8 November 2012

Liberia: Maximum Prison for Ecobank Employees

At least five employees of Ecobank-Liberia Limited have been sentenced to three years maximum prison for perpetrating a fraud scheme through which they stole US$478, 676.26 from the entity in 2011.

In his ruling Wednesday, November 7, 2012 following some two months of trial at the Temple of Justice in Monrovia, Criminal Court "C" Judge Peter W. Gbenewleh ordered defendants Othello Smith, Glen Washington, Mandela Kaiser, David Yenego and Stanley Johnson to restitute the US$478, 676.26 and pay US$300.00 fine each besides the three years prison sentence.

In addition to the general punishment against the five defendants, Judge Gbenewleh had earlier sentenced defendants Stanley Johnson and David Yenego to extra five months prison at the South Beach Prison Compound for planting three jurors on the jury panel during trial.

The sentence took immediate effect yesterday following the judge's ruling, joining defendants Stanley Johnson and David Yenego with their planted jurors Edwardlyn Cuffy, RynkeerRyner P. Zangbah (Lois V. Longbah) and Varney V. Massaley at the maximum prison in Monrovia.

Said Judge Gbenewleh: "Their conduct to plant jurors in the case corrupts and undermines the credibility of the court and therefore deserve punishment to serve as deterrent for party litigants who may have cases before the court."

As a result of the jurors' and defendants' denial to claims that they were connected, Lonestar Cell MTN Communication Corporation had submitted call logs to the trial court based on the court's order, displaying the jurors' and defendants' connection prior to and during their selection to sit on the case.

On the Ecobank-Liberia US$78,000 plus trial against the five employees, Judge Gbenewleh confirmed the unanimous guilty verdict handed last month by jurors on grounds that the state had proved guilt through the trial.

He said the jury verdict will not be disturbed because the state proved its case, and displayed properties deeds submitted by the defendants to their accuser as collateral for the money they denied stealing.

The judge also considered as a form of admission, a failed negotiation initiated earlier with Ecobank lawyers by one of the defense counsels Lavela Korboi Johnson, subjecting his clients to sign a proposed stipulation, indicating how they intended to restitute the US$478, 676.26.

As a result, the judge determined that the defendants were liable to theft of property, criminal conspiracy, and criminal facilitation, among others, ordering them to restitute the money in addition to US$300 fines and three years maximum sentence.

The defendants have gone through months of trial on multiple crimes for engaging in double cash transfer scheme first to Ecobank's legitimate customers and subsequently using the same instrument to make another transfer to private accounts belonging to Ruth Sawmadal and Yassah Affropong, among others.

But the two separate defense teams represented by Cllr. Lavela Korboi Johnson and Attorney Arthur T. Johnson took exception to the ruling and announced appeals before the Supreme Court of Liberia, sitting in its March AD 2012 Term.

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