Liberia: Supreme Court ‘Ends’ Samukai’s Political Career; Sentences Him, Others to Imprisonment
Monrovia – The Supreme Court of Liberia Thursday ordered the incarceration of Lofa County Senator-elect Brownie J. Samukai and co-defendants for two years for their failure to comply with the mandate of the court – that’s to pay 50 percent of the judgement sum in the tone of $ 537, 828, 15 (five hundred seventy three thousand eight hundred twenty eight dollars) within the period of six months.
The court said Samukai and co-defendants will now serve for two years imprisonment and pay the full judgement amount of $ 1,147, 656.35, less than the amounts already paid by them. The Supreme Court said: “Upon their failure to pay, they shall remain in prison until the full balance is liquidated at the amount of $25 per month.
The Supreme Court in its ruling said that the law provides that “where criminal defendants are jointly adjudged guilty of a crime, they are together considered collectively responsible for any fine or penalty until the Judgement is fully satisfied”.
“That Judge A. Blamo Dixon inappropriately executed the Mandate of the Supreme Court when he relied on the ruling of Judge Yamie Gbeisay (which had been modified by this court) and apportioned the judgement amount of $147, 656, 35 among the three respondents and ordered that each respondents, including the co-respondent J. Brownie Samukai, pays his share of the judgement amount of 50 percent which he calculated to be $191, 276, 05, the judge is clearly in error and hence the bill of Information will lie.”
“Given the clear language of the February 8, 2021 of the Supreme Court regarding the joint liability of restituting the judgement amount, the payment by Samukai in the amount of $191, 276,05, can’t be considered as compliance with the Mandate of the Supreme Court,” the court said.
Samukai and the Supreme Court saga
Samukai, former Defense Minister, has faced hurdles in taking his seat as Lofa County’s senator after the Supreme Court of Liberia temporarily halted his certification by the National Election Commission (NEC).
The nation’s highest court’s decision against Samukai, of the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP), was trigged by a Writ of Prohibition filed March 2,2021, by O’Neil Passewe, chair of the Movement for Progressive Change.
Passewe asked the court to halt the certification of Samukai because he has been convicted by the Supreme Court for the crime of money laundering.
Samukai received the most votes in the December 8, 2020 Senatorial election. Of the 11 candidates who vied for the Lofa County senatorial seat, Samukai received 20, 431 votes, followed by Independent candidate Cllr. Joseph Jallah with 13,968 votes.Samukai has experienced mixed rulings with the Supreme Court since he won the senatorial seat in Lofa.
Supreme Court reserves ruling
Months later, the Supreme Court reserved ruling in the case involving Samukai, and the Movement for Progressive Change ( MPC).
The Court’s decision came after lawyers representing Samukai filed an appeal to the full bench, stating that Justice Joseph Nagbe’s ruling was a bias.
Samukai’s lawyers prayed the Supreme Court to deny the Writ of Prohibition and allow the certification process of their client to go on.
In the ruling, Justice Nagbe emphatically noted that at no time did the Supreme Court order the National Elections Commission (NEC) to certificate Samukai, but to rather announce the final result of the election, contrary to Samukai’s argument.
The Court also denied Samukai’s argument that though it affirmed the final ruling of the lower court for the crimes charged against him, but the court’s sentence that he be incarcerated for two years was suspended and under the suspension he is a free citizen whose liberty including to occupy a public office cannot be taken from him.
Mixed rulings since election victory
On February 24, 2021, the Supreme Court of Liberia ruled in Samukai’s favor in the electoral dispute case filed by three of his rivals, claiming irregularities and fraud in Lofa County District No. 4.
The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Samukai and mandated to the NEC to proceed with the matter.On February 8, 2021, the Supreme Court upheld a criminal court’s verdict in the corruption case involving Samukai and a former deputy minister and the former Comptroller at the Ministry of Defense.
On March 24, 2020, the Criminal Court “C’’ found Samukai, Joseph F. Johnson and former Deputy Minister for Administration and J. Nyumah Dorkor, former Comptroller of the Ministry of Defense guilty of misappropriating US$1.3 million from the Armed Forces compulsory contributing fund that was deposited at Ecobank Liberia.
Samukai and his lawyers appealed the case. In his ruling issued last week, Judge Yamie Gbeisay, said the government did not produce sufficient evidence to convict Samukai and his two deputy ministers of money laundering and economic sabotage.
But the Supreme Court in its decision upholding the lower court’s guilty verdict said all public officials and employees shall obey all lawful instructions issued to them by their supervisors and they shall be held liable and responsible for acts of commission or omission as in the case of the corruption verdict. The court found:
‘’That the defendant is guilty of misuse of public fund when he disposes, use, or transfer any interest or property which is entrusted to him as of. That there is unrefuted evidence gathered from the record of this case that the soldiers of the AFL compulsory contributed to the fund in the AFL pension account established at Ecobank Liberia LTD therefore the said account is not a public account intended for the ministry of national defense.”
“That there is evidence from the record showed that defendant Samukai over fiduciary of the soldiers of the AFL pension account.Wherefore in view of the foregoing, the final judgement of the trial court judge is hereby affirmed with modification.”
The Supreme Court ruled that the sentence will be suspended if the defendants shall restitute the full amount of USD 1,147,456.35 or 50% thereof within the period of six months and plan with the court to pay the remaining portion in one year.Failure to pay will result in the defendants’ incarceration in the common jail and there in until the full amount is paid or liquidated at the rate of 25 USD per month as provided by law, the Supreme Court ruled.
Victim of political witch hunt
Residents of Lofa County have denounced the move as the “single greatest witch hunt of a politician” under the presidency of George Mannah Weah.
According to a group of Lofa residents under the banner Movement Lofa Citizens in Solidarity with Samukai, the aim of all this is intended to “disgrace, intimidate and dehumanize Samukai through a mere propaganda and sensational 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.
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”.
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”.