Liberia: 'Solicitor General Abusing Power in Corkrum's Case'

Cllr. Jonathan T. Massaquoi, of the lawyers representing the legal interest of co-defendant and a Liberian businessman Musa Bility, is accusing the Solicitor General of the Republic of Liberia, Cllr. Saymah Syrenius Cephus, of abusing his power and calling for his investigation by placing a traveling ban on several other individuals including former Managing Director of the Liberia Airport Authority (LAA), Ellen Corkurm and John B.S. Davies, president of the Liberian Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI), both of whom Cephus had earlier served as legal counsel in the same matter.

Cllr. Massaquoi claimed that Cephus' action is a disgraceful attack on the rule of law and the attorney and client relationship.

"If Cephus is not punished by the Grievance and Ethics Committee of the Judiciary it would send an unmistakable message that the government does not believe in the exercise of the rule of law and that Cephus is not respecter of the law," Massaquoi defend his statement.

Bility's lawyer made the recommendation when Cephus failed to show-up on Friday, February 14, at the Monrovia City Court, at the Temple of Justice, where Cephus filed for a "Writ of Ne Exeat Republica", meaning to ban the defendants, Bility, Corkrum, and Davies, among others, from leaving the bailiwick of the country for hearing.

Cephus' writ came days after the charges against Corkrum was dropped by Wesseh A Wesseh, Assistant Minister for Litigation, Ministry of Justice, and that Wesseh's decision was immediately overturned by Cephus before filing for the traveling ban against the defendants.

Cephus' writ, copy of which is with the Daily Observer, reads: "the defendants are about to leave the bailiwick of the Republic to foreign parts, much to the surprise of the government and that the Magistrate, having been duly satisfied upon an application filed by the government, orders a writ of ne exeat republica issued."

In support of Cephus' request, Magistrate Jomah S. Jallah mandated court's officers that "you are hereby commended to arrest the living body of Ellen Corkrum et, al defendants of the City of Monrovia, Montserrado County, Republic of Liberia to be brought before this Court."

Jallah's mandate continues, "You will notify said defendants to make their formal appearance in court and thereafter make your official returns endorsed at the back of this writ as to the form and manner of service thereof. And, for so doing, this shall constitute your legal and sufficient authority."

The magistrate added, "If the defendants cannot give a bail approved by the court, you will commit them to the common jail of Montserrado County to remain there until they file such bail and security."

Against that backdrop, Magistrate Jallah scheduled hearing of the case for Friday, February 14, which Cephus refused to attend and there is no document with the court to justify his absence from the case, knowing that he has embarrassed the defendants by placing traveling restriction on them.

Corkrum was indicted, along with a Liberian businessman, Musa Bility, former chairman of the Board of Directors of LAA; the Monrovia Diaspora Consulting, LLC, through Momar Dieng, a U.S. citizen; and the First International Bank (FIB, now GN Bank); and the LBDI, on charges of economic sabotage, criminal facilitation, conspiracy to defraud the government, and making unauthorized transfers of funds from government accounts.

The First International Bank was indicted for allegedly conspiring with co-defendants of Corkrum, Melvin Johnson & Associates, to make an unauthorized transfer of funds in the amount of US$56,750 from the account of the Liberia Airport Authority when Corkrum was the Managing Director.

Corkrum clandestinely left Liberia with the help of some top security personnel that were serving in the erstwhile Ellen Johnson Sirleaf administration.

Corkrum's escape was precipitated by an indictment by the Grand Jury of Montserrado County in 2013 on charges of economic sabotage, criminal facilitation, conspiracy to defraud the government, and making unauthorized transfers of funds from government accounts.

Also, in reaction to Cephus' accusation, Cllr. Massaquoi said, since there is no criminal investigation that involves the defendants, particularly Bility, Cephus cannot ask for traveling restriction against any of the defendants.

"Under the circumstance, the writ is completely out of place, in that it defects the intent of equity and to ensure justice is served," Massaquoi's resistance argued.

Cllr. Jonathan Massaquoi

Massaquoi also argued that Cephus' writ is an obvious display of vexation and retaliation against Bility and the other defendants, who had earlier interposed antagonistic defense against Corkrum.

"Cephus' writ is an endeavor to represent Corkrum with whom the solicitor general has an existence attorney-client relationship, as a lawyer in his same matter," Massaquoi further argued.

Massaquoi added that also the Cllr. Edwin Martin, now Montserrado County Attorney, initially served as lawyer for Corkrum in the same matter. "Like the solicitor general, Cllr. Martin is conflicted and thus has an apparent motive to pursue this matter against Bility, but the supervisory role and or authority of Cephus in this matter imputed conflict of interest."

Massaquoi argued that issuance of the writ against Bility and his co-defendants lacks constitutional and statutory basis, noting: "The writ is not a standalone writ and, because no action is pending in court from which it grows, it is void and illegal."

Cllr. Massaquoi also argued that the writ is not independent, but ancillary (supplementary) to a pending case, before a court, therefore, Cephus' writ fails to meet the burden of pendency, "and it should be quashed and Bility and his co-defendants ordered discharged."

Massaquoi further explained that Bility has never been cited or invited by Cephus for any investigation. "Assuming that the said investigation does require Bility's participation, then the purpose for requesting the writ is defeated, because the continuation or outcome of said investigation would not be impeded in this case."

After Bility was arrested and indicted on September 10, 2015, he filed a Motion to Dismiss the charges, contending that he was indicted since 2013, but up to and including his filing of the motion, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) refused, failed and neglected to proceed with trial in the case, even after his request for him to be separately tried.

It can also be recalled that Cllr. Cephus, while serving in his capacity as a private lawyer filed an application before then Judge Peter W. Gbeneweleh of Criminal Court 'C', at the Temple of Justice, where the matter is pending, arguing the case against Davies must commence because the reputation and image of the LBDI boss and the bank's General Manager, Gloria Menjor, who was also charged, are of great concern, which need to be salvaged, and the only means through which that can be done is to have the case advanced on the court's docket for the August 2013 Term of the Court and heard.

"The speedy disposition of cases is a cardinal point of focus in the criminal justice system and a means through which justice can prevail," Cephus' application to advance case on the docket argued.

In that request, Cephus said, some of its key witnesses who are to testify in its behalf are all presently in the country and could travel out of the bailiwick of Liberia to attend matters on behalf of Davies and Menjor, thereby depriving them of these vital and important testimonies which will be in their favors.

Besides, while serving as lawyer for codefendant LBDI, Cllr. Cephus negotiated for the charges against the bank to be dropped, provided that they would serve as witness if, the matter were to resume, which agreement was entered into by Cllr. Cephus and the government, then.

In Cephus' justification to re-open the case, he argued in that, "after reviewing the court's records in the case file, we discovered that you carried out a 'pick and choose' exercise by selectively entering a nolle prosequi in favour of few defendants, who are your friends, to the detriment of other co-defendants and, for this reason, we are now reopening the entire case to get fresh evidence that you claimed was difficult to acquire due to the absence of Co-defendant Ellen Corkrum from the bailiwick of Liberia," he said in a statement directed at former officials of the Ministry of Justice from the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf administration, when the case originated.

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