Liberia: A Trial of Missteps in the Verdict Against Ex-Minister Brownie Samukai
MONROVIA – On Tuesday, March 24, 2020, Assigned Circuit Judge Presiding over the case involving former Defense Minister Brownie Samukai and his two colleagues, former Deputy Minister for Administer Joseph F. Johnson, and James Nyumah Dorkor, former Comptroller, announced a guilty verdict on three out of 5 charges in the indictment. Defense lawyers represented by former Associate Justice His Honor Wilkins Wright, took exception to the ruling and announced an appeal to the October term of the Supreme Court.
This paper has reporters who have been reporting on this case since it began almost one month ago. They have followed the proceedings, prosecution presentation and evidence provided and their witnesses; testimony of witnesses, cross examinations and rebuttal witnesses and observed first hand cross examinations by both the prosecution and defense. During the entire trial, and testimonies from witnesses, as well as evidence provided, clearly established that the defendants DID NOT STEAL ANY MONEY NEITHER DID THEY USE ANY OF THE FUNDS FOR THEIR PERSONAL USE, NOR DID THEY GIVE ANY MONEY TO ANY BUSINESS INTEREST. Secondly, the defendants provided evidence of the authorization they received from the former Commander in Chief as their authority to expend said funds, but that these funds shall be reimbursed by Government. Thirdly, there were no disputes as to the beneficiaries of the expenditure made on the AFL, including payment authorized by the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of Liberia, as GOL contribution following the death of the former Head of the AFL.
What is baffling this analysis, is the Judge’s understanding and comparing the constitutional (Chapter Vi, Article 50) and statutory functions of the Minister of Defense over the Military – Armed Forces of Liberia (Executive Law Chapter 24, section 24.2 and 24.2), to that of a civilian agency of government, and the bureaucracy of decision of making.
The President as Commander in Chief of the AFL has complete authority OVER ALL ACTIVITIES OF THE ARMED FORCES OF LIBERIA, without distinction, and as per the Executive Law, the MOD likewise. During testimonies of the Defendants, and MOD and AFL Officials, it was made clear that the military operates on vertical orders; which means there is nothing in the MOD mandate or authorization that talks about consultative board meetings like other civil agencies. It is our understanding that the MOD may issue orders to the AFL COS, and said order can only be changed, amended, reversed, stayed, or cancelled by the Minister of National Defense or the Commander in Chief of the AFL.
For the Judge to say that the Minister of Defense should have disobeyed the order of the Commander in Chief or resign his portfolio as Minister, has no constitutional nor legal basis, since the intent and order of the President, were legal and very clear, as evidenced by parameters within the letter of authorization granted by the President on a reimbursable basis, which was provided as evidence by the defendants. Is the Court saying that for the MOD to increase the salaries of soldiers, he should have asked the soldiers how much salary increment do they want? Is the court saying that the Government cannot credit and pay back funds from any budget line as a result of necessity? Why did the court not ruled that the 100pounds bags of rice provided the soldiers monthly, which came out among the decisions made in the interest of the soldiers, be returned, since the Minister did not consult the soldiers? Is the court also saying that all medical treatments provided to wounded and sick soldiers, as well as funds provided to families of dead soldiers, and other support to the AFL should have awaited the bureaucracy of civil agencies, amidst budget shortfall, to the detriment of the AFL? Did the court not take into consideration as mentioned during testimonies, the periodic budget deficit the government was experiencing during that period, thus the approval, by the Commander in Chief of the AFL, to operate on a reimbursable basis, was granted?
Secondly, in contrast to the thinking of the court, this paper from its reporting saw that the Commander in Chief did not ordered the Minister to misuse said funds, rather for specific purposes as outlined in the letter of approval granted by the President (in March of 2014). It is very clear the intent of the Commander in Chief when she issued the order of no objection to the request made by the Minister. It was made known during the testimonies that In the Chain of command of the AFL, the Commander’s Intent is cardinal to execution of directives, orders, missions, operations, tasks, activities. We did not see any evidence of injury to the AFL, rather we clearly heard how the AFL was being taken of, and that the Government accepted responsibility to repay any and all money used out of that account.
During testimonies and documentary evidences produced in court, the prosecution did not raise any objection to the legality of the letter of approval or no objection from the Commander in Chief to the Minister to expend said funds on a reimbursable basis.
Thirdly, none of the witnesses including the present Minister of Defense, the AFL Chief of Staff and His Deputy during their testimonies ever showed any policy articulating guidelines of the operations of the AFL welfare and pension account which was opened by the Minister of Defense. This was reiterated in the 18 January 2018 Statement of the decision of the Liberian Government on the status of the AFL Welfare and Pension fund. To date, no government entity neither did President Weah, upon ascending to power on January 22, 2018 ever rebuked, or rejected or clarify that decision which was taken at that time.
In fact, during our investigation, we credibly learned that the recent former Solicitor General (prior to Cllr. Cephas) had written an opinion on this matter to the Minister of Justice concluding that the actions of the defendants were legal, and there were no criminal intentions in the actions of the defendants, and no legal basis to pursue this matter any further. It would seem that this matter was brought upon (by Cllr Cephas and reportedly Minister McGill) only after defendant Samukai made known in March of 2018, his intention to run as a Senatorial candidate for Lofa County, and got the endorsement of his kinsmen from Foya of their unflinching support.
In another instance, the Court relied on the testimony of the Deputy Minister of Finance, who stated that payment was made to the AFL because according to him families of AFL soldiers had set up road blocks, issued threats to the government and the peace and security of the people, and a national security meeting was convened and the government was advised to make some payment to the soldiers. From our investigation, and from sources within the corridor of power, this Government never held any national security meeting on this subject matter, nor is there any record of any meetings held by the NSC on this matter, neither has there been any road block set up by families of AFL personnel since January 22, 2018 to March 2020 on this matter, and there has been no evidence that AFL families issued any threat against the peace and security of the people of Liberia. This is a BOLD FACE UNTRUTH, and the ruling by the judge agreed to this statement. During the trial, documents were introduced by the Defense, and accepted in court, which showed how the request from the AFL to the MOD and from the MOD to the MOFDP arising from discussions held, and instructions from President Weah (to honor his commitment made in January 17, 2018,) ordered the reimbursement made in December 2018.
The records of multiple newspapers clearly showed that during the periods late December 2017 and January 2018 on the dissatisfaction on the status of AFL Pension and Welfare Account, brought out families of AFL personnel on the road opposite the gate of the EBK Barracks and set up road blocks. These families did not issue any threat rather they were demanding that funds used from this account be put back. This situation was brought under control by the then Chief of Staff, and as previously reported, subsequent meetings were held with the then MOD, later with former President Sirleaf, and other meetings involving the Incoming and Outgoing Commander In Chiefs, COS, MOD, and other AFL Senior officials. It was reported that the outcome of these mtgs led to the 18 January 2018 Press release on the decision of the Liberian Government on the status of the AFL Pension and Welfare account. During all of these meetings, it was evident and reported that families of the AFL did not threaten the peace and stability of the nation, neither did they exhibit any form of threat in this regard. So, for the judge to say that payment was made due to threats to the peace and stability of the nation was poor judgement.
Lastly, for the Judge to say that.” …to legally obligate the government of Liberia financially that obligation must be sanctioned by both Executive and Legislative branches of government….” Is clearly a precedent that will definitely hunt this present government given the way they are operating. Is the judge suggesting that any financial obligation owed by the government (or any government entity) repayment has to be sanctioned by the National Legislature? Is the Judge saying that the six figures owed various press houses by the Ministry of Information, that such repayment can only be done when it is sanctioned by the National Legislature? Is the Judge also saying that when President Weah, thru the Ministry of Information, admitted transferring funds ear marked by development partners for specific projects and deposited at the Central Banks were used for other purposes, and then promised to put those funds back, that the actions of this government were illegal? Is that what this Judge is implying?
Our analysis also established that the name of the fund as used in the Ministry of National Defense, and clearly evident in the report of the AFL which was provided as evidence to the court by the prosecution, clearly stated COMPULSORY CONTRIBUTORY SAVINGS FUND. Our investigation also showed that all references to this account at the Ministry of Defense, and the official name of this account as used in documents from the AFL, clearly explains the compulsory nature of the savings, coming out of contributions made to each soldier by the Government. To say this fund was not contributed by Government again is a failure of the court to fair.
The decision of Criminal Court C, judging the Minister and his co-defendants guilty for not personally using funds, not stealing funds, not misplacing funds, nor transferring funds to their personal business interests is a calamity of justice.
We are left to agree that this trial against the defendants, especially defendant Samukai is politically motivated to tarnish his reputation and possibly deny him the opportunity to stand as a formidable candidate in Lofa County for the Senatorial elections in October 2020. It seems that after the failure of the CDC government to recruit Samukai to become their candidate or ride under the emblem of the CDC in Lofa county, a decision was made to indict Samukai (and his co-defendants) and keep him busy in court and deny him the credibility to stand as a candidate for Lofa County.
According to our sources and correspondents from Lofa, it seems the guilty verdict has even propelled more support for defendant Samukai.