18 July 2012

Liberia: Musa Bility's Lawyer Fined in Tax Case At Temple of Justice

The Resident Judge at the Tax Court for Montserrado County, Temple of Justice, sitting in its July Term, AD 2012, Her Honor Eva Mappy Morgan, has fined the lawyer representing the legal interest of Liberian businessman Musa Bility.

Judge Mappy-Morgan fined Cllr. Theophilus Gould US$100 on Monday, July 16, 2012 for what she termed the lawyer's failure to appear in court on that day. The Tax Court had earlier assigned argument in the case involving Mr. Bility's Gulf Trading and Srimex Enterprises and the Government of Liberia (GOL) for Monday, July 16, 2012 in the case: "Failure to pay overdue and outstanding duties owed the GOL."

Musa Bility is the President and CEO of Gulf Trading and Srimex Enterprises, a company dealing in petroleum products. The Liberian businessman is also the President of the Liberia Football Association (LFA), and the owner of the Renaissance Communications, Inc (RCI), which operates the Truth FM Radio, Real TV and Renaissance Newspaper respectively.

Lawyers at the Tax Division of the Ministry of Finance told the Tax Court at the Temple of Justice Thursday, July 12, 2012 that they have substantial evidence to indicate that Mr. Bility owes government taxes in the tone of US$368,000.00. Government lawyers, Aaron B. Kparkillen and Paul Duahn further told the Court that government also has substantial evidence that although Mr. Bility was previously indebted to the GOL in the US$488,000.00 in taxes, he made a part-payment, which thereby reduced the amount to US$368,000.00.

The government lawyers then requested the court to apply the appropriate law that will compel Mr. Bility to pay the money into government coffers in order to serve as deterrence for others. According to court document in possession of this paper, the GOL has taken to court the Gulf Trading and Srimex Enterprises for allegedly being "obligated to the Government of Liberia for overdue and outstanding customs duties from December A.D. 2007 to May A.D. 2009 in the amount of US$488,910.52 of which its President/Chief Executive Officer, Hon. Musa Hassan Bility, forwarded eighteen (18) post dated checks to the Assistant Minister of Revenue on 19 November 2007 for full payment."

However, the document added: "Plaintiff submits that seven (7) pieces of the (18) post dated checks amounting to US$120,000 (United States One Hundred Twenty Thousand Dollars) were fully paid to GOL's General Revenue Account with the Central Bank of Liberia (C.B.L.), while the balance (11) eleven pieces of post dated checks have not been paid by the defendant and are currently in possession of the Assistant Minister of Revenue, Ministry of Finance."

The document indicates that: "Predicated upon defendant's blatant failure to liquidate its legitimate obligation to GOL, the Commissioner of Customs wrote to the Ministry of Justice on October 14, 2010 through the Offices of the Assistant Minister for Taxation forwarding the case for prosecution," but the President/Chief Executive Officer of Gulf/Srimex Enterprises, Inc. Mr. Musa Bility, on 25 November 2010 failed to attend a conference intended to discuss payment of the outstanding and overdue customs duties owed to GOL, the document noted.

"Because the defendant failed, refused and neglected to cooperate in the payment of its tax obligation to GOL despite diligent effort and in keeping with the plaintiff's belief in the promotion of local Liberian businesses, the cardinal principle of notice and the respect for the rule of law, it therefore has no option, but to file the aforementioned cause of action consistent with Chapter 22.9 of the executive Law and the Revenue Code of Liberia 2000," the document furthered.

Among other things the document averred: "Wherefore and in view of the foregoing, plaintiff prays your Honour and this Honourable Court to hold the defendant liable for the payment of US$368,910.52 (United States Three Hundred Sixty Eight Thousand Nine Hundred Ten Dollars and Fifty-two Cents) in addition to the payment of interests accrued thereon as penalty and grant any and all relief that Your Honour may deem just, legal and equitable."

But in counter argument, the lawyer representing the accused, Cllr. Theophilus Gould told the Court Thursday, July 12, 2012, that while it is true that his client owes government, he (Bility) owes far less the figure the GOL lawyers are claiming. He stated that his client owes GOL US$180.000.00 and not US$368.000.00, as claimed by government lawyers.

However, passing on the issue raised, the Presiding Judge, Eva Mappy-Morgan sustained the application made by government lawyers not to mark and admit into evidence belated documents presented by Mr. Bility's lawyer to form an integral part of the case. The Presiding Judge then ruled that the government lawyers' application was sustained on the cardinal principle of law that provides that every document connected to a case must be attached to the pleadings prior to the presentation of evidence during the trial.

But Mr. Bility's lawyer, Cllr. Gould took exception to Presiding Judge Mappay-Morgan's ruling and notified the Court the he would take advantage of the law to seek remedy in that direction. Thereafter, the trial was suspended by Judge Mappy-Morgan and reassigned for today, Monday, July 16, 2012, at 10:00AMlocal time, but Mr. Bility's lawyer was not present on the said date.

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