Liberia: Justice Minister Dean Terms Cllr. Johnson’s Request “Speculative”
Monrovia – Justice Minister Frank Musah Deah, Jr. has termed the letter coming from Cllr. Arthur T. Johnson, Special Independent Prosecutor and Chairman of the Assets Investigation, Restitution and Recovery Team (AIRRET), as “speculative.”
In an August 20th 2019 communication (copy in this newspaper’s possession) from Cllr. Johnson to the Justice Minister, the AIRRET Chairman requests Justice Minister Dean, Sr. to account for payment he might have received during the first term of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
Cllr. Johnson’s letter to Justice Minister Dean reads: “I have the honour most respectfully to present compliments of the Assets Investigation, Restitution and Recovery Team (AIRRET) and in my own name and request that you confirm if you received any payment(s) in USD or LD under the Domestic Arrears payment scheme during the period 2006 to 2012 for goods or services rendered successive transitional administrations of GOL. If confirmed, please attach copy of evidence of such payment(s) you received for the purpose of this exercise.”
The AIRRET Special Independent Prosecutor and Chairman further informed the Attorney General that the payment of domestic arrears authorized by former President Sirleaf during her first term is one of the major cases being handled by his AIRRET and so his prompt response will contribute immense to the success of his exercise.
In response, Cllr. Dean told FrontPageAfrica, ‘“…If you received any payment…’ is speculative, to say the least. Under the law, one must be fully apprised of accusations or allegations against him/her, with sufficient details, to enable him/her proffer an informed response. There are no supporting documents attached to the letter.”
According to the Justice Minister, Cllr. Johnson’s letter “is vague and imprecise;” adding: “It does not meet the legal requirements of due notice.”
“If it is a mere public relations stunt, then the author is content that he may have achieved his goal; but he will need far more than that to destroy my hard won reputation, built over the years. He will need facts, not speculations.”
The Justice Minister disclosed to this newspaper that AIRRET is claiming that the amount in question is L$350,000. He stated, “I never did business with Gov’t in my practice of law. My clientele was largely foreign.”
He further stated that Cllr. Johnson has not “even presented me with the documents. Now they are saying they did not accuse me. Sad.”
The country’s Attorney General further narrated that when the late Chairman Charles Gyude Bryant’s Transitional Government came in, they had no cars. “I had a Mercedes-Benz, which Gov’t took for US$14,000. Payment remained in process until Ellen Surleaf came to power. They vetted the domestic debts and said they could only pay me the Liberian dollar equivalent of US$4,000. I almost sued. That is the only transaction I remember having with Government. It has been so long. Now, if Arthur Johnson has or had questions, why did he not come to me? Instead he writes a letter and gives it to the Press.”
AIRRET’s WORKS COME UNDER SCRUTINY
Since the assets recovery team began operations few months ago, it hasn’t been far from controversies.
At least three of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s former officials, including former Finance and Development Planning Amara Mohammed Konneh, Defense Minister Brownie Samukai and Maritime Commissioner Binyan Kesselly have all publically reacted to Cllr. Johnson’s claims against them.
Documents obtained by FrontPageAfrica show that the key whistleblower in the US$500 million double payment allegations against Minister Konneh is also alleged to have criminally tampered with paper trails and electronic files of the Ministry, which she had access to.
A 2015 investigation commissioned by the Integrity and Professional Responsibility Unit (IPR) of the Finance Ministry on 11th July 2015, and completed August 31, 2016 pointed to acts of deliberate and willful attempts by Madam Patricia Dixon to impugn the reputation of staffers of the Debt Management Unit (DMU) for reasons which remain a mystery to date.
Madam Dixon, who is a key whistleblower aiding AIRRET, was accused by Investigators of fraud and evidence tampering.
The Heritage Partner and Associates, (HPA) Inc., the law firm representing the legal interests of Mr. Binyan Kesselly, former Commissioner of Liberia Maritime Commission (LMC), told Cllr. Johnson, that their client won’t appear before him because of “unlawful publication of his name as a ‘person of interest’.”
“Our client will therefore not come to Liberia simply because of your unlawful publication of his name as a ‘person of interest’, when he is yet to be advised of the offense he is accused of or suspected of committing consistent with the law of the land,” Cllr. Abrahim B. Sillah, Sr., Managing Partner at HPA, said in an August 5th letter to Cllr. Johnson.
In the HPA’s letter, copy of which is in possession of this newspaper, Cllr. Sillah further stated that because of Chairman Johnson’s AIRReT’s declaration that former Maritime Commissioner Kesselly is now under “formal investigation,” their client, by and thru them was asserting to the fullest extent of the law, his right against self-incrimination as accorded him by Article 21 of the Liberian Constitution (1986) as well as his statutory rights established by Chapter 2 of the Criminal Procedure Law of Liberia, particularly Section 2.3 which forbids the AIRReT and other law enforcement agencies of the Government of Liberia from interrogating him, unless “He is advised of ‘the nature of the offense of which he is accused or suspected’; and he is accorded the right ‘not…to make any statement or admission regarding the offense of which he is accused or suspected’.”
Also, former Defense Minister Samukai’s legal team, Sayeh & Sayeh Law Firm, representing said they were taken aback, when the Chairman Johnson made, what they termed “factually incorrect statements,” on Friday, August 2. During a live press conference on Friday, according to Min. Samukai’s lawyers, Cllr. Johnson alleged that their client had “confessed” to personally utilizing funds belonging to the AFL, and that he will restitute such amounts of money.
“Cllr. Johnson also indicated that our client was a soldier, thus insinuating his actions violated the AFL Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ),” Sayeh & Sayeh Law Firm further stated in a press statement on Saturday, August 3rd.
“First, our client was a civilian serving as Minister of National Defense, and not a soldier. His actions and decisions are not subject to the jurisdiction of the AFL UCMJ. “Second, at no time did our client agree, nor confessed to spending any welfare funds for personal use, and there is no legal basis for restitution of funds spent on the Armed Forces of Liberia.”