MONROVIA : The Liberian Judiciary has sharply reacted to blame apportioned on the court system of the country by the Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Cllr. Frank Musa Dean for acquitting four persons arraigned before the Criminal Court ‘C’ in connection with importation of US$100m worth of drugs, criminal possession of illegal drugs and money laundering, saying that evidence adduced before the court and jury were not strong enough to convict the accused.
The Director of Communications, Cllr. Darryl Ambrose Nmah says the accused were used as scapegoats by the State to prosecute the drugs case while letting the actual culprits of the crime to go free of the criminal offences against the state and people of the country.
Cllr Nmah further noted that the Minister of Justice who should have shown a leadership role in the prosecution of such grave criminal offences did not for a day appear in court throughout the duration of the US$100 million drug case, saying “If you get rock solid evidence, you would be in front, you would show leadership.”
He made the statement when he appeared on the OK evening show yesterday, Monday, May 22, 2023, to debunk media assertions made against the judiciary in connection to the marathon drug case in Liberia. The said statement came against the background that Minister Dean described as appalling, the acquittal of four persons accused of illegal importation of drugs and money laundering into the country by the Criminal Court “C” of Judge A. Blamo Dixon at the Temple of Justice last week.
It can be recalled that four indicted defendants, including Malam Conte, Adulai Djibri Djalo, Makki Admeh Issam, and Oliver Zayzay, were tried on multiple charges including criminal conspiracy, money laundering, and unlicensed possession of controlled drugs and unlicensed importation of controlled drugs.
In the verdict acquitting them of criminal conspiracy, ten of the twelve empaneled jurors voted not guilty in favor of the defendants while two voted guilty against the defendants. On the charge of unlicensed importation of controlled drugs all 12 of the jurors voted “not guilty” in favor of the defendants while 11 of the 12 jurors voted “not guilty” on the charge of money laundering and one abstained from voting.
As soon as the verdict was pronounced, there were public criticisms of the trial, amidst which a Ministry of Information Press Release signed by Information Minister Leggerhood Rennie quoted Justice Minister Dean as condemning the ‘not-guilty” verdict derived by the empaneled jury that heard the case, saying that it undermines the collective efforts of Liberia and its international coalition to clamp down on illegal transit of illicit drugs, using West Africa as the conduit to trade narcotics internationally from Latin America and elsewhere.
In reaction to assertions by the Minister of Justice, the communication director of the Judiciary noted, “The Attorney General did not one day step to the court. You lost the case and you turn around and blame the judiciary.”
Cllr. Nmah indicated that it is only on the principle of law that a judge uses to set a verdict aside, saying that when the evidence is not by law convicting the defendants and the jury comes with a verdict acquitting the accused, the judge would confirm the verdict. The communication director explained that the Minister of Justice should not be blaming the court because the first thing is the judiciary is not a party to the case and that the court is the impartial judge to listen to the case. “And in line with our Constitution, there are certain levels of crimes that say you must be tried by the jury of your peers. Julius, I will be the first person on this radio that will say our judicial system is far from being good,“ he averred, pointing out, “There is a lot of work to be done especially.”
However, he maintained that in the same vein, “a whole lot has happened to transform the judicial system, especially in working in close concert and collaboration with our international partners. And one of the things that we are proud of today that has transformed our judicial system is the jury system. There has been a reform in the jury system by the passage of the jury law that now requires the highest standard of people who now serve when it comes to jury service.”
Nmah who came in defense of the Judicial system emphasized that the prosecuting lawyers miserably failed, and that it matters a lot that they didn’t present evidence; “or are they saying the evidence was tampered with or what?”, he said.
“So, what is the matter indicted in court? Or why the accused were incarcerated for which they have to go on trial?
To try them, he said the jury must be set up and that the law requires that a lot happens in jury selection. He said a listing of all the servants in the country, all the employees of public corporation public corporations employees as well as those of private businesses like LoneStar, Orange and everybody else is put into the database of the judiciary for jury service. “And the system is created in the way that randomly it picks names of people,” he said.
Noting that for every time there is a jury trial 200 to 250 names are picked from the database and that once a name comes out, that person’s company has to excuse him for service to the country to serve jury duty, which is an obligation on the part of that person as citizens of this country.
For this Cocaine case, Cllr. Gmah said the court needed 15 jurors to sit on the case, with 12 sitting and three alternating in case one of them gets sick.
“To select the 15, it takes the prosecution team and the defense. They went through three different screening sessions to screen 2001 jurors in two weeks to select the 15 the jurors they wanted on the case, which were accordingly sequestrated, clarifying that it was not the judge that chose the jury.
“The Information Minister who signed the release, currently there is a case at the civil law court where his wife is sitting as juror. She is HR manager at the LTA. She was selected randomly and she was called to my office to come and sit on the jury panel. As a matter of fact she was one of the jurors when they were picking members of the jury for this case she was supposed to sit on. But she said she knows one of the lawyers – Bobby Livingstone, so she could not sit on the case. These are the caliber of people who sit on the case,” Cllr. Gmah explained.
Considering the caliber of people that serve as jurors, the judicial communication director said it is therefore incumbent upon legal representations of the parties to make their respective sides of the case so as to convince the jury to derive a verdict that would favor their party.
Cognizant of these formalities, he said the government accused the four persons acquitted of illegal importation of the drugs or drug trafficking, money laundering and criminal, arrested and took them to court, which charges they have the obligation to prove to the jury, while the defense theory in this case was these people have been used as scapegoats; in fact these people were brought to divert attention from the main people who brought the drug.
The defense further told the jury that the prosecution brought these four persons to court because the international people’s eyes are behind these drugs, adding that the main people that brought the drugs into the country are not are not the people taken to court.
“So you have the burden as a government. You read the government’s legal memorandum that is what you follow to close up the argument for the judge to look at to consider your arguments.
According to him the case is decided on the merits of the defense legal memorandum of the prosecution’s legal memorandum, stating that it is based on these theories and the judges’ charge of the jury on issues of law that the judge charges the jury.
Court issues can be very long and complicated, he explained further. He maintained that is why people choose to take the shortcut; but you cannot take the shortcut.
On the case in question, he said testimonies by the prosecution could not convict the accused defendants. He said a juror asks: you said these people imported the drugs. Do you have the bail of laden? The prosecution said yes; the juror asked further “Whose name on the bail of laden?” the prosecution lawyer said the TRH Company that imported the container.
So the jury asked them how do you charge the defendants with importation of the container containing the drugs when they are not the ones who imported it?
Jurors asking government witnesses inquired, “Since the people laundered money, can you speak to us how the money was laundered into the country?” The prosecution could not explain that.
Nmah said those asking the questions were jurors who were supposed to make determination on the case, noting that another juror asked an investigator, “you said these people were in illegal possession of the drugs, were they caught with the drugs in their hand?” The prosecution answered, they caught the drugs in the TRH Warehouse – then they came to say there’s something they called unconscious possession. When the jury asked what they called unconscious possession, they could not explain how to link the defendants.
Besides, Cllr. Gmah indicated that In this big case the government gave only six pieces of evidence which include the charge sheet, the testing for the drugs in the lab with the result that the drugs was cocaine, the other one was the bail of laden , the other one was their own investigative report. So the jury examined those to see how this evidence linked any of these people accused.
On the other hand, the defense told the jury that the accused were not the people that the government was looking for. The major factor in the case, they said, is the TRH Company, which was not charged but used as a whistleblower.
“And so the defense played on the minds of the jurors that we told you that there is a guy from Brazil called Costavo – how did he leave this country –where is he- the ring leader of this drug deal? The defense said he was supposed to be in court and wondered why he was not in court.
According to the defense lawyers, Gmah said, the Prosecution said the TRH Company has special privilege at the port, especially with this particular container that came with the drugs as evident by the fact that it was not searched.
To prove their case, they brought the president of the Liberia Custom Brokers’ Association who said the brokers demonstrated at the Port compound for three days wanting to know why the government gave a particular company the privilege that they can’t search their container.
The defense also brought Othello Gablah as defense witness, who had written in his New Dawn about this TRH Company. Gablah wrote that in January this year, the government had arrested 40m worth of cocaine with this same company. So he was asking why only this company’s container can find drugs inside.
“The Government kept saying that the company was the whistleblower in the case, but how this whistleblower keeps bringing drug substances in the country,” Cllr. Nmah said, attributing the concern to one of the defense witnesses.
In addition, Gbalah noted that the GTMS, apparently a reshipment entity, notified the government to search the container upon arrival here, the notice was not honored in the name of special clearance privilege that allows nobody to search the container.
The defense lawyers also brought as witness the director of the seaport police, who confirmed that the TRH has special clearance privilege for the container; for another defense witness, the Customer officer on narcotics, confirmed that the company has special clearance.
So, the question was who gave this company the special clearance to a container that was bearing drugs?
Meanwhile, the cu worth of cocaine, but nobody questioned the company because it is understood that Abi Jouadi was partnering with the government.
Cllr Nmah considered it unfortunate that the Justice Minister would put out the statement that the judiciary was undermining the fight against drugs, when he did not show leadership during the prosecution and at a time that evidence submitted to court failed to link the accused.
He said there is overwhelming evidence. “Is the bail of laden that carried the TRH the overwhelming evidence or the investigative statement of the investigators? So, it is good for the Liberian people to ask and read what the overwhelming evidence the Justice Minister spoke of is?” Cllr. Nmah indicated.
He said if the Minister said they tampered with the juror, which, however the government has never raised, then the question would be: who tampered with the jurors? This is Because the Ministry of Justice can never say that. They went through the rigorous process of selecting the jurors, after which they immediately sequestered the jury. For the 81-day sitting for which the jury was sequestrated, it was the justice Ministry that exclusively had access to them.