15 June 2017

Liberia: LRA Tax Collectors Guilty

Two tax collectors from the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) defendants Joseph Weeks and Linda Sumowood have been convicted in a trial for collecting US$500 bribe from ex-U.S. Soldier Abraham Sanayoko to waive a false bill of US$2,352.91 that they claimed he owed government.

Prior to the jury verdict on Wednesday afternoon, 14 June, prosecutors insisted that broker Varney Johnson who received the US$500 from Sanayoko and allegedly hand delivered it to convict Weeks would face a separate trial, in an effort to convince jurors that government is not being partial over Johnson's absence.

The prosecution says defendant Johnson absconded after he had been arrested, taken to Court and had his [bond] signed, thus leaving the State to have requested and granted separate trial against him.

The prosecution recalls that witness Sanayoko testified how prior to his encounter with convicts Weeks and Sumowood, the LRA had to dismiss another person who he claimed had tried to cheat him when he brought his goods and tried to get them out of the Freeport of Monrovia.

He testified that Weeks and Sumowood also got arrested after he alerted LRA about the second incident of bribe solicitation. The government lawyers have argued that convict Sumowood's role amounted to criminal facilitation, when she collected and shield an alleged paper that convict Weeks dropped in a box at her desk when Officer Albert Peters of the Liberia National Police had called him surrounding the bribery claims.

After allegedly collecting the paper dropped by Weeks, the State says Sumowood did not report it until they played the CCTV and saw that she took it. Despite allegedly admitting to the incident in a statement allegedly signed by her lawyer during police investigation, prosecution argues that convict Sumowood yet went to court and denied the allegation.

Government says it would have been fair enough had convict Sumowood gone to Court and testified that she took the money, but she gave it to the police, rather than trying "to help the man to lie".

The defense team unsuccessfully appealed to the jury panel to acquit the indictees, saying they should consider the evidence holistically and decide based on their conscience. The convicts have been on trial for over a month for bribery, economic sabotage and criminal facilitation.

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