Monrovia – The Government of Liberia in July, 2013 indicted Ellen Corkrum who while serving as head of the Liberia Airport Authority left the country secretly and later released strings of recordings linking senior government officials to alleged corruption.
She was indicted for theft of property and economic sabotage in line with a deal that was intended to revamp the country’s only international airport devastated by the civil war.
Madam Corkrum who made public series of damaging recordings of senior government officials was out of Liberia when the indictment was drawn against her by the state which complicated the legal proceedings based on the territorial jurisdiction issue growing from the result of her location-the United States and that of Criminal Court C which has jurisdiction over the case.
Holding dual citizenry as a Liberian due to birth and an American, getting Corkrum to face trial has been very difficult for the government. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf promised that the Government of Liberia was exerting all effort to ensure the return of Corkrum to face trial in Liberia.
Liberia’s Solicitor General Betty L. Blamo at some time travelled to the United States to seek the return of Corkrum but up to date she is yet to be brought under the jurisdiction of the court and has not being served the indictment.
Motion to dismiss
In spite of the fact that Corkrum is yet to be served the indictment which will automatically bring her under the jurisdiction of the court, she now says she wants the indictment quashed for Failure to Proceed with the case.
The communication which is currently before the court was filed by CEMAR law firm and Corkrum also informed that court that Cllr. Sayma Serinus Cephus has been added as her counsel on the indictment case.
Legal argument ensues
Under the Liberian legal system, a motion to dismiss can be filed if the opposing party fails to proceed with the case after two terms of court.
In the case of Corkrum, legal pundits have said that the motion to dismiss filed by the defendant has no legal basis on grounds that she was not properly served the indictment and brought under the jurisdiction of the court.
Chapter 18 section 18.2 of the criminal procedure law on filing a motion to dismiss provides that a case on failure to proceed can only be done unless good cause is not shown for failure to proceed with trial.
It also provides that a court shall dismiss a complaint against a defendant who is not indicted by the end of the next succeeding term of court after his arrest for an indictable offense or his/her appearances in court in response to a summons or notice to appear charging him with such offense.
The statue states “Unless good cause is shown a court shall dismiss an indictment if the defendant is not tried during the next term after the finding of the indictment, a court shall dismiss a complaint charging a defendant with an offense liable by a magistrate or justice of the peace if trial is not commenced in court in response to a summon or notice to appear.”
July 2013, the grand jury indicted Corkrum and Melvin Johnson on a three-count allegation, among other things, that they violated the public trust by wrongfully diverting public money and other properties to themselves and their friends.
In a ruling on the motion to dismiss the indictment, the presiding judge at that time granted the motion only on Musa Bility and other local defendants leaving out those who resided in the United States.
Presiding Judge Peter Gbeneweleh said that Bility was the only defendant served with the writ of arrest along with the indictment and brought before the court while Ellen Corkrum and others had not been served with the indictment to be brought before the jurisdiction of the court.
Fruitless effort to extradite
It can be recalled a petition filed by the Government of Liberia before the State Bar of Georgia against Mr. Melvin Johnson resulted in the suspension of Mr. Johnson’s license to practice law. Johnson was the companion and romantic partner of Ms. Ellen Corkrum, Managing Director of the Liberia Airport Authority between September 2012 and January 2013.
According to a special statement read by Solicitor General Blamo at the Ministry of Information, the Government presented an extradition request to the United States Embassy in Monrovia for both individuals and the request remains pending before the U.S. Department of Justice.
She said in May of 2014, the Government counsel also submitted a grievance to the Georgia Bar, contending that Mr. Melvin Johnson had violated several of the Rules of Professional Conduct that are binding on lawyers who practice in that State.
Specifically, the Government complained that Johnson violated prohibitions against dishonest, fraudulent and deceitful conducts, as well as misrepresentation, and that he made untrue statements to persons other than his clients.
Violation of privacy
Solicitor General Blamo added that the Government charged that Johnson conspired with Corkrum to divert some US$60,000.00 of the Liberian people’s money to the trust account of his law firm in Georgia, that while in the country he misrepresented his status as a Liberian lawyer (he has never been a member of the Liberian Bar), and that he violated privacy laws by taping conversations with Government officials without their knowledge or consent. The legal representative of Liberian Government stated that documentation was submitted backing up each of these charges.
The solicitor General noted that the Government’s grievance required a substantive response from the accused but Mr. Johnson has never provided that response. As a result, the grievance was referred for a formal investigation. Again, Mr. Johnson failed to respond meaningfully, specifically and substantially to the Government’s accusations, leading to the suspension of his license to practice law in the State of Georgia.
In issuing the suspension of his license to practice law in Georgia, the State Supreme Court noted that the maximum sanction for the violations with which Johnson is charged is permanent disbarment. The Court at the time therefore directed that this suspension remains in effect until further order of the Court.
Johnson, who lost his position as a Municipal Court Judge in Lithonia, Georgia, in early 2014 for training deficiencies was barred from practicing law as well but his suspension was later lifted.
Solicitor Blamo vowed that the Liberian Government will continue to pursue this matter and all other abuses of the public trust in furtherance of the desire of Liberians to live in a society that is transparent and accountable.
Also President Sirleaf in her January 2014 Message said that Lawyers representing the Government of Liberia in the United States are said to be reviewing the over US$ half a million theft case involving Corkrum and others.
She said that the ongoing review also includes extradition of the ex-RIA boss, a statement which suggests that trying Ms. Corkrum in the US could be another possible option.