$1.4M on Behalf of Senator-elect Brownie Samukai and Others after Supreme Court Ruling
Voinjama, Lofa County – Following the Supreme Court’s ruling last week against Senator-elect Brownie Samukai, residents of Lofa County have denounced the move as the “single greatest witch hunt of a politician” under the presidency of George Mannah Weah.
The Supreme Court affirmed the verdict of the lower court convicting the Lofa county senator and two others to two years imprisonment or restitution of US$1.4 million.
“A witch Hunt’
However, according to a group of Lofa residents under the banner Movement of Lofa Residents in Solidarity with Samukai, the aim of all this is intended to “disgrace, intimidate and dehumanize Samukai through a mere propaganda and sensitional court case”.
“We are equally very disappointed and frustrated in the ruling handed down against Samukai. We, therefore, term this as politically-driven and a witch hunt against our leader,” the group’s statement said.
“Document showing payment of medical bills for Armed Forces of Liberia Sergeant, Titus , who got wounded in Peacekeeping mission in Mali and was flown to India for medical treatment, which cost over US$ 100, 000 was paid and further payments made for his upkeep,” the group’s statement said.
“Titus was dying and he was a soldier wounded in the process of serving his country. Would you have loved him to die, what if Titus were the Chief Justice’s son or the president’s son? How can the former minister of defense pay such a money, if this is not witch-hunt?’
Addressing reporters, the citizens said the dossier containing the allegations of the misapplication of pension funds of the Armed Forces of Liberia was a hoax which had been dreamt up by the Executive Branch to harm the reputation of Samukai.
“Brownie Samukai has never been involved in any act of corruption since 30 years when he started working in public service. We see him as an innocent victim of a politically motivated and selective justice case,” said the group’s statement.
The group claimed the ruling against Samukai is more political than legal because of his reported refusal to join the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) of President Weah prior to the December 8 Special Senatorial Election.
“Before the election last year the CDC made several attempts to lure Samukai to the CDC but he refused and that’s why angering the Executive Branch through the Supreme Court to dehumanize our Senator-elect,” the group said.
Lofa citizens’ anger at Supreme Court
The target of most of the citizens’ anger was Liberia’s Supreme Court, which the group accused of being out to disgrace Samukai.
“The manner in which the Judiciary Branch of our Government has been dispensing Justice in recent years, especially under the Weah-led government, has made Liberians to question the neutrality and integrity of that body,” the group said.
“During the trial, the Defense argued that they were authorized by the former president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, then Commander-in-Chief of the AFL and presented an authorization letter to the effect. How then the former minister of defense was guilty of executing the order of the Commander-in Chief”?
“Let the word go forth that we, the thousands of Lofa citizens who believe in the Senator-elect and voted him overwhelmingly wish to inform the Supreme Court that we are against the ruling”
It has been a turbulent one month for Samukai, who was elected senator of Lofa during the December 8 Special Senatorial election. The same Supreme Court is expected to hear an appeal from the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change after both the National Elections Commission hearing officer and the Board of Commissioners affirmed and reaffirmed Samukai’s victory during the election.
Much of the group’s 900-word rants against President Weah appeared to be resolved around warning the president “not to temper with the peace being enjoyed by Liberians”.
History of the case
The nation’s highest court against Samukai is a huge blow to his re-emerging political career and the opposition Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) on whose ticket he got re-elected. Samukai, the former minister of defense had hoped to have been exonerated by the High Court after his conviction by the lower court in 2020.
Judge Yamie Quiqui of Criminal Court “C’ in March ruled him and two of his co-defendant, Joseph P. Johnson, former deputy minister or administrattion and James Nyumah Dorkor, former Comptroller of the Ministry of National Defense guilty of the crimes of criminal conspiracy of theft of property, misuse of public funds and criminal conspiracy and awarded them separate prison term.
Samukai was given a two-year prison sentence while his co-defendants were given six months jail terms respectively but with a condition that their sentences shall be suspended if they all restitute the amount of US$1.1 million in question over a one-year period.
A summary of the prosecution, in this case the Government of Liberia’s argument is that defendant Samukai and his co-defendants had no authority to use the AFL pension funds; that in fact said funds were private funds; and that the defendants issued checks in their own names for personal benefits.
But the Defendants took appeal at the Supreme Court and they (serving now as appellants), justified that they acted in line with the Constitution and relevant laws. They claimed that they acted on the orders of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to procure materials and render other services for the soldiers. They claimed that US$50,000 was paid on the instruction of former President Sirleaf as death benefits to the families of the late General Abdurrahman, the Nigerian army officials who served as the first post war first Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of Liberia.hey argued that President George Weah was also briefed about the expenditure of the fund and an agreement was reached between him and Sirleaf for the Government to repay the AFL fund, adding that it was based on this commitment that President Weah ordered an initial payment of US$460,000.
But reading the four to one opinion of the High Court, Associate Justice Yousif D. Kabah said the court did not find substantive evidence that Mr. Samukai and his co-appellants were authorized by the former President. But assuming they were given authorization, they should have declined because the action was against the law.
The Supreme Court also claimed that there is unrefuted evidence gathered from the records of the case that the soldiers of the AFL compulsorily contributed to the fund lodged in the AFL Pension Account established at Ecobank Liberia Limited, and as such the said account is not a public account intended for the operational use of the Ministry of National Defense.
Excerpt of the Court’s opinion: “That the evidence culled from the records shows that the appellants were fiduciaries of the soldiers of the AFL Pension Account; hence, every withdrawal from said account should have been by authorization or consent of the soldiers of the AFL. Therefore, the unrelated expenses of US$1,147,656.35 on the instruction of the former President of Liberia was without the pale of the law, and the appellants are held personally liable for the unauthorized expenditure on the accounts.”