11 March 2019

Liberia: Granted Medical Reprieve, Charles Sirleaf Under House Arrest

Defendant Charles Sirleaf being escorted by bailiffs of Criminal Court 'C; after he was released from jail on medical reprieve

Judge Boima Kontoe of Criminal Court 'C', who is presiding over the case of the unaccounted for US$2,645 billion, involving several current and former senior officials of the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL), on Friday, March 8, 2019 placed the bank's deputy governor Charles Sirleaf under house arrest.

Kontoe's decision came minutes after prosecutors did not protest against Sirleaf's legal team's request to grant him compassionate release from the Monrovia Central Prison, where he has been since February 28, to seek medication.

Further to the ruling, Kontoe declared that "Charles Sirleaf is ordered removed from the Monrovia Central Prison to his home or any other place of dwelling desirable to him within the city of Monrovia. And, he is under the condition of house arrest."

Kontoe went on, "Sirleaf's passport is ordered surrendered to the sheriff (court officer)." Judge Kontoe also declared that Sirleaf, while under a house of arrest, does not have the liberty to have the visitation of any other person other than "his lawyer (s), doctor(s), parents, his wife, if any of his children during the pendency of his compassionate release."

Placing Sirleaf's safety on the government, Kontoe again said, "During the pendency of this compassionate release, the state is ordered to maintain security surveillance 24 hours daily and seven days a week for Sirleaf."

Setting condition for Sirleaf's compassionate release, Judge Kontoe said, he is to "report to the sheriff twice a month at an interval of 2 weeks."

Minutes after Kontoe's ruling, Cllr. Abraham Sillah of the Heritage and Partners Law Firm that is representing CBL's former executive director Milton Weeks, followed Judge Kontoe into his office, where a closed-door discussion was held, which eventually led to the release of former Governor Milton Weeks.

Sillah was one of those lawyers who had earlier expressed disappointment about Kontoe's handling of the bond filed to him for possible revision and subsequent submission to the prosecutors for the argument to release the defendants.

Before Kontoe's judgment, Sirleaf's lawyers in their motion for compassionate release filed on Thursday, March 7, 2019, alleged among others, that he had been diagnosed of severe osteoarthritis of the right shoulder, right labor pneumonia, R/O lung cancer.

Others were alcoholic liver disease, gout and systemic hypertension with hypercholesterolemia which, they claimed, had made his continued confinement at the Monrovia Central Prison that possesses the risk of death to him or serious permanent injury to his health.

As proof of Sirleaf's medical situation, the defense team attached a medical report with the signature of Eli M. Kiswahili, a medical doctor, with license #664. To further prove their case, the defense lawyers again attached other medical records showing that Sirleaf has been diagnosed of the five conditions.

Charles Sirleaf leaving the court, headed for home after he was granted medical reprieve

In a counter-argument, the prosecutors said, though they were not in opposition to Sirleaf's request, the court must ensure that his request should include house arrest.

They also said Sirleaf can only allow his close family members, doctor, and lawyer and his parents, wife, and children to visit him during his compassionate release.

Again, the prosecutors said the government should keep security surveillance 24 hours a day, seven days a week until he shall have recovered to stand trial.

Other conditions were that Sirleaf's traveling documents, including his passport, should be surrendered to the court. "These conditions are intended to have defendant Sirleaf to be made well, stay alive and has his speedy trial in keeping with the constitution of the country," the prosecutors said.

However, legal experts who spoke to the Daily Observer on condition of anonymity claimed that Judge Kontoe had already violated the rights of Sirleaf and the other defendants by not reviewing their bond that could get them released on bail.

Under the law, the defendants are bailable and the process for the judge to review their bond is to assure the defendant's future appearance in court.

They also claimed that, with the condition set by Judge Kontoe and the prosecutors, it clearly confirmed that the judge was not interested in having the defendants released on bond.

Cllr. Abraham Sillah of the Heritage and Partners Law Firm and Cllr. Johnny Momoh, of the Momoh and Associates Law Firm, reported that Judge Kontoe delayed reviewing the bond that they filed before him since Monday, March 4, 2019.

By law, a judge can take up to 48 hours to review a bond and forward it to the prosecutors to either accept or challenge its eligibility, but the defendants have taken 192 hours, since it was filed before Judge Kontoe on Monday, March 4, 2019.

Deputy Governor Charles E. Sirleaf and Director of Banking, Dorbor Hagba were arrested on the night of Thursday, February 28, 2019, at different locations, while former Executive Governor Milton Weeks surrendered to the Liberia National Police (LNP) the following morning.

Joseph Dennis, deputy director, internal audit and Richard H. Walker, director of finance, were both arrested on Tuesday, March 6, 2019.

They have been charged with multiple criminal offenses that include economic sabotage, misuse of public money, property or records and illegal disbursement and expenditure of public money as well as criminal conspiracy and criminal facilitation.

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