Liberia: Judge Suspended for One for Alleged Corruption
Monrovia – Associate Commercial Court Judge Richard Klah has been suspended for one year by the Supreme Court of Liberia and risked impeachment by the Legislature.
Report by Bettie K. Johnson Mbayo, [email protected]
Judge Klah’s suspension followed a recommendation by the Judiciary Inquiry Committee (JIC), a body which investigates the conducts of judges.
The JIC recommended to the high court that Judge Klah be suspended for one year for “gross impropriety and irregularity.”
The Commercial Court Judge was investigated by the JIC for allegedly receiving bribe and having communications with both parties during the trial.
It can be recalled that on July 16 this year, the high court opened an investigation regarding a JIC’s investigative report that explicitly pins Judge Klah to a telephone communication allegedly soliciting bribe from party litigants.
The court heard arguments into the matter after listening to the parties the Amicus Curiae (meaning: “friends of the Court”) and Klah’s legal team.
The JIC’s report also said that Judge Klah allegedly received a bribe under the pretext that he would enter a judgment in favor of a complainant, Swansey Fallah, who is the General Manager of the Kingdom Business Inc.
The report also recommended that Judge Klah be immediately suspended from serving as a judge for a period of not less than one year, with the loss of all salaries and benefits including transport, fuel, scratch cards for the period of his suspension.
“That, for his false statements under oath made both in his response to the complaint and in his testimony before the Commission, which by law is criminal, a further three months suspension be imposed upon Klah,” the report further recommended.
It also recommends that the Supreme Court set aside the decision rendered by Judge Klah in the “Action of Debt By Attachment” lawsuit brought by a Lebanese businessman, Moussa Abdulkarim, the chief executive officer of the Atlantic Development and Logistic Inc, against Swansey Fallah due to the gross unethical breach and proven irregularities associated with the hearing of the said case and remand same for a new trial.
It was against the JIC’s recommendation that Judge Klah filed a complaint to the Supreme Court against the Commission, arguing that it proceeded wrongly in its conclusion, where the Commission expressed serious doubt when he quoted the report by saying, “while it is difficult to make a determination as to whether the respondent judge did receive the amount of which the complainant states was delivered to him.”
To that recommendation, Klah contends that the Commission proceeded wrongly in its later conclusion that “the respondent judge did receive amounts from the complainant, Fallah without any factual basis or supporting proof.”
The bribery scandal grew when Fallah on March 17, 2016 wrote Chief Justice Francis Korkpor where he sought the Supreme Court’s intervention in regard to a grievance which he alleged he had been made to suffer by Judge Klah.
In that communication, Fallah complained that in a case where he was involved, and which was pending before the judge, he was told by the judge that if he, Fallah, paid the said judge a certain amount of money, he (the judge) would enter a judgment in his favor.
In total, Fallah claimed that he had paid to Judge Klah the amount of US$19,700.
Further Fallah’s letter alleged that on December 24, 2015, during the night hours, he received a strange call from a man who introduced himself as Judge Klah of the Commercial Court.
After his introduction, Fallah claimed that Judge Klah informed him that his friend Moussa Abdul Karim has taken his (Fallah’s) complaint to him (Judge Klah) that Fallah’s company was indebted to Karim in the amount of US$200,500 and that he Judge Klah was urging Fallah to pay such money and save him from trouble.
The letter said, Klah then instructed Fallah to locate him (Klah) at his office at the Temple of Justice for a conference with Karim to discuss payment plan.
Fallah also claimed that during the communication on the telephone he told Judge Klah that they were not indebted to Karim and that he will come to Klah to explain the details of the transaction between him and Karim after the Christmas Season.
After the festive season, Fallah’s letter claimed that he went to the Temple of Justice and was told that Judge Klah had travelled, but he made several follow ups, at which time he met Klah in his office.
During their meeting, Fallah said, he took time to explain the business transaction between him and Karim, but Judge Klah still maintained that he should pay to Karim at least US$150,000 and that he will ask Karim to abandon the rest of the money.
“I told Judge Klah frankly that we were not indebted to Karim but rather Karim was indebted to us according to business transaction that occurred between us,” the letter further alleged.
Unfortunately, Fallah’s letter claimed that on January 26, 2016, Judge Klah served him with a writ of arrest with attachment claiming the amount of US$200,500 by Karim and the case was being handled by another Judge, Chan-Chan Paegar.
However, for him not to go to jail, Fallah claimed that he obtained a required bond and went to the Commercial Court for filing when his lawyer, Lofen Kenneth, went to the public defender’s office to obtain some cash from one Atty. Sondah and Judge Klah spotted him standing in the lobby.
Later, Klah called him into his office and asked him if he came for the case between him and Karim and when he said ‘yes’, Judge Klah then promised that he would do all things possible to help him in the process during the adjudication since he knew that Karim was making false claims.
After the first day of the case, Fallah alleged that Judge Klah called him again and requested that he give him Judge Klah US$5,000 with the promise that he will dismiss the case because he knew surely that Karim was accusing Fallah falsely. Besides, Judge Klah warned him not to disclose the money transaction between them to his lawyer.
“By paying the US$5,000 to Judge Klah in his office introduced the beginning of my trouble in the hand of Judge Klah,” Fallah lamented, adding, “After that first transaction Judge Klah began to extort money from me on the weekly basis of not less than US$500 weekly.”
According to Fallah, from March 2016 to October 2016 Judge Klah demanded him on a weekly basis to pay for his home expenses, children school fees, car repairs, medical bills, bereavement funds, and his National Bar Association conference fees.
Fallah further claimed that before Judge Klah’s October 2016 ruling, he demanded Fallah to give him (Klah) the amount of US$6,000 that he needed to share the money to the two other judges of the court, Chan-Chan Paegar and Chief Judge Eva Mappy Morgan and himself Klah that each will take US$2,000 each as case closing fees.
Fallah also claimed that from January 26, 2016 up to the conclusion of the case in October 2016 the total money he gave to Judge Klah per his request amounted to US$19,700, not mentioning other court expenditure, bond fees and legal.
Unfortunately, Fallah claimed that to his dismay and shock at the conclusion of the trial, Judge Klah brought down a guilty verdict against him and his company, which led to his complaint to the Chief Justice.
Immediately afterward, Justice Korkpor forwarded the complaint to the JIC for investigation, which report Judge Klah had challenged.
Before the recommendation, the JIC opened an investigation which Judge Klah denied the accusation.
Judge Klah also argued that Fallah did not pay any money to him, but also that he had never discussed the case with Fallah, other than in the court, during the hearing of the proceedings, and in the present of all the parties.
Judge Klah again denied that he and Fallah had ever communicated on the phone and that the allegation of Fallah that they had used the medium of phone for communication was absolutely false.
Judge Klah also claimed that he did not know Fallah and Karim in the case before him, that he had never spoken to either of them via any cellphone communication or other that they were not his friends and he did not have their numbers, nor had he ever called or received calls from either of them.
Klah also vowed that if the Commission found any link between him and either of the parties in the case that was before him, via call records or other, then he, the judge was guilty of the allegation as contained in Fallah’s complaint.
It was after Judge Klah’s challenge that the Commission requested both GSM companies, Lonestar Cell MTN and Orange to bring the call logs between Judge Klah and Fallah and Judge Klah and Karim.
Surprisingly, both Lonestar and Orange call logs established that there were several call exchanges between Judge Klah and Fallah and Judge Klah and Karim.
In its ruling on Friday, August 16, 2019, the Supreme Court said Judge Klah’s handling of the debt case “was influenced by gross impropriety and irregularity, the judgement is hereby declared null and void and the trial ordered de novo and the findings and recommendations of the JIC are hereby endorsed…”
In addition to the endorsement of the JIC’s suspension recommendation, the Supreme Court says that the gravity of the ethical breaches committed by the Commercial Court Judge would warrant his referral to the House of Representatives to consider possible impeachment.
“However, due to the outrageous and reprehensible nature of Judge Klah’s violation of the Judicial Canons as well as our Criminal Statutes and the need to deter judicial officers in the jurisdiction from engaging in gross misconduct,
The court continues, “We hereby modify the penalties recommended by the JIC from suspension for not less than one year and unanimously hold that his name be forwarded to the Honourable House of Representatives to determine whether the acts he was found guilty of amount to impeachable offense.”