Liberia: 'We Are Taken By Surprise'

-- Gov't lawyers admit in CBL L$16B case

Criminal Court 'C' Judge Blamo Dixon abruptly ended the Monday, September 16 opening of a trial involving five current and former officials of the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) accused of their respective involvements in the 'missing' L$16 billion when the government lawyers expressed surprise shortly after the defendants rejected a jury trial.

"In contemplation of the selection of jury, we were taken by surprise that the defense has decided to waive jury trial consistent with Chapter 20 of our criminal procedural law," the prosecution was heard confessing in open court on Monday.

The lawyers' confession came following Judge Dixon's question to the prosecution as to whether to proceed to outline the theory of their case before both the judges and the jury de facto after the defense lawyers rejected a jury trial.

Shortly afterward, prosecutors who had earlier boasted of having overwhelming evidence, both oral and documentary, to convict the defendants of multiple crimes requested the court for a day to adequately prepare themselves for the case to commence, though they were aware of yesterday's hearing into the matter, which has since attracted much public interest.

"The government is interested in the hearing of this matter, but equally so, the State's request for postponement, which is just few a hours from now to Tuesday morning, September 17, is to allow the State to outline the theory of its case by producing its evidence."

That request was later accepted by Judge Dixon, who was heard saying, "The request of the prosecution is hereby granted, therefore, the case is reassigned for Tuesday, September 17 at 2:00 p.m."

It was not clear what was "surprising" to the government's lawyers that prompted the defense to refuse a jury trial, "because most cases tried by jury have usually ended at the Supreme Court as a result of alleged jury tampering, an accusation which has created a dark cloud over the image of the country's justice system."

In this case, the prosecution attempted to convey the impression that they were taken aback by the decision to reject a jury trial.

In the case of a jury trial, usually, the jurors are placed in "seclusion" at the Temple of Justice with only the government having access in order to monitor their movement, because ultimately it is the responsibility of the Ministry of Justice to provide security for the defendants although the Ministry may be involved in prosecutorial action against them.

When court resumed in the afternoon, the defense counsels said that they have consulted with the defendants and they informed them about their decision to waive jury trial.

"After consultation with the defendants, they waived jury trial, and submitted this case to a bench trial," the defense smartly told the court on Monday.

When prosecutors were asked to respond to the defense proposals, it was then that Judge Dixon added, "In contemplation of the selection of jury, we were taken by surprise that the defense waived a jury trial."

However, the prosecution sought to have the court believe that they were taken by surprise by the defendants' decision to reject a jury trial.

The prosecution for the past months has created bottleneck to resume the case, one of which was the recent inclusion of a new charge that has to do with money laundering that led to Dixon imprisoning the defendants for not posting additional bail.

Even though the defendants posted a bond when they were first charged with economic sabotage, criminal facilitation and criminal conspiracy, the prosecution chose to add to the charges money laundering.

Initially, Milton Weeks, former executive governor of the CBL filed a property evaluation bond to the amount of US$909,319.88 to secure his release from pre-trial detention, while the Accident and Casualty Insurance Company (ACICO) secured the bond for Charles E. Sirleaf, deputy governor in the amount of US$60,000.

The company also secured a US$60,000 bond for Richard Walker, director for operations, Joseph Dennis, deputy director for internal audit and Dorbor Hagba, director of finance.

Those bonds were to secure their release on the first set of charges, which include economic sabotage and theft of property. Later, the prosecution added a new charge of money laundering, for which Judge Dixon set the bail at L$1,058,000,000, leaving the defense team to appeal against the new bail requirement before Associate Justice Yussif Kaba, who resolved the new bond controversy.

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