Liberia: Weah-led Government Creating Bottlenecks for Influential Opposition Politicians ahead of 2023 Elections
MONROVIA – The George Weah administration appears to be using the courts as part of well-calculated and implored strategies to witch-hunt and go after key opposition politicians ahead of the 2023 general and presidential elections.
Since its inception, the ruling party continues to politically struggle as evidenced by its massive defeats in several by-elections across the country, including Montserrado, which was considered as its stronghold.
As part of efforts to clampdown on opposition politicians who intend to hinder or prevent a second term for President Weah come 2023, the CDC led-government has engaged into either embracing or backing legal suits against the Standard Bearers of the Alternative National Congress (ANC) and People’s Liberation Party (PLP), Mr. Alexander Benedict Cummings and Dr. Daniel E. Cassell, respectively, as means of tarnishing their reputation or lowering their morale.
Barely two days after the celebration of the New Year, Liberians woke up to news that the All Liberian Party (ALP) of top Liberian businessman, Benoni Urey, suing Mr. Cummings at the Monrovia City Court for alleged criminal conspiracy and forgery.
The ALP, ANC, the former ruling Unity Party (UP) and Liberty Party (LP) make up the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP).
ALP complained that its leaders’ signatures were “unlawful attached” to the alleged framework document of the CPP filed with National Elections commission (NEC) under the chairmanship of Mr. Cummings. Nevertheless the CPP framework document was prepared when Mr. Urey was chairman of the CPP.
To make matter worse, Mr. Cummings was ordered arrested by Judge Jomah Jallah like any ordinary person who has been accused for the alleged commission of a criminal offense.
Following his appearance at the court along with his lawyers, a criminal appearance bond was filed and accepted by Judge Jallah in keeping with the laws.
Mr. Cummings’ trial experienced its initial setback when Judge Jomah Jallah denied a request from his defense team, to grant him brief absence from the ongoing criminal proceedings.
In the case which is gaining much political attention and interest, Mr. Cummings’ lawyers made the smart legal move to prevent their client from appearing in court, sitting on prisoner’s bench during the trial. But the request received a bloody nose following the Judge’s ruling on the matter.
Many believed that the decision was taken to embarrass Mr. Cummings, who has no other alternative, but to consistently show up during the trial despite being an “honorable man”.
This could sway his mind away or minimize his full participation or engagement into political activities, especially on days the case is called.
Though Section 2.4 subsection two of the Criminal Procedure Law, grants an accused person or defendant the right to voluntary absence, it remains unclear why Mr. Cummings’ request was rejected by the Judge even though four persons, including court officers sustained injuries following the appearance of the ANC’s Standard Bearer in court for the first time and the growing wave of Coronavirus cases in the country.
Section 2.4 subsection two of the Criminal Procedure Law under Presence of the defendant states that: “In prosecutions for noncapital offenses, the defendant’s brief voluntary absence after the trial has commenced in his presence and during any period up to and including the return of the verdict, when not prejudicial to the rights of the defendant, shall not prevent continuing the trial; nor shall it be grounds for a new trial or reversal on appeal if such absence was not brought to the attention of the trial court until after the return of the verdict”.
Judge Jallah ruled that it will be a reversible error to grant the defendant (Cummings) brief absence, when in fact, the defendant has not pleaded to the writ as to whether or not he is guilty.
The Judge acted in line with the argument proffered by the state lawyers, requesting ANC Chairman and Secretary General, Daniel Naatehn and Aloysius Toe, to be included on the indictment, which was served Mr. Cummings.
Cllr. Cephas craved the court to ensure that all of those included in the writ be brought before the court on similar matter, in line with legal authority granting the state to amend in any state of the proceeding.
He cited Section 14.7 of the criminal procedure law as his reliance.
Section 14.7 states that: “The court shall permit an indictment or complaint to be amended at any stage of the proceedings to correct a formal defect”.
The hidden hand
Mr. Cummings has consistently accused the CDC led-government of President George Manneh Weah of being the mastermind behind his trial.
He accused the government of allegedly manipulating Mr. Urey for the sole purpose of disintegrating the CPP.
“I think the ALP has decided to leave the CPP which is their right and therefore I don’t understand the basis for these allegations, they’re unfounded and I believe they’re all political. I believe unfortunately, that Mr. Urey is, perhaps, being used by the government because a united opposition makes it difficult for Mr. Weah to replace himself,” Cummings told the BBC on last Monday.
But Liberia’s Minister of Information, Mr. Ledgerhood Rennie, debunked the allegation.
“The Liberian Government is focused on continuing its efforts at delivering on the national development agenda and has no interest in the petit and divisive internal political arrangements of the CPP”, he stated.
Mr. Ledgerhood Rennie continued: “It is common public knowledge that the real reason for the disgraceful commotion within the CPP is simply because of individual desperation for political power.”
Why the keen interest?
The Government of Liberia (GOL), through the Ministry of Justice has taken keen interest over the case involving Mr. Cummings and two of his executives.
Though barrage of high-profile cases remained stockpiled on the court’s docket, Cllr. Cephas is putting in more time to ensure that Mr. Cummings is placed behind bars for the crimes he and others have been accused of committing.
The high level of seriousness, attention, and time being accorded the case continue to attract many citizens and others who believed that the trial is far political than legal.
The 4G or speedily manner and form in which the Cummings’ case is proceeding as compared to other high-profile murder and corruption cases involving former or current government officials is also unimaginable.
Though Section 1.5(a) of the Criminal Procedure Law gives the government power to prosecute every crime, some top government officials, including the Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, Nathaniel McGill have been either interfering or manipulating the trial of Mr. Cummings.
Leaks from the Council of Patriots (COP) WhatsApp chatroom exposed Minister McGill and the government’s interference with the case. It indicates that the allegations against the ANC political leader were all “trumped up”.
The message reads, “Further to our conversation the other day, I have made some inquiries. The prosecution of Alexander Cummings on what appears to be trumped up charges has not been well-received. There is renewed interest in Nathaniel McGill, whom you know from our previous conversations there is a dossier on. Now Benoni Urey and his daughter Telia have also attracted attention, as has the Solicitor General Cyrennius Cephas. I think people are also looking into the judge’s record, to see if he has a history of corruption. Just wanted to let you know, based on our relationship. Other than that, I hope you have a good weekend.”
The message was posted in the COP chatroom by Henry Costa who indicated that it was forwarded by McGill. Costa had apparently forgotten or did not know that Mulbah Yorgbor who until Sunday morning served the Secretary General of the COP and also the Director of Communications for the ANC, was still a member the chatroom.
Minister McGill has been having direct communication with the Political Leader of the All Liberian Party (ALP), Benoni Urey, who filed the complaint of forgery and criminal conspiracy against the ANC Political Leader.
When questioned by Mulbah why the COP was doing business with the government, he replied, “We sued ANC… the government is working with us as our lawyers”. Costa stated that the government also shared the information with their legal team.
Minister McGill has refuted forwarding the message to Henry Costa though he admitted forwarding same to the ALP political leader Benoni Urey, Solicitor General Cllr. Cyrennius Cephus and Lenn Eugene Nagbe.
The message, according to the chats, was sent by Riva Levinson to the Liberian Ambassador in Washington, Mr. George Pattern who then forwarded to the Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, Nathaniel McGill.
However, FrontPageAfrica got clarification that the message emanated from the office of U.S. Congressman Chris Smith’s chief of staff to Amb. Pattern, who also forwarded to Minister McGill.
Mr. Urey was a closed ally to President Weah prior to his ascendancy to the Liberian presidency. He financially and materially supported the CDC in 2011 and the senatorial bid of President Weah in 2014.
It remains unclear whether or not Mr. Urey remains a close friend to President Weah, despite being a key opposition figure.
Many see him as the one ‘spilling the beans’ within the CPP to guarantee a second term for President Weah, as evidenced by the government awarding lucrative contracts to some of his immediate family members, while others are establishing businesses void of any hindrance.
Dr. Daniel E. Cassell, who is a trained and licensed Intensive/Outpatient Mental Health Psychologist, is the Standard Bearer of the newly established People’s Liberation Party (PLP).
He is also the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Dr. Cassell’s Humanitarian Foundation, which has been providing assistance to thousands of needy Liberian citizens, particularly the visually impaired, underprivileged, disabled, old folks, among others.
He is becoming notable in the Liberian society for immensely contributing towards the wellbeing and development of Liberia and its citizens.
The helicopter saga
In 2020, Dr. Cassell took some of his party’s executives to South Africa to finalize the payment for a ZT-RJA Bell 430 helicopter from the National Airways Corporation (NAC).
Sources closed to the PLP Standard Bearer have confided that the amount of US$3M was paid for the helicopter.
The CDC led-government, through the Liberia Civil Aviation Authority (LCAA) prevented the helicopter from landing in the country.
“LCAA notes that at no time did Kwenyan & Associates Group of Company request for landing permit to the LCAA for which, they filed a writ of Prohibition. The Group application for an Air Service License is still being reviewed by the LCAA in keeping with the Liberia Civil Aviation and relevant international Regulations and is pending the fulfillment of all the requirements”, a release issued by the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism (MICAT) stated.
But the PLP contended that Dr. Cassell, through his company, Kwenyan and Associates, met all legal requirements and was given a permit by the LCAA for the helicopter to land in the country, but said permit was surreptitiously revoked for unknown reasons barely a day after it attempted landing in the country.
The court’s mandate
Following the action taken by the LCAA to prevent the helicopter from landing, the PLP filed a writ of prohibition to the Supreme Court of Liberia.
In a citation dated October 15, 2021 and issued under the signature of Atty. Sam Mamulu, Clerk of the Supreme Court, acting upon the order of the Justice-In-Chambers, the government, through the LCAA was mandated by the court to allow Dr. Cassell’s helicopter to land in Liberia.
“By directive of His Honor Yusuf D. Kaba, Associate Justice presiding in Chambers, you are hereby cited to a conference with His Honor on Wednesday on Wednesday, October 20, 2021 at the hour of 11:00AM in connection with the above captioned case. Meanwhile, you are ordered to permit the aircraft, subject of this petition, to land in Liberia, pending the outcome of the conference”, the citation stated.
Despite the court’s mandate, the government flagrantly refused to do so.
At the called conference, the Justice-In-Chamber fined the government US$500 to be paid in government’s revenue for its failure to act in line with the mandate, while Kwenyan and Associates was ordered to exert all legal means at the lower court before taking the matter to the Supreme Court of Liberia.
The rationale behind the decision taken by Associate Justice Kaba at the time to only fine the government and failed to mandate the LCAA to permit the helicopter to land remains questionable and makes the case to appear more political than legal.
Lawyers representing the interest of Dr. Cassell filed a writ of prohibition to the lower court in keeping with the Justice-In-Chambers’ mandate, but nothing has been heard about the case since then.
Helicopter meets international standards
Documents in the possession of FrontPage Africa have reviewed that the ZT-RJA Bell 430 helicopter belonging to the Political Leader of the People’s Liberation Party (PLP), Dr. Daniel E. Cassell, met all international standards required to fly and land in and around the African continent.
In a letter dated October 26, 2021, under the reference: INTERNATIONAL FLIGHT CLEARANCES APPOINTMENT, the National Airways Corporation (PTY) Ltd, in keeping with international aviation laws, informed the LCAA about the landing flight of the ZT-RJA B430 helicopter belonging to Dr. Cassell from South Africa to Liberia.
The letter was addressed to the Director General of the LCAA, Mr. Moses Y. Kollie, under the signature of Jaco de Klerk of the NAC Quality Control Compliance and Helicopter Safety.
“This letter serves to confirm that National Airways Corporation (PTY) Ltd appointed International Flight Clearances (IFC) on the 14th of September 2021 to arrange the overflight and landing clearances for the ferry flight of ZT-RJA from South Africa to Liberia. Thank you and please do not hesitate to contact me should you require any additional information”, the communication stated.
The National Airways Corporation (NAC) offers a range of products and services for fixed-wing aircraft and helicopter markets, including aircraft sales, maintenance, parts, value-added products, aircraft charter, international operations, and pilot training.
It also operates a flight operations and charter division. NAC operates a South African network of offices; its main base is Lanseria Airport, with office hubs at Cape Town International Airport, Durban, Grand Central Airport, Wonderboom Airport and Rand Airport.
NAC also has businesses further afield in Botswana Sir Seretse Khama International Airport, Gaborone and internationally, Awesome Flight Logistics in Perth, Australia and Specialized Aircraft Services in Wichita, USA.
NAC is an authorized dealer and representative for a variety of manufacturers and service providers in the aviation industry, including the Bombardier Aerospace, Dassault Aviation, Embraer, Bell Helicopter, Robinson Helicopter, Diamond Aircraft, Pacific Aerospace, Piper Aircraft, Quest KODIAK, and Nextant 400XT.
Clearance form issued
International Flight Clearances (Pty) Ltd also issued a clearance form for the helicopter belonging to the PLP Standard Bearer.
International Flight Clearances is an aviation consulting company based in the City of Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa.
It aim is to add value and safety to all flights while reducing the stress factor for both operators and passengers.
The company has immense experience in dealing with all types of flight operations worldwide.
It takes personal pride in the knowledge that it is able to suggest and plan routing that is cost and time effective.
The company also strive to add the personal touch to your flight, by adding efficiency and cost containment to your operations, and by so doing justify our service.
By being intimately acquainted with Africa in all her moods, the company knows the requirements for every country, small things which may trip your flight up and inconvenience your passengers.
The clearance form issued under the signature of Charles Grimsdell, head of Operations of the International Flight Clearances, shows that Dr. Cassell’s ZT-RJA Bell 430 will have an over flight and landing in several African countries including Cameroun, Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Liberia and Congo, among others.
Both the National Airways Corporation (NAC) and the International Flight Clearances requested the Liberian government or any other party having a problem over the flight to contact their respective entities, no evidence has been produced by the government of contacting the respective reputable institutions over the helicopter of Dr. Cassell.
Though the helicopter has flown and landed in almost all of the African countries listed above, it remains unclear why the Government of Liberia (GOL), through the LCAA is preventing the helicopter from landing at the Roberts International Airport in Margibi County or the Spriggs Field in Monrovia.
“You can’t dress more than the Town Chief”
The PLP has consistently claimed that the decision taken by its Standard Bearer to purchase a helicopter is intended to ensure easy and unhindered access to hear and address the plights and numerous challenges and difficulties confronting Liberians in leeward and hard-to-reach areas.
The party also claimed that medical supplies worth thousands of United States dollars will also be air lifted to various counties in a timely manner when the helicopter arrives in the country.
But scores of loyalists, including government officials continue to question the rationale behind the decision taken by Dr. Cassell to bring an aircraft into the country, ahead of the 2023 general and presidential elections in Liberia.
They believed that the move would boost Dr. Cassell’s political morale and win him favor in the eyes of the electorates of the gullible Liberian society if the government, through the LCAA allows the helicopter to fly from county to county in Liberia.
A source closed to the presidency quoted one senior confidante of President George Manneh Weah as saying “you cannot be living in a town and you want to dress more than the Town Chief”.
If this saying is anything to go by, it implies that the PLP and its Standard Bearer, Dr. Daniel E. Cassell will have a long way to go in ensuring that the government of Liberia allows the ZT-RJA Bell 430 helicopter to smoothly land and travel across Liberia, despite official complaints filed to diplomatic missions operating in Liberia, including the United States government, through its Embassy near Monrovia, the European Union (EU) Delegation in the country, among others.
Constitutional rights violated
The consistent and unbending refusal of the government to permit Dr. Cassell’s helicopter to land in the country violates his constitutional rights, particularlyArticles 11, 17 and 22 of the 1986 Liberian Constitution.
Article 11(a) of the Liberian constitution states that: “all persons are born equally free and independent and have certain natural, inherent and inalienable rights, among which are the right of enjoying and defending life and liberty, of pursuing and maintaining and security of the person and of acquiring, possessing and protecting property, subject to such qualifications as provided for in this Constitution”.
Article 17 (a) notes that “all persons, at all times, in an orderly and peaceable manner, shall have the right to assemble and consult upon the common good to instruct their representatives, to petition the government or other functionaries for the redress of grievances and to associate fully with others or refuse to associate in political parties, trade unions and other organizations.”
Article 22 (a) states that: “Every person shall have the right to own property alone as well as in association with others; provided that only Liberian citizens shall have the right to own real property within the Republic”.
A source closed to the PLP Standard Bearer have confided in FPA that the amount of US$200 is being paid daily as parking fee for the helicopter in Ghana.
When the helicopter is permitted to land in Liberia, it would boost government’s revenue generation and also provide job opportunities to citizens.
In other African countries, including Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa, among others, helicopters, planes or jets are owned by private citizens, members of the opposition communities and others, void of any witch-hunting, preventing or denial of landing permits from the governments in those countries.
During past elections, the CDC was allowed to campaign with helicopters following the granting of landing permits by the Sirleaf led-administration.
But with its flagrant disrespect for the rule of law over the granting landing permit for Dr. Cassell’s helicopter and the unwavering and extra energy being applied and interference in the Cummings’ and others trial, it implies that the CDC led-government of President George Manneh Weah is using the courts to go after its political opponents, instead of gunning them down secretly, assaulting or incarcerating them as done by previous regimes in the past.