Ellen Corkrum may never get to face her accusers in court in Liberia in part due to her status as a United States citizen and the complications regarding whether or not her adopted homeland, the U.S. would turn her over to her navel strings, Liberia for trial. In the wake of an indictment and a litany of charges, the former head of the Liberia Airport Authority Liberia remains silent.
The lone voice in her defense has been the baritone of a man called "Chief Judge" Melvin Johnson, her fiancé who serves as a judge at the Municipal Court of Lhonia in Georgia, the USA. Johnson is also an indicted co-conspirator in the case involving the embezzlement of thousands of dollars.
A clerk at the Georgia court told FrontPageAfrica via phone Thursday that the judge is due in court next Friday, August 23, 2013, meaning he is still on active duty and most likely a citizen of the United States. Johnson's bio lists him as a Liberian-American and the first Black Chief Judge of Lithonia, Georgia.
A team of Liberia Justice Ministry officials are due in the U.S. this weekend to commence the extradition procedures in hopes of bringing the pair back to Liberia for trial.
Both Corkrum and Johnson have in the past few weeks, taken their case on the airwaves of local and online radio through secret recordings of key RIA and Liberian government officials, hoping to show Corkrum's innocence and probable vindication from the charges before her.
'30 Million for Runway'
Opponents of Corkrum say the secret recordings of LAA Board Chair Musa Bility and Defense Minister Brownie Samukai, is a clever attempt by Cockrum to dodge the main issue which is her alleged involvement in corruption.
But Corkrum's supporters paint a different picture, one of a plot, or conspiracy of sort to set Corkrum up for failure and points to the former RIA chief's latest recording on Defense Minister Samukai on which Samukai, who was instrumental in bringing Corkrum to Liberia reveals a plot to get Corkrum out of the way of a major deal involving millions of dollars. "There is a big money contract up for the renovation of RIA. I think he said one hundred and something million," Samukai is heard saying.
But Corkrum exclaims on the recording that she is not aware. I'm not aware: The only thing I've heard is $30 million for the runway."
Edwin Snowe(Independent, District Montserrado County) agrees, telling state radio LBS's "The Bumper Show this week that as a lawmaker he doubts that such a money was available to play with in the first place.
But Samukai sounds convincing on the recording; telling Corkrum: "I told you it is part of that deal. Remember. Can you imagine $US130 million, for a brand new airport and it looks like Finance is about to sign. Now whatever Senegalese person you brought, their fear was this is the guy who is gonna do the work."
In fact, Samukai is heard telling Corkrum to take some emergency steps to avoid falling into a trap. "They were trying to find a way to use the silence of the president during the workshop to take their decision. They don't know what will be the President's reaction. So they wanted to find it easier for you to have written the letter of resignation, pass it on to the President and say Madam President, we have accepted the Lady's letter of resignation. And it will be like, well I didn't accept it, but since she's already left and the board has endorsed it, so it creates a problem where the board accepts somebody's resignation and the President who doesn't have, who statutorily is not supposed to be interfering in the decision of the board, so will come back and ask the board to reverse. Currently, that is not happening, so whatever board meeting he say he had, yesterday, maybe was, was just to push whoever coming to inquire, to get back to you and say look, the board has decided to tell the lady to resign, you know. The Pressure s coming from Amara, No how I will tell that man that kind of thing? That man and I going talk something completely different."
Corkrum insists on the recording that she had no knowledge about the deal. "This is my problem. I don't even know. This is my first time hearing about it." To which Samukai counters: This is the problem. Because they wanted to do this deal without you."
"It is a setup. A complete setup," Corkrum says.
Followers of the saga agree that Corkrum went in to the recordings prepared to get her targets on tape saying things that will make her look good. Others however say, much of what has been released so far is what Corkrum wants eager disciples of followers to hear. The Samukai tape for example is said to be one hour longer than what has been released so far.
Quit or Stay: Decision on Samukai on hold
Even more complicated, sources tell FrontPageAfrica is the fear of the unknown, that Corkrum's unreleased recordings of Minister of State Edward McClain, Margibi Senator Clarice Jah and probably others, could draw even more officials into the spotlight.
FrontPageAfrica has learned that that the delays in President Sirleaf's decision on Samukai has been tied to the fact that she has had the opportunity to listen to the entire recording which while does not explain Samukai's actions, have given her reasons to ponder a little deeper before making a decision on whether to accept his resignation or have him hang on. The decision is also said to be tied to ongoing discussions with the Nigerian Chief of Staff of the Liberian army, Major General Suraj Alao Abdurrahman and U.S. embassy officials. Samukai has reportedly accepted responsibility in a one and only discussion with the president but has stayed away from the glare of the public.
In the quest for answers, insiders at the LAA and the Liberian government appear eager to slow Corkrum down with the reliease of the recording. The release of a number of notes believed to be in Corkrum's handwriting shows a free-spending Corkrum giving instructions for payments to her fiancé.
On one note, Corkrum makes note of plane tickets she intends to purchase for Johnson and her two kids
"Put Melvin contract in someone else's name," the note reads:
Despite the indictment and allegations that she is responsible for defrauding the government by making unauthorized transfer of funds that amounted to over US$269,000.00 from account number 005USD21235003306 at the bank, Corkrum says she is a victim of a setup and has expressed fears for her life which makes her reluctant to return to Liberia even though she had earlier promised to return to Liberia to answer to the charges.
Corkrum, a US servicewoman is reportedly employing a similar tactic employed by Former Liberia President Charles Taylor Lawyer and sources tell FrontPageAfrica that Corkrum has hinted to US authorities that the justice system in Liberia is very selective and unfair and has expressed doubts about getting a fair trial in Liberia.
FrontPageAfrica has learned that it was based on a demand from US authorities for assurances from Liberia that the process would not be selective that government prosecutors rushed to issued an indictment last week on several RIA executives including Corkrum, Board Chair Musa Bility, Corkrum's fiancée, Melvin Johnson as well as the heads of the Liberia Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI) and the First International Bank.
Expressed Corkrum Fears Tied to Taylor
The indictment came a week after the watchdog group; Transparency International rated Liberia the most corrupt nation in the world. The TI released its 2010 world corruption barometer, ranking Liberia as the world's most corrupt country with a score of 89%, and listing its Judiciary, Legislature, Education, the Business Sector, public officials as the most corrupt institutions in the country.
Legal experts say the strategy could throw a monkey wrench in the ongoing attempts by the current Liberian government seeking extradition of Corkrum. Another option, observers say is for Corkrum to be tried by US court martial because she is a US military personnel. Corkrum's case while similar to Taylor's is unique in its own right because she is an American citizen.
In Taylor's case, he was a former official accused of embezzlement, and used the fear tactic to avoid extradition. During his appearance before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Dr. Togba Nah Tipoteh told the TRC that he prevented the deportation of from both the United States and Ghana during tithe reign of slain President Samuel Kanyon Doe based upon a request from Taylor's US lawyer, former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark.
According to Dr. Tipoteh, he intervened because he was convinced that the former president could not have received a fair trial under the government of President Doe. Legal experts say, the scenario for Corkrum could work if Corkrum's lawyers can prove that she does faces the possibility of an unfair trial environment in Liberia.
But followers of the case have been annoyed by Corkrum's silence and repeated interruptions of her fiancé during interviews. Their insistence on playing the secretly-recorded tapes versus answer the questions at hand has created credibility problems for the pair.
For Corkrum, the saga is taking a toll. This allegation has affected my family and my love ones it has been a very difficult challenge but with my vision to work for my people in Liberia the mood I which I will address my people today include one of many recording, the recording you are about to hear is one of our very own Mr. Brownie Samukai."
But even amid Corkrum's claim of massive conspiracy lies some damning documentation which could derail her quest of avoiding prosecution.
Corkrum Endorses Diaspora Consulting
For example in an email communication to the suspended chair of the Liberia Airport Authority, Musa Bility, Corkrum gives a blanket endorsement of Diaspora Consultants, the controversial firm which failed the smell test of the Public Procurement Concessions Commission.
Corkrum writes in the December 10, 2012 letter:
Per executive order of our president that the runway repair works had to begin by the end of last week,; hence
Saturday November 8th, please note that this order has been carried out.
Per our meeting wth PPCC, and with Public Works on Tuesday, December 4th, the kick-off between Public Works engineers, Diaspora Consulting Engineers and our tactical staff was to commence on Friday November 7th, to meet the November 8th deadline. This meeting and works have begun.
PPCC's failure to comply has not deterred this effort of our national and international aviation safety.
To date, the Diaspora Consultans have provided essential mission tasks in keeping with ICAO standards. These tasks listed below, though not comprehensive, gives a broad overview of their invaluable professional Services:. 1. Data collection, Pavement survey and evaluation, Laboratory tests, Preliminary and final design, Preparation of constructions plans, constructions administration and observation assistance.
Diaspora Consultant engineers have been rendering services beyond their scope of work. These include support to both the RIA technical departments(internal coordination, reporting management/assessment, writing of NOTAMs, etc.) and to SSF(emergency advisory services to correct badly bungled repair attempt resulting from poor planning and lack of proper technical assessment of runway characteristics prior to the engineers arrival on the ground Friday, December 7th as evident by weekend report."
To this and given that it is their second visit to Liberia in the past few weeks to work on our runway testing and correct asphalt application, in keeping with the payment schedule of all hired to conduct this work timely, we will process all respective payments related to the runway emergency pavement work today.
Per our discussion, I will send you the memo to the President, for your review of our runway update and to state that the work is already in progress.
From Corkrum to Fiance': $14K Check
A FrontPageAfrica investigation have discovered that Diaspora Consultant run by Moamar Dieng had in fact never had experience in airport work. Dieng's consultancy with the Ministry of Planning received a poor rating and to date, there has been no account of how a sum of US$125,000 was expended as there is no work to show for the funds disbursed. The payment to Diaspora Consulting was made on December 13,2012.
Adding more misery to Corkrum's debacle is a check in the amount of US$14, 000 paid to her fiancé, Melvin Johnson for attorney fees and contract rewrites. The check was withdrawn from the LBDI bank.
The saga has also been complicated by explanations surrounding why board chair Musa Bility allowed Corkrum to cash checks without his knowledge although some of the checks in FrontPageAfrica's possession were signed by both Bility and Corkrum.
An authorization letter from the LAA to the LBDI bank explains that for a transaction or withdrawal to be complete two of three signatures are required
The letter reads:
By way of introduction, the Liberia Airport Authority(LAA) was created by an Act of Legislature approved on August 17, 2009 to have managerial and operational control of all government airports(international and domestic in the Republlc of Liberia).
In keeping with this mandate, the LAA assumed responsibility for the operations of the Liberia Domestic Airport Agency(LDAA). LDAA currently operates and Account No. 002USD21223048901 with your institution. At the Board of Director of Directors meeting held on Tuesday, October 2, 2012, the Board passed a resolution cancelling LDAA signatures to this Account and replacing same with LAA new authorized signatures. A copy of the Resolution is herewith attached for your easy reference.
In short, this is a transfer of signing authority of the account from LDAA to LAA. This is also a termination of LDAA signatures, as it now becomes LAA's signatures as listed below. All deposits written to these accounts will continue to come in, however no checks written with RIA signatures are to be honored going forward.
You are therefore kindly requested to. effect the change in the operation of the above named account as of the date of this communication
Conspiracy or not, many believe Corkrum's testimony and that of her fiancé would be key to their defense amid a multitude of charges hanging over their heads. But the latest revelations of documents, including notes said to be in Corkrum's own handwriting could make or break the case. For now, many Liberians and followers of the saga are spinning in a state of uncertainty as thousands of dollars go unaccounted for with the likelihood of extradition becoming increasingly unrealistic on the surface.