Liberians Ponder Over Gov’t’s Continues Failure in Prosecuting Corrupt Officials and Releasing Findings

temple-of-justice-0-2The Liberian Government led by Africa’s first female President has come under serious criticisms from the public on the prosecution of officials accused of corruption and at the end of the day room the corridor of power.

Over the past years the Liberian Government has publicly announced its bid to fight corruption by bringing to book those who are caught in the act, it has been visible in local media of the stance by the government to ‘leave-no-stone-upturned’ to prosecute those caught in such act, but to the surprise of many Liberians this action on the part of the government is always to the contrary.

Making references of some of those high profile cases including the extradition plan by the government to prosecute the former Managing Director of the Liberia Airport Authority (LAA), Madam Ellen Corkum and her fiancé Judge Melvin Johnson for their alleged siphoning of Taxpayer’s money is yet to come to fruition.

The Liberia Government of Liberia in July, 2013 (three years ago) indicted Ellen Corkrum who while serving as head of the Liberia Airport Authority left the country secretly and later released strings of recordings linking senior government officials to alleged corruption.

She was indicted for theft of property and economic sabotage in line with a deal that was intended to revamp the country’s only international airport devastated by the civil war.

Madam Corkrum who made public series of damaging recordings of senior government officials was out of Liberia when the indictment was drawn against her by the state which complicated the legal proceedings based on the territorial jurisdiction issue growing from the result of her location-the United States and that of Criminal Court C which has jurisdiction over the case.

During one of her public statements, the Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf promised that the Government of Liberia was exerting all effort to ensure the return of Corkrum to face trial in Liberia.

In order to fulfils one of its dreams on the issue, huge amount was apportioned to allow Liberia’s Solicitor General Betty L. Blamo  to travelled to the United States to seek the return of Corkrum but up to date she is yet to be brought under the jurisdiction of the court and has not being served the indictment.

Up to date, Liberians are dumfounded as to the state of the issue involving the Liberian Government and Ms. Corkum, while at the same time a motion on the part of Corkum was served to dismiss the case in spite of the fact that Corkrum is yet to be served the indictment which will automatically bring her under the jurisdiction of the court; she now says she wants the indictment quashed for Failure to Proceed with the case.

The communication which is currently before the court was filed by CEMAR law firm and Corkrum also informed that court that Cllr. Sayma Serinus Cephus has been added as her counsel on the indictment case.

Legal argument ensues under the Liberian legal system; a motion to dismiss can be filed if the opposing party fails to proceed with the case after two terms of court. In the case of Corkrum, legal pundits have said that the motion to dismiss filed by the defendant has no legal basis on grounds that she was not properly served the indictment and brought under the jurisdiction of the court.

Chapter 18 section 18.2 of the criminal procedure law on filing a motion to dismiss provides that a case on failure to proceed can only be done unless good cause is not shown for failure to proceed with trial. It also provides that a court shall dismiss a complaint against a defendant who is not indicted by the end of the next succeeding term of court after his arrest for an indictable offense or his/her appearances in court in response to a summons or notice to appear charging him with such offense.

The statue states “Unless good cause is shown a court shall dismiss an indictment if the defendant is not tried during the next term after the finding of the indictment, a court shall dismiss a complaint charging a defendant with an offense liable by a magistrate or justice of the peace if trial is not commenced in court in response to a summon or notice to appear.”

July 2013, the grand jury indicted Corkrum and Melvin Johnson on a three-count allegation, among other things, that they violated the public trust by wrongfully diverting public money and other properties to themselves and their friends. In a ruling on the motion to dismiss the indictment, the presiding judge at that time granted the motion only on Musa Bility and other local defendants leaving out those who resided in the United States. Presiding Judge Peter Gbeneweleh said that Bility was the only defendant served with the writ of arrest along with the indictment and brought before the court while Ellen Corkrum and others had not been served with the indictment to be brought before the jurisdiction of the court.

Fruitless effort to extradite It can be recalled a petition filed by the Government of Liberia before the State Bar of Georgia against Mr. Melvin Johnson resulted in the suspension of Mr. Johnson’s license to practice law. Johnson was the companion and romantic partner of Ms. Ellen Corkrum, Managing Director of the Liberia Airport Authority between September 2012 and January 2013.

According to a special statement read by Solicitor General Blamo at the Ministry of Information, the Government presented an extradition request to the United States Embassy in Monrovia for both individuals and the request remains pending before the U.S. Department of Justice.

 She said in May of 2014, the Government counsel also submitted a grievance to the Georgia Bar, contending that Mr. Melvin Johnson had violated several of the Rules of Professional Conduct that are binding on lawyers who practice in that State. Specifically, the Government complained that Johnson violated prohibitions against dishonest, fraudulent and deceitful conducts, as well as misrepresentation, and that he made untrue statements to persons other than his clients.

Violation of privacy Solicitor General Blamo added that the Government charged that Johnson conspired with Corkrum to divert some US$60,000.00 of the Liberian people’s money to the trust account of his law firm in Georgia, that while in the country he misrepresented his status as a Liberian lawyer (he has never been a member of the Liberian Bar), and that he violated privacy laws by taping conversations with Government officials without their knowledge or consent.

The legal representative of Liberian Government stated that documentation was submitted backing up each of these charges. The solicitor General noted that the Government’s grievance required a substantive response from the accused but Mr. Johnson has never provided that response. As a result, the grievance was referred for a formal investigation.

Again, Mr. Johnson failed to respond meaningfully, specifically and substantially to the Government’s accusations, leading to the suspension of his license to practice law in the State of Georgia. In issuing the suspension of his license to practice law in Georgia, the State Supreme Court noted that the maximum sanction for the violations with which Johnson is charged is permanent disbarment. The Court at the time therefore directed that this suspension remains in effect until further order of the Court. Johnson, who lost his position as a Municipal Court Judge in Lithonia, Georgia, in early 2014 for training deficiencies was barred from practicing law as well but his suspension was later lifted.

At the time Solicitor Blamo vowed that the Liberian Government will continue to pursue this matter and all other abuses of the public trust in furtherance of the desire of Liberians to live in a society that is transparent and accountable.

Also President Sirleaf in her January 2014 Message said that Lawyers representing the Government of Liberia in the United States are said to be reviewing the over US$ half a million theft case involving Corkrum and others. She said that the ongoing review also includes extradition of the ex-RIA boss, a statement which suggests that trying Ms. Corkrum in the US could be another possible option.

Similar situation has taken place when the Liberian Government launched its ‘4G’ arrest order for the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Alex Tyler and the National Chairman of the ruling Unity Party (UP) and others for their alleged link to the Stable Mining  bribery sagas.

Up to date the Liberian people who are anxious to see the outcome of this case are yet to see results as to the process being made in said case.

Few months ago hundreds of United States Dollars was spent to facilitate the travel abroad two officials of the Special Presidential Taskforce to gather evidence relating to the prosecution of those Liberians linked to the bribery scandal.

Since the returned of the two officials of the Taskforce, Cllr. Fonati Kofa, Chairman and Cllr. Darku Mulbah who went to the United States and London repetitively, nothing is been heard about the outcome of their trip.

Some Liberians who spoke to our reporter described this situation on the of the government as a mare bluff, noting that with all of these impressions that it doing everything possible to bring to book corrupt officials will never happen.

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About Cholo Brooks 13214 Articles
Joel Cholo Brooks is a Liberian journalist who previously worked for several international news outlets including the BBC African Service. He is the CEO of the Global News Network which publishes two local weeklies, The Star and The GNN-Liberia Newspapers. He is a member of the Press Union Of Liberia (PUL) since 1986, and several other international organizations of journalists, and is currently contributing to the South Africa Broadcasting Corporation as Liberia Correspondent.