Liberia: Lofa County Senator-elect, Brownie Samukai, Others, Found Guilty by Supreme Court; Ordered to Pay US$1.1M; Given Six Months to Pay Half the Amount or Go to Jail

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Temple of Justice, Monrovia – The Supreme Court of Liberia has upheld the lower court’s ruling against Senator-elect J. Brownie Samukai and two other co-appellants and sentenced them to two years in prison each for misapplication of US$1.1 million intended for the Armed Forces of Liberia.

However, the court ruled that the prison terms could be suspended if the convicts restitute 50 percent of the fund within six months and make full payment within a year.

The ruling of the nation’s highest court against Mr. Samukai, the newly elected Senator of Lofa County is a huge blow to his re-emerging political career and the opposition Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) on whose tickets he got elected.

Mr. Samukai, the former Minister of Defense had hoped to have been exonerated by the High Court following his conviction by the lower court in 2020.

Judge Yamie Quiqui Gbeisay of Criminal Court ‘C’ in March 2020 ruled him and two of his co-defendants, Joseph P. Johnson, former Deputy Minister for Administration and James Nyumah Dorkor, former Comptroller of the Ministry of Defense guilty of the crimes of theft of property, misuse of public money and criminal conspiracy and awarded them separate prison terms. Mr. Samukai was given a higher two-year prison sentence, while his co-defendants were given six months jail terms each 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.

They 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.”

The high court upheld the lower court’s decision with a slight modification that they all should be awarded a two-year prison sentence each since they committed the crimes together.  

“Wherefore and in view of the foregoing, the final judgement of the trial court is affirmed with modifications. The appellants are hereby sentenced to serve a term of two years each, in a common jail. However, the sentences shall be suspended provided the said appellants shall restitute the full amount US$1, 147,656.35 (One Million One Hundred Forty-Seven Thousand Six Hundred Fifty-Six 35/100 United States Dollars) or fifty percent (50%) within the period of six (6) months and thereafter enter appropriate arrangements to pay the remaining portion in one calendar year. Shall the appellant fail or refuse to restitute as stated above, then and in that case they shall be incarcerated in the common jail and remain therein until the full amount is paid or liquidated at the rate of US$25 per month as provided for by law. The Clerk of this Court is ordered to send a mandate to the court below to resume jurisdiction over this case and give effect to this judgement. AND IT IS HEREBY SO ORDERED.”

Associate Justice Jamestta Howard Wolokollie was the only member of the bench that disagreed with the majority opinion and did not affix her signature to the judgement.  

Senator Samukai’s Fate in Limbo?

Political pundits are terming the verdict against Senator-elect Samukai who continues to face a plethora of court cases before and after his election as another heavy blow to his political career. With the confirmation of the ruling, it is either imprisonment for Mr. Samukai or he would have to break bank to restitute such huge sum of money.

Although there is no law or statue that could stop Samukai from becoming Senator after an election, such embarrassing verdict has the propensity to dampen the enthusiasm that has engulfed his victory, diminish his spirit of serving the people of Lofa, and cast a shadow of doubt over his nine year representation. . This embarrassment may extend to the CPP, on which ticket he was elected.

The CPP, a conglomerate of the top four opposition political parties including the All Liberian Party (ALP), Alternative National Congress (ANC), Liberty Party (LP) and the Unity Party (UP) has been a major critic of the George Weah-government and his ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC).  

The CPP’s huge success in the December 8, 2020 Midterm Senatorial Election, especially its massive win in the CDC-stronghold of Montserrado County with the help of its populous stalwart, Senator Abraham Darius Dillon has been attributed by observers and pundits to the party’s anti-corruption messages and the public disillusionment over the government’s failure to combat systemic corruption.

Many are of the opinion that to have a sitting Senator who have been convicted of corruption by the Supreme Court will not auger well for the CPP as it would be seen embracing that wish it professes to hate, thereby contradicting itself.

Was it 4-G Judgement?

With the Supreme Court’s judgement coming just on the heel of the National Elections Commission’s Board of Commissioners’ affirmation that Mr. Samukai is the duly elected Senator of Lofa County, there have been mounting speculations that the government’s next move was to run to the Supreme Court as its last hope to thwart Samukai’s victory.

And many of Samukai’s supporters have still not fathomed how come his pending appeal case outside the political arena suddenly surfaced on the Supreme Court’s priority docket. They term the judgement against him as a witch hunt by the Weah- government through the Supreme Court.

“Lofa County has spoken loud and clear! Stop witch hunting this man in a very weak reasoning,” writes a social medial follower identified as James Koi on Facebook. Gray King added: “Their plan will fail.”

However, apparently defending the Supreme Court’s decision to render judgement into the case, Chief Justice Francis S. Korkpor, speaking before the court began handling its slew of judgments on Monday in several cases said, since the law did not give specific dates for closure of the terms of court, but only points out the opening of the terms of court, which is in March and October of every year, the Supreme Court reserves the jurisdiction to remain active and render judgements into cases on its dockets.

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