-- Judge Peter Gbeneweleh of Criminal Court 'C' admonishes government lawyers as he denies plan to imprison CBL's officials over new bail bond
Having failed to use the influence of Associate Justice Jospeh Nagbe, who presides as Chamber Justice of the Supreme Court to prevent Criminal Court 'C' assigned Judge Peter Gbeneweleh from hearing the alleged missing US$835,367.72 and L$2,645,000,000 involving current and past senior officials of the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL), the judge on Friday, June 14, was openly heard saying, "this court cannot legally proceed contrary to the provision of the specific statute."
Judge Gbeneweleh's decision was in line with his ruling that denied the government lawyers (prosecution) request to set aside the bail bond filed to release the defendants and to have them (defendants) rearrested and subsequently detained at the Monrovia Central Prison, until a new bond could be secured.
"We observed that the total amount of bail bond proffered by the defendants is US$1,149,319.88, which is far and beyond US$13,000 required by Section 13.2 of our criminal procedure law," Gbeneweleh ruled, adding, "The bail bond proffered by the defendants is sufficient and adequate to release them from pre-trial detention and also secure and or guarantee their appearance before the court when required."
Judge Gbeneweleh said that the sureties of the defendants are also legally qualified to secure the day to day appearance of the defendants before this court.
Accepting the defendants sureties, the judge said, "The surety filed by the defendants is hereby granted and the exception filed by the prosecution challenging their bail bond is denied."
Co-defendant Milton A. Weeks, former executive governor of the CBL, filed a property evaluation bond in the amount of US$909,319.88 to secure his release from pre-trial detention.
His bond was secured by properties secured by Mr. Benoni W. Urey, who owns property located on the Police Academy Road with an assessed value of US$163,291.58, as evidenced by the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) tax assessment. Additionally, Atty. Angelique G. Eupheme Weeks and Mr. and Mrs. Dweitt von Ballmoos, with the values of their properties as US$240,000 and US$506,026.30, respectively, secured the bond for the former CBL Governor Weeks.
The bond for Charles E. Sirleaf, deputy governor, was secured by the Accident and Casualty Insurance Company (ACICO) in the amount of US$60,000. However, Judge Boima Kontoe did not approve of it because, according to him, he needed time to review the said bond.
Later Sirleaf, through his legal counsel, filed a motion to admit him to bail on medical grounds, which request was not opposed by the prosecution.
Also, co-defendants, Dorbor M. Hagba, director, finance department, Richard H. Walker, director for operations and Joseph Dennis, deputy director for internal audit, had their bail secured by the same ACICO in the amount of US$240,000, meaning the insurance company paid the amount of US$60,000 for each of them.
Before, Friday's ruling, Judge Gbeneweleh's competence and ability was questioned by Justice Nagbe, after the government lawyers complained about his handling of the matter and pleaded with the justice to prevent Gbeneweleh from hearing the challenge to the bond, which the justice did, but, later mandated Gbeneweleh to resume jurisdiction.
However, the government has argued that defendants Weeks and Sirleaf were both charged and indicted for economic sabotage, as well as the other three defendants, Hagba, Walker and Dennis who were charged with conspiracy. "The inadequacy and insufficiency of the bonds for which same should be made adequate and sufficient or be ordered set aside by this court," the prosecution request added.
"The statue provides that the amount of bail in any criminal action in which restitution is required shall be equal to the amount of the maximum fine which may be imposed upon conviction of the offense charged. If the offense charged is punishable by imprisonment the maximum number of months of imprisonment, which may be imposed, shall be multiplied by twenty-five dollars to determine the amount of the bail. If the offense charged is punishable by both fine and imprisonment, the amount of bail shall be equal to the total of such amount," the judge noted.
Gbeneweleh continued, "Economic Sabotage is a non-capital offense which is bailable upon the personal reconnaissance of the defendants who are officials of the CBL. Our own constitution frowns on or prohibits excessive bail, excessive fines and excessive punishment inflicted in criminal case."
Moreover, Gbeneweleh noted that the prosecution prayed for and the Monrovia City Court issued a writ of Ne Exeat Republica, which bars or prevents the defendants from traveling out of the bailiwick of the country.
"This court ordered and the defendants to surrender their passports and other travelling documents to the Sheriff of the Court, the defendants must report to the office of the sheriff as directed, and that the defendants must remain within the jurisdiction of the court, except by leave of the court at the instant of the prosecution," the judge said, adding, "The safeguard placed by the Monrovia City Court and the criminal court are still in full force and effect, and that the defendants are in full compliance with these safeguards and are currently in the bailiwick of the court."