The Supreme Court has reversed the judgment of then Judge Peter Gbeneweleh of the 13th Judicial Circuit Court of Margibi County in the US$2,8 million “action of damages for wrong” lawsuit filed by four Korean investors against the Government of Liberia.
In his ruling, Judge Gbeneweleh then said the Korean businessmen evidences produced were not sufficient to compel the government to answer to the claims against it.
The judge’s action came immediately when he accepted the government lawyers’ request not to testify into the matter, on ground that the evidence produced did not link the State to the commission of the crime of damages charged against it, immediately after the Korean nationals rested with the production of oral and documentary evidences.
However, Justice Yusuf Kaba, who spoke for the court, said having heard the arguments, the facts and circumstances revealed by the records and examined laws controlling, it is hereby ruled that the evidence produced by the appellants when they rested their case created a rebuttable presumption, therefore the trial judge was in error when he granted the judgment during the trial.
Therefore, the judgment of the trial court is reversed and the case is remanded for a new trial, Justice Kaba pointed out.
In July 2014, four Korean businessmen came to Liberia to do business at the invitation of one Nasser Aly; a businessman believed to be a Lebanese national residing in the country and engaged in mining and trading in gold.
Aly was a legitimate businessman, the Korean nationals asked him for a number of documents and pieces of information which, in response, Aly sent via email and also issued them an invoice on his company’s letterhead addressed to one of the four men, identified as Mr. Kim Aleck.
In the letter, the document explained that Aly told Aleck that he had on sale 16 kilograms of gold at the price of US$568,000, which they claimed was written in the invoice and requested 50 percent payment amounting to US$284,000.
The Korean businessmen decided to proceed with the transaction by mobilizing the necessary funds, amounting to the 50 percent required by Mr. Aly.
On June 27, 2014, they withdrew the equivalent of U$40,000 from the Kookmin Bank in South Korea, at which time they used US$12,584 to purchase air tickets, while the remaining money was distributed among them, each collecting US$6,854 to travel to Liberia.
Upon their arrival in Liberia, they agreed to purchase the 16 kilograms of gold and on July 8, 2014, proceeded with their agent to the International Bank (IB) and withdrew US$247,500 and preceded to their hotel, (City King Hotel) in Sinkor, Old Road in Monrovia where Mr. Aly agreed to meet them to conclude the transaction.
They claimed that while they were at the hotel finalizing the transaction, a group of men, who later identified themselves as agents of the National Security Agency (NSA) abruptly and violently stormed their hotel room and arrested them.
The NSA agents seized from them the amount of U$247,500, along with other valuable items, including gas torch, gold melting dish, two packs of chemicals to test the gold and an electronic gold scale.
Lawyers representing the four Korean businessmen accused the NSA of manhandling them in their cell and subsequently seizing their clients’ US$247,500 with other valuable properties, causing them to file a US$2,849,000 “action of damages for wrong” lawsuit against the Liberian Government.
The lawsuit filed on August 11, asked the Civil Law Court at the Temple of Justice to hold the government and the NSA responsible for their wrongful conducts and to pay to their clients an amount of US$348,000 as special damages and US$2,500,000 as general damages.
The lawyers claimed that later their clients were taken to the NSA headquarters where they were stripped naked, placed in solitary confinement in dark rooms, and subjected to various forms of humiliation and degradation without formal charge or they being advised of their rights as required by the law.
They further claimed that, “the government charged them with the commission of crimes of illegal possession of combustible cyanide that posed national security risk to the lives of Liberians, money laundering, counterfeiting, and conspiracy to defraud the government.”
It can be recalled that upon hearing of the incident, Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf constituted a Special Investigation Committee, headed by Law Professor and Dean of the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law of the University of Liberia, Cllr. David Jallah, to probe the matter.
The David Jallah-led committee took testimonies and other evidences from those that were party to the incident and after careful consideration, the committee concluded that the charges levied against the Korean nationals were unfounded and the conduct of the NSA through its agents was illegal and made specific recommendations to President Sirleaf, including the refund of the money to the Koreans.
The recommendation was accepted by Madam Sirleaf and accordingly mandated the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) to implement them.
It was based upon the action of NSA through the Director of National Security, Fumba Sirleaf, son of President Sirleaf, that led to the seizing from the Koreans the amount of US$247,500, along with other valuable items, including gas torch, gold melting dish, two packs of chemicals to test the gold and an electronic gold scale.
In reaction, the Korean businessmen filed a damages of wrong suit in the amount of US$2.8 million against government in which Judge Gbeneweleh ruled in favor of the government.
The high court has reversed the ruling, saying that the judge was in error to have granted the judgment, calling for a new trial.