Liberia: Solicitor General Cephus' 'Bogus' Travel Ban Against LBDI's President Rejected

Liberian parliamentary building

Immediately after noticing the absence of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) that the Solicitor General Cllr. Saymah Syrenius Cephus claims authorized him to issue a travel ban on several individuals including former Managing Director of the Liberia Airport Authority (LAA) Ellen Corkrum, President of the Liberia Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI) John B. S. Davies, and former chair of the LAA, Liberian businessman Musa Bility, the Monrovia City Court on Wednesday, February 19, lifted the ban.

Magistrate Jomah Jallah, while lifting the ban, said his court does not have any jurisdiction over the matter, because there is no case before his court against any of the defendants, of which he should issue the Writ of Ne Exeat Republica", meaning to ban the defendants from traveling outside of the country, as requested by Cllr. Cephus.

"There is no case pending before this court for the insurance of this writ," Jallah admitted, adding, "therefore, the writ as prayed for by the government is hereby denied and quashed," Magistrate Jallah ruled.

With Magistrate Jallah's ruling on Wednesday, the ban remains lifted for now and Davies and his co-defendants can freely leave the country without any hindrance or embarrassment by national security.

The ruling represents the latest defeat for the Weah's administration in its efforts to tackle corruption, which has sparked widespread protests across the country.

Cllr. Cephus himself did not attend the trial again, though his representative Attorney Alfred Bandiyo had earlier accused the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) of masterminding the issuance of the writ on ground that they were re-conducting an investigation about the alleged disappearance of hundreds of thousands of United States that was diverted from the LAA during the leadership of Corkrum.

Cllr. Cephus, along with Montserrado County Attorney, Cllr. Edwin Martin, had earlier represented two of the defendants, Corkrum and LBDI in the same case, something which many legal practitioners described as "conflict of interest." This act, according to legal practitioners, is unethical and is punishable by suspension of a lawyer's license.

Prior to becoming Solicitor General, Cllr. Syrenius Cephus , was legal counsel for Ellen Corkrum , as well as LBDI, in the same case.

Unfortunately, not a single representative of the LACC attended the trial to exonerate themselves of the accusation by Cllr. Cephus on Wednesday, even though Magistrate Jallah initially requested them to appear before his court that very day.

Jallah's request for the LACC to appear on Wednesday, February 19, was necessitated by a request from Atty. Bandijo, who said that he was acting upon instruction of his boss, Cllr. Cephus.

Initially, Cllr. Jonathan T. Massaquoi, a lawyer representing co-defendant Musa Bility, had early argued that LACC's alleged investigation has not charged any of the defendants and, as such, there is no case pending before Magistrate Jallah prompting him to issue that writ. "The writ is also used in a civil matter and not during criminal cases, so do not accept the prosecution's argument but dismiss the entire writ."

It can be recalled that Magistrate Jomah Jallah issued a "Writ of Ne Exeat Republica", restricting defendants, Bility, Corkrum, and Davies, among others, from leaving the bailiwick of the country for hearing shortly after Cephus wrote the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) to reopen the case of multiple charges that was already dropped against Bility and Davis by the Criminal Court 'C' at the Temple of Justice.

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

Though Cephus had earlier served as a private lawyer for both Corkrum and LBDI, long before he became Solicitor General, Cephus' communication with the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission asked the anti-graft body for an immediate re-investigation of the matter, where he has served as a lawyer of a co-defendant, LBDI.

Cehpus' communication dated February 3, 2020, was addressed to the head of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission, Cllr. Ndubuisi Nwabudike.

The letter reads, "We present our compliments and have the honor to forward herewith the attached case file involving Madam Ellen Corkrum, Musa Bility and members of the Board of Directors of RIA and a number of commercial banks which were investigated, others dropped and some were subsequently indicted for "Economic Sabotage, Theft of Property, Criminal conspiracy, and Misapplication of entrusted funds."

In continuation, the letter further states: "A careful review of the records of the case shows that the previous government entered a Nolle Prosequi in favor of a number of defendants involved in this matter prior to our ascendancy, and we in recent times did the same due to the absence of Madam Corkrum and to avoid being seen as pursuing a "selective prosecution."

Further, "we also noticed that a sole source recommendation was made by our predecessor, Cllr. Betty Lamin Blamo, to hire a US-based firm, Fox Rothschild, to which US$200,000 (Two Hundred Thousand Dollars) that was allegedly paid to Fox Rothschild to have Madam Corkrum brought back to Liberia."

Finally, the letter recommended: "investigation should take into consideration the legal basis for the former Solicitor General Betty Lamin-Blamo recommending a sole source bid or selection of Fox Rothschild, what became of the extradition proceedings if any among 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 was 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.

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