Liberia: Court Document Disproves LACC's Connection With 'Travel Ban'

Liberian parliamentary building

A court document in possession of the Daily Observer has proven that, contrary to an accusation by a state lawyer, Attorney Alfred Bandiyo, that the "Writ of Ne Exeat Republica" restraining some former government officials from traveling out of the country was issued by the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC), it was not the LACC as claimed by Attorney Bandiyo as he and his boss, Solicitor General Syrenius Cephus claim.

Cephus' ban was intended to prevent several individuals, including former Managing Director of the Liberia Airport Authority (LAA) Ellen Corkrum, John B. S. Davis, President of the Liberia Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI), and a Liberian businessman, Musa Bility, then chair of the LAA from traveling outside of the country.

The defendants were among several others that include the Monrovia Diaspora Consulting, LLC, through Momar Dieng, a U.S. citizen; and the First International Bank (FIB, now GN Bank) that were charged with economic sabotage, criminal facilitation, conspiracy to defraud the government, and making unauthorized transfers of funds from government accounts by the past administration of Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Cephus' petition for Writ of Ne Exeat Republica, which he claimed was a request from the LACC, does not have a signature of any member of the LACC as far as the document in possession of this paper, dated February 6, 2020, is concerned.

Rather, the document carries the signature of Cllr. Edwin K. Martin, Montserrado County Attorney, who serves under the jurisdiction of Cllr. Cephus.

Martin, being the only signatory to the document that was presented to the court to prevent the defendants from leaving the country, is contrary to the request usually made by the LACC to the Ministry of Justice (MOJ).

It is not clear what prompted Cllr. Martin to be the only signatory to the document because, by law, the LACC is a national autonomous commission with a mandate to create awareness, investigate, and prosecute acts of corruption involving public officials and resources.

Cllr. Martin's petition says: "the Republic of Liberia by and thru the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) has requested through the office of the Solicitor General a writ of Ne Exeat Republica to be issued in order to prevent the defendants from leaving the bailiwick of the Republic of Liberia as a consequence of an ongoing criminal investigation on allegations of economic sabotage, theft of property, criminal conspiracy and misapplication of entrusted property."

The writ further says, "the Republic of Liberia, by and thru the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission, is of the firm belief that the defendants, now respondents herein are of serious flight risk that could evade the ongoing criminal investigation by surreptitiously leaving the bailiwick of the Republic of Liberia, if a protective security mechanism is not effectuated to prevent them from leaving."

It continues, "Your Honor will not be in error in granting the issuance of the said writ as same is intended to prevent the respondents from leaving Liberia for other parts of the world ."

In conclusion, the document said, "The LACC prays your Honor and this court to order the issuance of the writ of Ne Exeat Republica against the defendants herein, in order to prevent them from leaving the bailiwick of Liberia and to make themselves available to said criminal investigation and grant unto the LACC any other relief that Your Honor may deem just and legal."

Surprisingly, Cllr. Cephus, while in his private law practice, served as a lawyer for two of the defendants; LBDI and Corkrum, which action would qualify him (Cephus) for suspension of his law license if any of those involved with the traveling ban were to complain before the Grievance and Ethics Committee of the Judiciary.

It was against this backdrop that Cllr. Cephus, who since the issuance of the writ, had refused to attend the hearing but chose Atty. Bandiyo to represent him at each of the trials before Magistrate Jallah refused to issue the writ against the defendants.

Magistrate Jallah, during the hearing of the matter, also summoned the LACC to appear before his court to authenticate their involvement with the writ, but not a single member of the anti-graft honored the court's order to show-up, which decision clearly demonstrated the LACC's objection to the statement of Cllr. Cephus.

Cllr. Cephus' action has been heavily criticized by his colleagues including Cllr. Jonathan Massaquoi, one of the lawyers of co-defendant Bility, describing it as "abuse of power and conflicted."

Whenever the LACC makes a request to the MOJ for an action before the court, the document has two signatures one for the ministry and the other for an executive of the LACC, which did not happen in the case of Cephus' request.

It can be recalled that Magistrate Jomah Jallah issued 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 shortly after Cephus wrote the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) to reopen the multiple charges case 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 were 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.

Though Cephus had served earlier as a private lawyer for both Corkrum and LBDI when he was not serving as Solicitor General, Cephus' communication to 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 the 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."

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