House Co-Chair and State Prosecutor Clash Over US$100M Drug Ruling in Landmark Cocaine Trial Acquittal
MONROVIA – A clash has ensued between the Co-Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on National Defense and Security Representative Samuel Kogar, and the former Special Assistant to the Solicitor General Counselor Lafayette Gould, over a non-guilty verdict rendered by the court in the historic US$100M drug case in the country.
Lawmaker Kogar is representing the people of Nimba in the 54th National Legislature. He is the current Chairman of the People’s Unification Party (PUP).
Counselor Gould is a Senior Prosecutor working with the government.
It can be recalled that the Criminal Court at the Temple of Justice acquitted Makki Ahmed Issam, Adulai Djalo, Oliver Zayzay, and Malam Conte, who were tried on charges of money laundering, unlicensed possession of controlled drugs, unlicensed importation of controlled drugs worth US$100M, and criminal conspiracy.
Zayzay, a Liberian citizen, along with two other foreign nationals, was arrested at the Sierra Leone border with Liberia on October 5, 2022, while attempting to flee Liberia following the bust.
All of the defendants reportedly fled the country, leaving behind the US$200,000 to be returned to them as ordered by the court following their verdict shortly after the court ruling.
The Ministry of Justice, through Minister Frank Musa Dean, described as appalling the not guilty verdict of Criminal Court “A” of the first judicial Circuit Court of Montserrado County at the Temple of Justice presided over by Judge A. Blamo Dixon in the 100-million drug bust trial.
Justice Minister Dean says the verdict clearly undermines the collective efforts of Liberia and its international coalition to clamp down on the illegal transit of illicit drugs using West Africa as the conduit to trade narcotics internationally from Latin America and elsewhere. He said for Liberia to play its role effectively in this international fight against drug trafficking, money laundering, and other crimes associated with illicit drug transportation and sale, all three branches of the government must take this fight as a collective responsibility and not just the executive.
“If the Executive through the Joint Security of the country, working in concert with their international counterparts, is ramping up the strife to apprehend and bring to book illicit drug traffickers and money launderers, our drug laws must compliment such efforts through appropriate legislations, and the courts must be ready to act in conformity with the laws and gravity of the breach of our laws” Liberia’s Attorney General asserted.
He said it becomes worrisome and shameful as in the case of the recent verdict, for the courts to be setting hardcore criminals free when the evidence is overwhelming in the face of international security collaboration that tracked and brought the perpetrators of this heinous crime before the law.
“There was 100-million USD worth of drug stacked in a container that landed in Monrovia and the accused were caught red-handed attempting to take ownership of the container holding the illicit drug by attempting to bribe the businessman housing the container, yet the court through the empaneled 12-man jury said such brazen evidence didn’t warrant a guilty verdict. What more can the joint security and the Justice Ministry do to convince the court that the law was broken” he retorted.
Minister Dean said what is even more concerning and despicable is the fact that these kinds of verdicts only lend credence to the widely held international and local perception that the judiciary-namely the courts are inherently compromised and it has again ignited the lingering debate of whether the judicial system should continue with the age-old jury-trial process when there are always talks about the unethical practice of jury tampering during such trials.
The Justice Minister said the ruling has also brought Liberia to international ridicule. He said even more lampooning is the fact that hours after the verdict and the release of the defendants by Judge A Blamo Dixon, the four men have now absconded. He wondered why the men would flee or hide if they truly believed that they had committed no criminal offence. This is sickening, he said.
“The court ordered the return of the two-hundred thousand United States dollars seized by the joint security during the arrest of the four men, so why are they not around to receive their money, if they know they have nothing to run from” the Attorney General Dean questioned.
But speaking when he participated on a local radio talk show in Monrovia via telephone on Wednesday, May 24, Representative Kogar termed as a complete deception the statement issued by the Ministry of Justice against the court’s verdict.
He claimed that the government blundered when it failed to preserve the US$100M worth of cocaine it claimed was arrested from the suspects.
“The first thing the government did was they destroyed evidence. How can you arrest drugs and you don’t preserve the evidence and you are left with only a few cartoons and you say that’s the evidence you will produce in court? We told them that method was wrong.”
He quoted Justice Minister Counselor Frank Musa Dean as saying that it was risky for the government to preserve the drugs for fear of attacks from the drug cartel that could have been stationed in the country as reason responsible for the burning of the drugs.
He questioned the justification given by authorities of the Liberian security sector that the cartel could “kill anyone at any time” if the US$100M cocaine was preserved by the government
Representative Kogar said the statement published by the Minister of Justice was a cover-up to black paint the Judiciary.
“If you say you arrested drugs, you should have preserved it. While preserving, you could take one from there and carry to the court. When there is any further allegation that it was not in huge quantity, government could have taken the court to where the drug was arrested and is being kept.”
But reacting to the assertions made by Representative Kogar, Counselor Lafayette Gould argued that the Liberian government was not under obligation to preserve the huge consignment of drug confiscated.
He said pictorial and visual evidences have shown that the drug was destroyed by the government in the presence of Drug Enforcement Officers from the United States.
“He (Kogar) does not understand anything about prosecution. He shouldn’t present himself like someone who is doing criminal investigation. He expected us to carry the whole drug at the court? What we can demonstrate to the court is that, the item we took from the person is drugs. That is sufficient. You expected us to keep the drug or take the whole drug to the court to say here is it.”
He said Representative Kogar and his colleagues are the ones who are supposed to provide adequate funding to the Liberia Drug Enforcement Agency (LDEA) and other security apparatus to crackdown on the illicit flow of drugs and other illegal substances into the country.
He noted that the Nimba County lawmaker and his colleagues should desist from “sharing monies among themselves and denigrating people.”
Counselor Gould maintained that in the wake of limited resources, lawmakers are making fabulous salaries and allocating huge sum of monies to purchase expensive cars for themselves, while the LDEA and other agencies continue to struggle due to lack of appropriate budgetary support.
He said it is quite unfair for lawmakers to downplay the sacrifices state security actors continue to render the nation and its people in the midst of limited budgetary support.
He maintained that it was quite disingenuous for Representative Kogar to play a blind eye to the lack of logistical support to the security sector, but wants them to overly perform in the discharge of their duties and responsibilities.