Liberia: American Underwrite Insurance Company's U.S.$3.5 Million Bond Under-Fire

-As Judge Dixon reverses predecessor's judgment

Judge Blamo Dixon of Criminal Court 'C' on August 14, 2019 set aside a US$3.5 million bond secured by the American Underwriter Group, Insurance Company (AUG) for the release of two Lebanese nationals, Salah and his son Tamer Farhat, citing legal insufficiency (not enough).

The Farhats were indicted in 2018 of the crimes of money laundering, theft of property, misapplication of entrusted and criminal conspiracy in connection to the alleged disappearance of over US$1.3 million from the coffers of the Tayo Motors where Salah served as managing partner and Tamer as the assistant managing director .

The case against the family was filed by Ezzat Eid, another Lebanese national, believed to be majority shareholder in the company.

AUG got involved with the case when the defendants paid an unspecified amount of money to have the company serve as their surety. However, in the ruling of Judge Dixon, he decreed that the court will not accept anymore bonds from the AUG in the case.

Dixon's ruling further said that the defendants should use a different company to raise the US$3.5 million bond or they should submit a comprehensive listing of their assets equivalent to the US$3.5 million.

He also warned that the defendants should make available that US$3.5 million bond by Wednesday, August 21.

"The defendants are hereby given up to Wednesday, August 21 to provide said bond for its approval otherwise, they shall be detained at the common jail until they can file a valid bond or remain in prison throughout the course of the trial," the criminal court judge said.

The judge said that it was Judge Boima Kontoe, who imposed the US$3.5 million bond in 2018.

Judge Dixon recently replaced Judge Peter Gbeneweleh, who had accepted the AUG's bond.

Judge Gbeweneleh then said that AUG had never subpoenaed the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) to testify during the justification of the bond.

Besides, Gbeneweleh said during the trial that AUG's business registration certificate had less than 10 days to expire. He signed the bond but advised that the company upgraded it registration process.

A legal expert, who spoke with the Daily Observer, said presumption of innocence until proven guilty is a basic principle of the Liberian justice system, noting that defendants should not be unnecessarily punished or detained before being found guilty.

In general, the lawyer said that after a person is arrested and charged with a crime, they appear in court and face a judge, who decides whether to release the accused, set bail or hold the person in custody.

In many cases, he said, judges sometimes release defendant(s) on a simple promise to appear for their next court date.

However, when a judge decides to impose "money" bail conditions, the defendant is likely to spend at least some time in jail - often for the sole reason that they do not have the money needed to post bail immediately and must raise it from friends and family, or must navigate the slow, inefficient commercial bail system.

"At a time when the country is focused on reducing the jail population in order to ending a system that results in the unnecessary, unproductive, and expensive detention of people prior to a conviction must be prioritized," the expert said.

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