Liberia: Desperate!

-VP Taylor resurrects criminal charges against LMA leadership

In what has been described as a desperate attempt to circumvent the ruling of the Supreme Court quashing VP Taylor's charges of embezzlement against the Liberian Marketing Association (LMA), VP Taylor is back in court determined as it appears, to have the last say on the matter. And she has sought recourse to Criminal Court C where she has now proffered new charges against the leadership of the LMA although substantially, according to legal analysts, the facts and circumstances remain the same as before when the matter was quashed by the Supreme Court upholding the ruling of the lower court.

Former Liberia Marketing Association (LMA) President Madam Lusu Sloan is expected to be among several other past and current executives of the association sought by Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor, this time to convict the association current president Alice Yeebahn of allegedly stealing US$89,938.27 and L$98,392,742.37, ranging from 2016 up to 2018.

VP Taylor's decision to include Madam Sloan is predicated upon the fact that she is a close associate of Madam Yeebahn on her (Taylor) listing of key witnesses, and the current decision is coming just a year after the VP lost her first case against Yeebahn at the Civil Law Court, at the Temple of Justice.

Not being satisfied with that ruling, this time, VP Taylor is taking her before the Criminal Court 'C' at the Temple of Justice, where she (Taylor) is seeking the court's endorsement to convict Yeebahn of duping the association of the amount mentioned above, and that is why she (Taylor) is opting for Sloan's testimony against her long time friend, Madam Yeebahn.

Initially, Madam Sloan was among several individuals to include Madam Yeebahn that were charged in connection with the alleged disappearance of the US$89,938.27 and L$98,392,742.37, which the VP claims dates back from 2016 up to 2018.

But, to compel Madam Sloan's testimony against Madam Yeebahn, the VP through the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has filed a 'Motion for Nolle Prosequi' before Judge Yamie Quiqui Gbeisay that is being scheduled for hearing on today, Friday, April 3.

Nolle prosequi means that "we shall no longer prosecute," which is a declaration made to the judge by a prosecutor in a criminal case (or by a plaintiff in a civil lawsuit) either before or during trial, meaning the case against the defendant is being dropped.

The statement is an admission that the charges cannot be proven, that evidence has demonstrated either innocence or a fatal flaw in the prosecution's claim, or the county attorney has become convinced the accused is innocent.

It can be recalled that VP Taylor, through the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) indicted officers of the LMA including its embattled president, Alice Yeebahn, claiming that her leadership defrauded the government of US$89,938.27 and L$98,392,742.37, ranging from 2016 up to 2018.

Others implicated are Faustina Ricks, general manager; Lusu Sloan, former president and chair of the entity's election commission; Jones P. Gibson, general manager; James K. Gbelee, deputy manager for administration; Foday Kamara, comptroller; Socrate Jlah, comptroller; and Jerry V. Geeded, interim chairman.

The accused are charged with multiple crimes that include economic sabotage, theft of property and criminal conspiracy. Those charges according to the government resulted from an audit conducted by the General Auditing Commission (GAC).

The GAC's audit claims that the defendants made payment for various transactions without documentation, such as payment vouchers, cash invoices and other financial records to substantiate the validity of these transactions.

It can also be recalled that the Supreme Court on Friday, August 22, 2019 upheld a decision from the Civil Law Court declaring as unconstitutional Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor's suspension of officers of Liberia Marketing Association (LMA), noting that the Vice President had breached the 2010 Act of the LMA by unilaterally suspending three of its elected officers.

The court, through Associate Justice Yussif Kaba, dismissed a petition for judicial review filed by the Vice President against the decision.

Refusing to entertain the petition filed by VP Taylor, who herself is a lawyer, Justice Kaba said that the Court disagreed with the assertion by VP Taylor and in no way negates the Constitutional guarantee of due process as stated in numerous opinions of this Court, including this one.

"Nowhere in these governing instruments is there a provision for Vice President Taylor, being a part of the structure of the LMA, it suffices to say that a budget law is an appropriation," Justice Kaba explained.

VP Taylor had argued that the 2010 Act established the LMA as a public corporate entity and that since its inception, it has operated under the supervision of the Executive Branch, with budgetary appropriations placed under her office as Vice President.

And so she has every legal right to suspend three of the elected officers, who include Madam Alice Yeebahn, LMA president, Abraham Barchue, vice president, and Larwuo Hiama, assistant security general, on an accusation of financial malpractices.

However, Justice Kaba at the time said appropriation of subsidy for the LMA under the office of VP Taylor in no way confers authority on her to impose sanctions and take judicial decisions as she did with the unilateral action to suspend the elected officers.

To justify her unilateral exercise of executive power, Taylor cited that because her office has oversight responsibility over the LMA, about which she had received several complaints from a cross-section of marketers, she saw a need to suspend the elected officers.

In response to that contention, Kaba said protest by aggrieved LMA members in several places did not warrant VP Taylor to flout the Act, by-laws and Constitution governing the management or administration of the LMA, as well as the sacred law of the land.

"It is the opinion of this court that the proper course of action available to the aggrieved members of the LMA would have been to utilize the governing instrument, including relevant laws extant in this jurisdiction," Justice Kaba indicated, adding that, "The trial court did not err when it ruled and ordered the reinstatement of the suspended officers with immediate effect."

"The final ruling of the trial court is affirmed. The Clerk of this Court is ordered to send a mandate to the court below to proceed in accordance with this opinion and it is hereby so ordered."

Shortly afterwards, VP Taylor accused the leadership of financial mismanagement and administrative malpractices, arguing that she was within the pale of the law to have ordered the suspension of the elected officers pending the outcome of the audit by the General Auditing Commission (GAC).

VP Taylor said because the LMA is placed under the Vice President's budget, she was justified in her decision to suspend and order an audit of the suspended officers' stewardship of the LMA.

She had also argued that her decision was politically influenced by the Executive Branch and, therefore, the Civil Law Court lacked the competency to review such decision.

"The decision to suspend the officers is aimed at ensuring peace, transparency, and accountability within the LMA and also to prevent events inimical to national peace and security," the Vice President said. But legal observers say Vice President Taylor has no standing in law to sue and her attempts to seek conviction through Criminal Court C is tantamount to "Double Jeopardy" especially in view of the Supreme Court ruling quashing her appeal before that body.

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