Liberia: County Attorney Martin Faces Arrest in Ex-Defense Minister Samukai's Case

-Gets 24-hour ultimatum to pay US$150 fine

Minutes after Cllr. Edwin K. Martin, the Montserrado County Attorney, carelessly handled the pieces of documentary evidence in his possession to be used against former Defense Minister Brownie J. Samukai, Jr. and his co-defendants on Monday, February 17, Martin was left in serious trouble with the court, who had threatened to detain him, in spite of his status as a lead lawyer for the government.

Cllr. Martin was ordered by Judge Yamie Quiqui Gbeisay to make available all pieces of documentary evidence to each of the three defendants, including Samukai, on Monday. Unfortunately, when Martin appeared before Gbeisay, there was no document before the judge to show that Martin had presented the evidence to the defense team.

It was Martin's failure to act on Judge Gbeisay's order that drove the judge to fine him US$150 and threatened to arrest Martin, if he were to refuse to pay the money within 24 hours, with payment slip presented to the sheriff of the court.

"Upon failure of Martin to pay said amount into the Government revenue, the clerk of the court will be ordered to arrest Cllr. Martin until said amount is paid,"Gbeisay openly told Martin.

Samukai, together with two other co-defendants, Joseph P. Johnson, former Deputy Minister for Administration and Nyumah Dorkor, former comptroller, are charged with theft of property, criminal conspiracy, economic sabotage misuse of public money and money laundering, in connection to the misapplication of over US$1.147 million from the account of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) at Ecobank-Liberia.

Samukai had repeated the decisions reached between former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and President George Weah during series of meetings held together between January 13 and 17, 2018, and with the leadership of the AFL that the incoming government would refund all funds spent from the AFL Welfare Fund.

Samukai also argued that on January 17, 2018, President George Weah then President-elect, held a meeting at his residence in Rehab, Paynesville, with him along with senior leadership of the AFL, where they discussed the outstanding issue of refund to the AFL Welfare Fund, and President Weah confirmed and reiterated in that meeting that he and Madam Sirleaf have met and discussed the situation and agreed to refund all money spent on the AFL from the AFL Welfare Fund during the passage of the budget 2018.

Despite Samukai's explanation and documentary evidence established between the two Presidents, Sirleaf and Weah, that from the 2018 budget the government would refund the money, Cllr. Martin is now pressing for the prosecution of the case.

Again, Gbeisay ordered Martin to disclose all other pieces of evidence to the defense lawyers by 4PM of Monday, February 17.

Under the law, if a person is indicted by the government, as in the case of Samukai, the prosecution is obliged to make available all pieces of documentary evidence to each of the defendants to understand the charges that would be used against them, which Martin failed to do, despite Judge Gbeisay's instruction to him to produce the documents by Monday, February 17.

Shortly afterward, Gbeisay was heard reminding Martin that "The record of the court showed that the prosecution did not take the court order seriously, as such the defense counsels are not in the possession of the pieces of evidence that could have made them to proceed with the trial."

Gbeisay continues, "Let the record show that the state indicted these defendants in 2019 as this court has 166 cases on its docket. Hence, the obvious concern of the prosecution is to clear the docket as much as they can. The action of the prosecution shows disrespect to this court and it is intended to hinder the operation of the court."

Besides, Samukai and his co-defendants were made to answer whether or not they were guilty when the document that contained the charges was read to them in open court, of which they all pleaded not guilty.

The charges against Samukai, particularly alleged money laundering, relates to claims that between July 2009 up to, and including November 2017, authorized the withdrawal of US$852,860 from the coffers of the Ministry of Defense's (MoD) account, named and styled: "Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) Pension Account" at Ecobank-Liberia, which the government equates to "money laundering."

The bank account was based on salary deductions and established to provide benefits to wounded AFL soldiers, and also to the families of dead AFL soldiers, as well as to supplement pension package to personnel of AFL upon retirement from active service.

State lawyers said documents showed that Samukai made several payments between 2009 up to and including 2017, which were basically for activities that were already provided for under the National Budget of Liberia, such as the AFL operators.

In their money-laundering claim, they said Samukai illegally paid US$50,000, as death fees to the families of the late Nigerian General Abdurrahman, who the document claimed did not contribute anything to the fund, while serving as AFL Chief of Staff (CoS).

They also claimed that Samukai made payment in the amount of US$170,955, and US$369,380 to facilitate AFL's operations and also the high command of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) peacekeeping operation.

The money laundering charge also alleges that Samukai used a total of US$270 to transfer the money to Mali.

Samukai has repeatedly denied the money-laundering claim, arguing that he acted based on the instruction of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who was also the Commander-In-Chief of the AFL under whose administration he served as the Minister of National Defense.

It can be recalled that the government in August 2009, recommended that the appropriate and right thing to do in the AFL money saga at the time was to restitute or refund the full amount of US$1,147,656.35 that was expended on the AFL for the past several years.

"This refund shall be immediately provided in the next budgetary appropriation to the AFL by the government, not an individual minister or designate(s)," the recommendation then said.

To this, the document said former Minister Samukai was exonerated from any wrong alluding to corruption.

In August 2009, the Ministry of Defense established contributory savings involving deduction from all ranks of the AFL for their welfare and supplementary pension benefit after their years of honorable service.

As of October 2017, the amount of US$2,062,160.14 (including accrued interest), were collected and deposited into that account at Ecobank. And, it was established that about US$1,147,656.35 was spent on the AFL, and the balance in the account was US$688,964.96 as of November 8, 2017.

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