Liberia: Court Dismisses Corruption Case against NEC Chairperson Davidetta Brown Lansanah

Criminal Court ‘C’ Ombudsman Ruled that the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission Cannot Act As Ombudsman to Trial the Chairperson of the National Elections Commission for Violation of the National Code of Conduct

Monrovia – The Sixth Judicial Circuit Court at the Temple of Justice or Criminal “C” has dismissed the indictment against National Elections Commission Chairperson Davietta Browne Lassanah, without prejudice to the state.

This means the state has the right to re-indicte her, despite Judge Ciapha Carey’s Thursday, April 28, ruling.

Madam Lassanah was indicted by the state, through the Ministry of Justice in collaboration with the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission on allegations of predicate offense for Money Laundering (Insider Trading and Market Manipulation and violation of the Code of Conduct (Conflict of interest and disclosure of interest).

However, Defendant Lassanah through her legal team filed a Motion to dismiss the indictment on the basis that Criminal Court “C” lacks jurisdiction over the thing involved, and cannot also sue in the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission.

On the issue of legal capacity to sue, the defense contended that the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission did not and does not have original jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute alleged violations of the Code of Conduct, but rather, the Act or Legislation enacting the Code of Conduct, which provides that an established Ombudsman Office as an author to receive and investigate all complaints of acts of violation of the Code of Conduct, stressing that only after the investigation marking the finding, that the act of accused is in breach of the Code of Conduct.

In resistance, the prosecution contended that the Court has jurisdiction over the subject matter and that the Anti-Corruption Commission has the legal capacity to sue out the action.

However, the prosecution admitted to the question of the capacity to sue in the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission, that the Ombudsman is not yet operationalized, but contended that in the absence of the Ombudsman, the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission on its own can undertake to investigate violations of the Code of Conduct and other acts of corruption.

But in his ruling, following both teams’ argument, Judge Carey noted that the court holds and finds that the court lack jurisdiction over the subject matter of the case and elements involved and the person of defendant Lassanah.

Judge Carey further stated in his ruling that the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission lacked the legal capacity to take unto itself the function of the Ombudsman in assuming original jurisdiction to investigate alleged violations of the Code of Conduct.

“The Court further holds that it lacks jurisdictions over the subject matter and the thing involved, ” Inside Trading” and “the Code of Conduct,” Judge Carey stressed.

According to the Code of Conduct Act of 2014, Part XII, creating the office of Ombudsman, the Ombudsman is established as an independent autonomous body that shall be responsible for the enforcement, oversight, monitoring, and evaluation of the adherence to the Code of Conduct.

Accordingly, the Office of the Ombudsman shall receive and investigate all complaints, concerning the adherence to the Code of Conduct.

Furthermore, in the case where there is a determination of guilty and violation of the Code by private and public officials and employees of the Government, said violation shall be submitted by the Ombudsman to the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission or other relevant agencies of government.

Therefore, Judge Carey stated that if the violation is a result of a criminal act, including bribery, said would be submitted to the LACC or the authority responsible for that crime to conduct a criminal investigation and proceed with prosecution if probable cause is established.

He said: “Had the framers of the law intended to allow any other body to investigate complaints of the Code of Conduct in the absence of the Ombudsman, it would have expressly stated it in the law.”

To the contention of the Prosecution, Judge Carey said the court takes a different view and says that for the LACC to acquire the capacity to investigate and prosecute an alleged violation of an act that is in breach of the Code of Conduct, the LACC must receive from the Ombudsman a report which contains a finding or determination of guilty against the accused person, and it is only then that the LACC can assume jurisdiction to conduct criminal investigation and prosecution for violations of the act which is criminal under the law snd also in breach of the Code of Conduct.

Besides, the court observes that to defeat Movant’s argument that “insider trading and market manipulation” has not been criminalized under the law, the burden was on the LACC to show that the political process has acted in this regard, that is to say, that the Legislature has penalized insider trading under the law and that same was signed by the President and printed into handbills, citing that crime and punishment go together.

He said for the prosecution to rely on Black’s Law definition of insider trading shows that there is no law on the books that defines that conduct as criminal conduct, and that being the case, Black’s Law Dictionary has not been codified or designated by the Legislature as a source for defining criminal conduct where the statute is silent and that he is inclined that to conclude that insider trading is not a crime punishable under the Penal Law, nor the Anti-Money Laundering Act and cannot be prosecuted ln grounds that there is no definition, grabbing, nor punishment ascribed to it.

As a result, Judge Carey stated that it is constrained by the law to grant the motion and therefore dismiss the indictment for the reasons stated above.

“With this dismissal of the indictment, these proceedings are abated discontinued forthwith, also the Defendant is hereby discharged from further answering in these proceedings as though the said case was never initiated and her Criminal Appearance Bond ordered returned to her,” Judge Carey maintained.

Meanwhile, State Prosecutors took exception to the Supreme Court.