Monrovia - Defendant Stephen Dunbar has become the latest defendant in the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL) bribery case to be granted a severance trial. Presiding Judge of the Criminal Court “C” at the Temple of Justice Peter Gbeneweleh ruled and awarded defendant Dunbar a separate trial Tuesday after a formal request made to the court last week amid resistance from state prosecution.
“Wherefore and in view of the fore-going, it is the ruling of this court that the movant’s motion for severance is hereby granted and resistance thereto by the state is denied. The movant is hereby severed from the other defendants. And it is hereby so ordered” said Judge Gbeneweleh.
The judge’s ruling comes from the backdrop of Dunbar’s six-count motion for severance filed before the court where his lawyers contended that he was served a writ of arrest and indictment charging him and nine other defendants with economic sabotage, bribery and criminal conspiracy which the indictment alleged were committed between the periods May 2006 to May 2007.
Also in the motion, Dunbar’s lawyers argued on the issue of statute of limitations where they alleged that the prosecution would have commenced trial within five years as of May 2007 upon his indictment that is to say not later than May 2012 which did not happen. The defense lawyers under the watch of Cllr. Frank Musa Dean also contended that Dunbar ceased to be a member of the Board of Directors of NOCAL in 2007 and that he will be prejudiced by a joint trial with the other nine defendants because his defenses are different from the other defendants. “He prayed this court for severance trial, thereby relieving him from prejudice of a joint trial with the other nine defendants” said the defense lawyers.
In a counter-argument to the defense argument, state lawyers headed by Montserrado County Attorney Daku Mulbah in a five-count resistance asked the court to deny the motion for severance. The state lawyers argued that the Criminal Procedure Law Section 4.2 (a) is not applicable under the given circumstance and facts in the instant case as the movant (Dunbar) was a public official or employee who is answerable under Section 4.4 of the Criminal Procedure Law as cited by the movant.
According to the state’s lawyers the movant in count-five of its motion for severance is an admission that he was a member of the Board of Directors of NOCAL at the time of the commission of the felonies as clearly stated in the indictment for which he should be made to be tried jointly with the other defendants. “Respondent prayed this court to deny movant’s motion for severance” prayed the state’s lawyer. However, prior to his ruling the presiding Judge Peter Gbeneweleh quoted Section 16.10 of the Criminal Procedure Law, which according to the judge provides for relief from prejudicial joinder which was for the benefit of the ruling.
Part of Judge Gbeneleweh’s ruling states: “If it appears that a defendant or the government is prejudiced by a joinder for trial together, the court may order an election or separate trials of counts, grant a severance of defendants or provide whatever other relief justice requires”. Defendant Stephen Dunbar is the second defendants among the nine NOCAL officials indicted by the state for their role in bribing of former lawmakers to ratify oil contract
The first defendant to have been granted severance by the court because he was not a member of the Board of Directors of NOCAL at the time of the bribery scandal was former Lands &Mines Deputy Director now Grand Kru Senator Albert Chie. The motion for severance filed by the former NOCAL Board of Directors Clemenceau Urey is pending for hearing at the Criminal Court “C” at the Temple of Justice shortly FrontPageAfrica has reliably learned.