Monrovia -The latest indictment of several key government officials by state prosecutors for an alleged act of corruption continues to take various legal dimensions at the criminal Court “C” at the Temple of Justice ahead of a trial expected to take place probably in May 2015. The first legal challenge to the trial took place a week ago when the court denied a motion to drop charges against former board chairman Clemenceau Urey and Stephen Dunbar of the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL).
Former Chairman Urey and Dunbar, including eight other defendants were indicted during the February 2015 Term of Court on charges of economic sabotage, bribery and criminal conspiracy. The men allegedly bribed lawmakers to approve bills for ratification of oil contracts by lawmakers, while serving in various capacities at the National Oil Company.
Lawyers representing two of the eight defendants Urey and Dunbar prayed the court to dismiss the indictment against the two because the indictment was belated. Cllr. James E. Pierre and Musa Dean argued that under the law, when a defendant is charged for a felony, the state has five years to prosecute as the charges levied against the two defendants were done between 2006-2007. The lawyers argued that the men could have been prosecuted in 2012 for the crime.
Solicitor General Betty Larmie Blamo resisted the motion and called on the court to deny the defense lawyers’ request because the defendants were jointly charged and the state needed time to investigate the allegation against the accused. Presiding Judge Peter Gbeneweleh denied the requests of the two defense lawyers and claimed that the court could not honor the requests.
He said the defense lawyers were to first file a motion for a separate trial for the two by securing separate indictments for them and not indicting the two with the rest of the defendants. On Tuesday the case took another legal turn when presiding Judge Gbeneweleh ruled to grant co-defendant Albert Chie’s severance trial, when a motion was filed on his behalf by his lawyer.
In the motion for severance, Cllrs. Charles Abdullai, Nyenatin Tuan and Samuel Clark, making reference to the indictment, argued that co-defendant Chie was charged with the alleged commission of the crime of economic sabotage, bribery and criminal conspiracy, when it was alleged that he was a member of the NOCAL Board at the time the crimes were committed.
“Movants co-defendant Chie was never a member of the Board of Directors of NOCAL, as such charging him with the commission of this offense along with other Board members creates a state of uncertainty,” stated the three lawyers. Movants went on to argue that because the co-defendant was not a member of the Board, there is no casual connection between him and the other co-defendants, primarily because their defenses are antagonistic.
In his ruling Presiding Judge Gbeneleweh stated that co-defendant Chie has not denied knowledge of his participation in the Board meeting that reached the decision, which led to the payment of US $ 120,400.00 to the 52nd Legislature as lobbying fees for the ratification of oil contracts. Judge Gbeneleweh also indicated that a careful review before the court shows that other defendants were invited by the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC), but co-defendant Chie was never cited by the LACC to make a statement as a proxy for the former Lands & Mines Minister Eugene Shannon.
“Wherefore and in view of the foregoing, it is the ruling of this court that the motion for severance is hereby granted and resistance thereto denied,” he stated. “Movant is hereby severed from the rest of the other defendants and is hereby so ordered.”
The ruling now leaves Clemenceau Urey former Chairman of the Board of Directors, Cllr. Stephen Dunbar Jr., Peter Jallah, D. Evelyn Kandakai, Fodee Kromah, Fulton Reeves Comptroller, Timothy G. Wiaplah Senior Accountant, Alomiza Enos Bah member 52nd Legislature and Nanborlor F. Singbeh Secretary of the Senate to be jointly tried. FrontPageAfrica has reliably learned that lawyers representing former board chairman Urey and Dunbar have already filed a motion for severance trial.