Liberia: 'Effective Asset Recovery Requires a Specialized Court'

-Says U.S. Retired Judge Gebelein

A visiting Superior Court Judge of the State of Delaware in the United States of America (USA) says for the government to be effective and efficient in its quest to recover stolen assets, there is a need for the creation of a specialized corruption court.

Judge Richard S. Gebelein said if the court is created it would help the government to recover stolen assets, particularly millions of United States dollars as have been done in the case of many countries that successfully uses the court to recover their stolen assets, emphasizing that Liberia should not be an exception.

Judge Gebelein came to Liberia under the auspices of the USAID funded Legal Professional Development and Anti-Corruption Program in Liberia (LPAC). In an exclusive interview with the Daily Observer at the end of his two weeks visit to the country, Judge Gebelein said one of the major jurisdictions of the court is its ability to recover assets that were stolen from the state.

"If the court is successful in doing that there is a lot of money coming into to the country to support it and the government."

He said the court should have exclusive jurisdiction to hear only corruption cases because, according to him, corruption cases take longer time to decide than ordinary cases.

By its nature, Judge Gebelein said, the court is about financial evidences that will involve expert witnesses and so, it is preferable to have judges mending the court that are well-trained in that area.

Another aspect of the court, according to Gebelein, is that it usually requires for the establishment of a special group of prosecutors with special section within the Ministry of Justice or an independent agency that will be solely responsible for corruption cases.

On the issue of funding, the visiting judge said, the government does not need additional funds to operate the court, because it would be able to recover stolen assets from public officials of which the court can generate millions of United States dollars through the asset recovery.

Retired Judge Richard S. Gebelein

"The court, if successful, can recover millions of United States dollars to run its affairs," Gebelein believes. However, he did not rule out the possibility of the government seeking funding from the international community to support the creation of the court.

According to Gebelein, his discussion with stakeholders in the justice sector, particularly judges, members of the Liberia National Bar Association (LNBA) and the government, clearly gives him the impression that Liberia is now ready for the creation of the corruption court.

"I am impressed that there is a lot of support among professionals like the judges, the lawyers and public officials to have an independent corruption court," the US retired judge stated, adding, "but we have to discuss about the format of that court that would fit into the Liberian justice system."

About Judge Richard S. Gebelein

Judge Richard S. Gebelein is a senior judicial and prosecutorial expert with more than thirty five years of experience in the areas of prosecution, defense, judicial reform, anticorruption, sentencing policy, legal education, criminal law reform, ethics and professional and judicial discipline. Judge Gebelein is an experienced attorney, jurist, and international judicial reform expert who currently serves as Senior Counsel to The Bifferato Firm, where he specializes in mediation, arbitration and consults on complex litigation. He also served as a consultant to American University's Office of Justice Programs.

Few highlights of Judge Gebelein's career include: Serving as an International Judge on the State Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Economic, Organized Crime and Corruption, and War Crimes Chambers; Serving as Chief of Party for the USAID sponsored Justice Sector Development Project II in Bosnia and Herzegovina which project worked to improve the justice sector, strengthen the prosecution offices, and to encourage the participation of civil society in this sector; and Serving as a Superior Court Judge in Delaware for 21 years, where he presided over complex civil litigation including medical malpractice, insurance coverage and toxic tort cases as well as serious criminal cases, among others. He also served as "Rule of Law Officer" for Combined Forces Command-Afghanistan (2004-2005) where he coordinated law reform efforts of coalition forces with international organizations, US civilian agencies and Afghan agencies. In this role he developed and presented a program on appellate procedures for the new Supreme Court of Afghanistan.

Judge Gebelein is married and has three grown children.

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