4 February 2013

Liberia: 'Smear Injustice'

A group of professional lawyers has described as "smear injustice" and counterproductive to the principle of due process of law, the James Dorbor Jallah investigative report, accusing and indicting a number of Liberians, especially Ambassador John Walter Gbedze of fraudulent activities and tax evasion regarding the issuance of Private Use Permits(PUPs) by the Forestry development Authority(FDA).

Late last year, the Jallah committee recommended the immediate ban of Ambassador Gbedze from all commercial logging activities in Liberia.

The Jallah Committee was set up by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in response to the alarming concerns in the logging industry regarding alleged abuse in the issuance of Private Use Permits (PUPs), which was considered as 'mortgaging' Liberian forests by unscrupulous individuals to foreign concessions, and therefore, was mandated to investigate and come up with recommendations on restructuring the timber sector.

However, instead of gathering sufficient data and conducting a critical analysis of the entire forestry sector, the "Dobor Jallah committee, the group of professional lawyers said the group embarked on a rather smear campaign to apparently satisfy its benefactors by issuing "sweeping indictments" against a number of unsuspecting Liberians, including Ambassador John Gbedze by recommending that they be prosecuted by the Justice Ministry for tax evasion, frauds and other criminal activities.

But in an article written by a group of professional legal practitioners and journalists in defense of Ambassador Gbedze, titled: "Smear Injustice", the group said the portion of the report that is related to the Ambassador raises the specter of a rush to indict rather than a serious and sober attempt to derive at the commission's objectives, which did not include the indictment of innocent and unsuspecting Liberians.

In the article, the group said the Dorbor Jallah report falls short of the minimum requirement of due process of law which it defined as the "Law which hears before it condemns; which proceeds upon inquiry, and renders judgment only after trial. . . . It extends to every government proceeding which may interfere with personal and property rights, whether the proceeding be legislative, judicial, administrative, or executive. . . . It relates to that class of rights the protection of which is peculiarly within the province of the judicial branch of the government".

The group of professional lawyers also described as a vexing paradox, an assertion by the Dorbor Jallah report that "We have made no conclusions as to the criminality of individual conduct", but strangely proceeded as part of its smear campaign to vilify reputable individuals including Ambassador Gbedze of alleged frauds, tax evasion and other criminal offenses, thereby recommending their prosecution.

Concluding, the group wondered how the Jallah Committee arrived at the decision to indict Ambassador Gbedze since it is clear that he was never invited throughout the investigation and therefore could form part of its findings.

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