Liberia: President Sirleaf’s Lawyer Threatens Publisher

A newspaper Publisher and Managing Editor has been cited by the private lawyer of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. Mr. Philipbert Browne of the National Chronicle newspaper has been requested to immediately withdraw a story he published on March 7, 2014, captioned "In The Wake of Aicha Konneh's Gold-And-Diamond Smuggling For President Sirleaf: President Sirleaf Under International Security Watch."

Cllr. J. Fonati Koffa of the International Law Group who says he represents the legal interest of President Sirleaf, requested Publisher Browne to print a retraction giving the same prominence and position to the retraction as the initial article.

He also threatened the Publisher with Lawsuit if he fails to retract the story within 24 hours. In a letter dated March 7, 2014, addressed to Mr. Browne, the President's Lawyer said he intends to initiate legal action within 24 hours of the delivery of a letter unless satisfactory arrangements and retraction of the story are made.

Koffa's decision is apparently prompted by a newspaper headline mentioned supra which appears to be causing outrage and resentment within the loop of the Presidency.

In the letter, Cllr. Koffa said the entire story, as to the whole and its subparts, is false relatively and absolutely as to the involvement of President Sirleaf in any transactions with Ms. Konneh.

Continuing, the President's private Lawyer added "In fact the body of the story contradicts the headline. it is Ms. Konneh, not President Sirleaf, who is under the so-called international security watch. Moreover, the story attempts to tie various slanderous allegations, of unproven nature, to create the impression that President Sirleaf is engaged in or supported unlawful activity."

The President's private lawyer argues that the falsity of the statements is not only distressing to his client but demeans her image and reputation as a peaceful, law abiding citizen and a responsible leader of Liberia. Consequently, according to him, President Sirleaf has asked him (Cllr. Koffa) to institute a lawsuit as a legal remedy.

He explained that the law against defamation in Liberia is clear and the courts will award damages to those who maliciously, recklessly and intentionally impugn the image and reputation of public and private persons.

Cllr. Koffa said his law firm, the International Law Group, believes that the continuous campaign against President Sirleaf and her family, supposedly by the National Chronicle Newspaper, which is the subject of pending litigation, shows malice on the part of the Publisher's paper.

"You are hereby requested to immediately withdraw the story by printing a retraction giving the same prominence and position at the retraction as the initial article and furnish us copies of the retraction as well as written permission to print the retraction in other news outlets in our sole discretion," the President's private lawyer said.

The lawyer warned "if you wish to discuss this further, I will be available to discuss this matter with you and your attorneys. As this is a continuous course of conduct, I intend to initiate legal action within 24 hours of the delivery of this letter unless satisfactory arrangements are made."

The story for which Publisher Browne has been cited by President Johnson Sirleaf's private lawyer is based on a report of the UN panel of experts on Liberia, published last November.

In that report, the panel indicted Madam Konneh on number of issues, including allegation that she plotted to overthrow the Guinean government, claims she has since dismissed as untrue.

The United Nations Panel of Experts said it received information in September 2013 concerning the recruitment of Liberian and Sierra Leonean mercenaries in Nimba County for possible operations in Guinea.

According to the UN Panel of Experts latest report released on Liberia, the Panel mentioned that it obtained the names of several recruiters from Liberian mercenaries familiar with the recruitment process, as well as from a Liberian security agency, although it did not have the opportunity at the end of its mandate to conduct a field visit to investigate this suspected recruitment further.

The Panel stated that it had previously received information concerning the recruitment of mercenaries in south-eastern Guinea early in 2012 on behalf of a Liberian mercenary named Ophoree Diah, who is currently on trial for mercenary activities in relation to cross-border attacks from Liberia into Côte d'Ivoire, along with 17 other individuals.

The Panel: "Information regarding this recruitment was obtained from mercenaries who are sources of the Panel, a Liberian security agency and the Group of Experts on Côte d'Ivoire."

Diah, who had served as the deputy chief of staff for erstwhile LURD operations during the Liberian civil conflict, travelled from Liberia to Ghana in late 2011 to serve as a courier of funds for mercenaries on behalf of former officials of the Government of Laurent Gbagbo.

Diah and two other Liberian mercenary sources informed the Panel that the Executive Mansion had assisted Diah in obtaining a passport in October 2011 and travelling to Ghana, which the Government of Liberia denied to the Panel.

Liberian mercenaries familiar with Diah's activities also informed the Panel in September 2013 that Diah had sought to obtain illicit weapons on a forest concession in Gbarzon District, Grand Gedeh County, in 2012, prior to his arrest by the Liberia National Police in September 2012.

Diah informed the Panel on 24 October 2012 that he worked for the logging company A&M Enterprises, owned by Aicha Konneh in Grand Gedeh County, information that the Panel was subsequently able to verify through two other sources.

Ms. Konneh played a prominent role, from Guinea, in the formation and leadership of the former rebel group LURD during the Liberian civil conflict. The Panel said it was continuing with investigation about Diah's network, including former LURD generals and ringleaders to determine their financial or political interests in Guinea.

Panel: "Furthermore, Diah's telephone records obtained from the Ministry of Justice of Liberia in September 2012, show that Diah had placed or received calls to or from Aicha Konneh's telephone on 48 days between 30 March and 10 September 2012, with multiple calls placed or received on many of these days."

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