Liberia: A Virtual Sword of Damocles Hovering Above the Nation's Judiciary

Where is the evidence was the question posed to the Court in the ongoing criminal trial of former Board members of the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL). Why would these former members of the CBL Board be on trial when it is open knowledge that it is former President Sirleaf who should rightly be on trial?

It was she who ordered the printing of the banknotes when the Legislature had not given its official approval to the printing of the banknotes.

At the time, some legislators had raised objections to the printing of the notes and questioned the rationale for printing the notes when the tenure of President Sirleaf had only a few months left to its expiration.

Investigators told this newspaper that they are convinced that because President Sirleaf was fully aware that she would have encountered resistance to her decision, she went around official legislative approval by getting both the Secretary of the Senate and the Chief Clerk of House of Representatives to append their signatures to a document which was passed off as approval from the legislature.

They also maintain that President Sirleaf must have, without doubt, been aware that it is the Speaker who heads the legislature and any official action taken by that body must bear the signature of the Speaker. Nevertheless CBL executive officials, which included a son of the President, went ahead to print the notes absent any written authorization, neither from the President nor the Speaker of the House, which she shrewdly avoided by acquiring the signatures of two (2) non elected officials.

Also it is an open secret that President Sirleaf had introduced the newly printed banknotes into circulation mainly in denominations of five hundred Liberian dollar (L$500) banknotes. And this was in 2017 not long before the elections. Further to that the Legacy banknotes, which should have been withdrawn from circulation and destroyed, were instead returned to the CBL vaults.

The banknotes were returned on the flimsy excuse that rainy weather had prevented the burning exercise on that day. There is no evidence that the notes were ever returned to the field for burning on non-rainy days. Clearly this must have been deliberate, or else how can the CBL explain why the notes were never destroyed subsequently but were instead reintroduced into circulation and they remain in circulation up to present?

When the news did finally break of the missing banknotes, it was then that frantic efforts began to dismiss any notion of money having gone missing. All along officials knew that money did go missing. CDC Chairman Mulbah Morlu told journalists that he had personally seen pick-up loads loaded with cash being driven away from the CBL's vaults at the defunct National Housing and Savings Bank.

And when public pressure began to mount, the GoL quickly commissioned a Presidential Investigating Team (PIT) to probe into the affair. It also invited Kroll to help investigate.

Both teams, especially the PIT concluded that there were lapses, some of which bordered on criminality while the Kroll was less forthcoming in naming the culprits. The CBL under the leadership of Nathaniel Patray stoutly refused to grant investigators access to the CBL's vaults to do a physical count of the cash held there.

All along, it appears that there has been a consistent pattern of denials about what actually happened to the money. In the face of overwhelming public pressure, the GoL now under the leadership of George Weah pressed criminal charges against a number of officials, key amongst them, CBL Deputy governor and son of former President Sirleaf.

In a strange twist of events, charges against the son of the President were dropped with prejudice to the Government of Liberia, meaning in legal terms that going forward no criminal charges can ever be brought again against her son, Charles Sirleaf.

With both her son and herself safely out of the picture, the trial has proceeded with former members of the CBL Board who had no direct role in the day-to-day operations of the CBL, now facing the heat.

But this should be a lesson to all public officials who, by acts of commission or omission, could find themselves in similar dire straits. For example, why did not members of the CBL Board on record express opposition to the shady arrangements to print an excess of banknotes without legislative approval?

It appears that they instead simply looked the other way probably for fear of inviting the wrath of a President known to possess a very vindictive streak.

Their failure to stand up when they should have, has now left them on the ground groping for answers.

But again, as humans, they may have been justifiably afraid to blow the whistle considering the mysterious death of Innis which was attributed to a hit and run accident, the CBL driver who also mysteriously got killed allegedly in an accident, the female employees who fled into exile into the U.S. or, well before then, Harry Greaves.

As this newspaper has stated before in its June 10, 2020 editorial, headlined, "A Trial of Scapegoats", that from all appearances, this ongoing trial is but a gross miscarriage of justice which could further impugn the already tattered image of the Liberian judiciary.

This is because there is a rapidly growing public perception that justice will not run its full course simply because those who should actually be on trial are not. It is a sham and a downright disgrace in the making. It is a virtual Sword of Damocles hovering above the nation's judiciary.

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