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Court Finds Five CBL Ex-Officials ‘Not- Guilty’ in L$2.6bn Missing Money Case


  27 Août      7        Justice (874),

   

MONROVIA, Aug 25 (LINA) – The Criminal Court “C” on Tuesday barely after a month-long trial of five ex-officials of the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL), in connections to the missing L$2.6bn saga has finally found the accused “not guilty” as prosecution failed to prove its case beyond all reasonable doubt.

 Presiding Judge Yamie Q. Gbeisay said, it is a well-calculated opinion of the court that from the analysis of evidence adduced at the trial before the court, it is 10 billion Liberian dollar that was printed under the 2017 contract with an excess of 374,750,000,000, making a grand total of 10, 345750, 000,000.00; and that there were no printing of an extra 2.645 billion Liberian dollar (LRD) and that no such 2,645 billion LRD existed to be missing and/or not accounted for, this court hereby declares.

He further stated that it is the Presidential Investigation Team (PIT) reports that mislead the prosecution into charging the defendants for the printing of 13 billion plus instead of 10 billion dollars as contracted, thereby reaching an erroneous conclusion that 2.645 billion was missing.

The defendants having being found not guilty of the printing of 2.645 billion LRD and the court having established that the unauthorized printing by CBL is not a specific crime under the Liberian criminal law; the charges of Economic Sabotage, Fraud on the Internal Revenue, Misuse of public money, among others are thereby purged.

On  June 5, 2020, the Grand Inquest of Montserrado County returned a true Bill upon which the State charged Milton A. Weeks, former Executive Governor of the CBL and members of the Board of Governors to include David M. Fahart, Malissa A. Emeh , Elsie Dozen Badio , and Kollie Tamba, Dorbor M. Hagba, Richard Walker, and Joseph Denis for the Crimes of Theft of Property and Economic Sabotage /Fraud on the Internal Revenue of Liberia, Misuse of Public Money, Property and Record, Theft and all Illegal Disbursement of Public Money, Criminal Conspiracy  and Criminal Facilitation.

The defendants having been previously indicted and Nolle Prosequi, prayed the court to activate their Criminal appearance bonds since their charges were similar to the previous charges.

The request was granted without objection from the prosecution

When the trial commenced in June 2020, the state outlined the theory of its case and the state first witness was Mr. Baba H. Boaka, an investigator of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC).

Mr. Boakai testified that he participated as a member of the Presidential Investigative Team (PIT) and during their investigation they discovered two letters addressed to former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Alex Tyler, then Speaker of the House of Representatives, requesting a permission to print 5 billion Liberian dollars to replace the mutilated banknotes.

Handing down final ruling Tuesday, Judge Gbeisay said from the above testimonies, there are three cardinal issues determinative of the multiple contentions in the matter.

The judge named the issues as: whether or not the prosecution established and proved beyond a reasonable doubt that 13 billion plus Liberian dollars was printed by Crane Currency and shipped to Liberia and that 2.6 billion was missing or not accounted for?

The court’s answer in the negative, the jydge ruled.

He said: “To discuss the issue, we need to consolidate Counts 13 and 15 of the indictment which substantially charged as follows: that the defendants claimed to have printed 10,359,750, 000.00, but in actuality the defendants printed 13,004,750,000.00 and criminally conceded 2.6 billion, thereby committing the crimes of illegal disbursement of public money , Criminal Conspiracy and Theft of Property.

The Criminal Procedure Law under Section 15.82 defines Theft and/or Illegal  disbursement or, expenditure of public money as follows: (a) A person is Guilty of first degree Felony if he (a) knowingly fails to render his account or account of public money or property as provided by law, said person being an official, employee or agent to the government of Liberia or of any ministry or agency thereof or public corporation, having received public money which he is not authorized to retain as salary paid or emolument: (B) knowingly takes , misappropriates, converts, or exercises such role.

During prosecution witness testimony, he also testified to another letter over the signatures of Charles Sirleaf, deputy Governor and son of former President Ellen Sirleaf, which described the quantity and denomination of the banknotes to be printed.

He said the legislature authorized the printing of the five billion Liberian Dollar banknotes, but said amount was printed in excess, shipped to Liberia and received by the Central Bank.

Mr. Boakai further testified that the investigation revealed another contract for the printing of 10 billion Liberian dollars, this time to replace all the legacy banknotes in circulation, but the CBL did not obtain proper resolution from both houses of the Legislature, which should authorize the printing.

Instead the CBL relied on the communication of July 19, 2017 over the signatures of the Clerk of the House of Representative and the Secretary of the Senate to print the 10 billion Liberian dollars.

Boakai further explained that the CBL board of governors also through a board resolution authorized printing of the new consignment of the money.

The witness also testified that the board resolution had no date and the specific amount to be printed.

The witness maintained in his testimony that instead of 10 billion Liberian dollars as contained in the contract, the investigation discovered in the contract that 13,004,750,000.00 LRD was printed thereby making a difference of 2,645,000,000.00 LRD not accounted  for under Milton Weeks’ leadership.

The witness further testified that Mr. Richard Walker, Director of Banking of CBL was aware of the excess money printed and as the result of the excess printing the CBL paid the total of US$10,555, 587.00 as printing cost instead of US$10, 121,689.00, thus leaving the variance of US$433, 898.00

The witness explained further that the PIT received a written response from Crane Currency in respect to the alleged printing of the 2,645,000,000.00, but found material contradiction in the response.

Co-defendant Weeks’ witness was Attorney General Frank Musa Dean., Minister of Justice of the Republic of Liberia, who also served as Chairman of the Steering Committee of the Presidential Investigative Team (PIT).

The counsel for Co-defendant earlier prayed for Subpoena duces tecum and ad testificandum, which was served on the Minister and returned, served following application for Minister Dean to confirm his oath and testify.

The prosecution resisted the application and contended that Minister Dean being a chief prosecutor of the Republic of Liberia cannot and should not be allowed to testify against the state.

 The court granted the application in part and prevented Cllr. Dean from testifying, but ordered Cllr. Dean to present the documents requested through the subpoena which may be in the interest of the defendant submitted to the court. Cllr Dean complied accordingly.

The January 10, 2020 communication to Crane Currency AB addressed to Mr. Peter Brown, acting Commercial Director Africa and Middle East relative to the printing of the Liberian dollars banknotes, a contract between Crane Currency and CBL for the printing of ten billion Liberian dollars banknotes and the email exchange between Peter Brown of Crane Currency and Richard Walker

The next witness of Co-Defendant Milton weeks was Edward E. Fahnbulleh, Officer in charge and Deputy Director of internal audit department of CBL.

 The witness submitted to the court, CBL internal audit report for the printing and delivery of the five and 10 billion dollars banknotes.

The witness also said he brought documents relating to the 15.5 billion Liberian dollars to the CBL between 2016 and 2018

With the above, the single testimony of Mr. Kollie Tamba, the co-defendants, members of the Board of Governors,   rested evidence and prayed the court to invoke relevant evidences in their favor from the co-defendant Milton A. Week’s testimony.

The prosecution first and second witnesses maintained that the defendants did not account for the L$2.645 billion based on the PIT investigative report.

“But for a court of justice, the PIT report is not law and gospel. To hold the defendants criminally for L$2.645 billions, the court must go beyond the PIT report and take into consideration the Crane Currency response to the PIT report, the Kroll Associate Inc., which was sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), independent investigative report, the CBL assessment report, and Minister of Justice legal opinion, and the testimonies of the defendants charged,” the Judge pointed out..

He added “First of all, the PIT report, according to the prosecution own witnesses, took into consideration only the parking list (parking list is a document prepared by a manufacturer listing what is expected to be shipped),

“If the parking list is an instrument that indicates the amount of items that is supposed to be shipped on the aircraft and not what is actually in the aircraft, then a parking list is not the best evidence as required by the Civil Procedure Law,” the judge asserted.

Besides, following the outburst of the alleged loss of billions of newly-printed Liberians Dollars (LRD) banknotes at the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL), the Kroll auditing team conducted an independent investigation which is in the public domain and testified to during the trial.

“But for public interest, this court will detail further in an attempt to clarify the contention of the state,” the judge said.

 During PIT investigation, Crane Currency, which printed the alleged 13 billion dollars plus, was contacted and it provided a written response, the ruling showed.

It said in that response, Crane Currency management denied printing banknotes in excess of 15.5 billion dollars and delivered it to CBL.

It said Crane Currency further denied being in any collusion, conspiracy, or any other illegal relationship with Milton Weeks and or any other person.

In addition, Crane Currency response also specifically stated that the PIT finding and conclusion in respect of the 2.645 Billion as at variance is incorrect, the court stressed.

Crane Currency insisted that in fact it printed, shipped and delivered to the CBL 251,220,000 pieces of Liberian dollars banknotes valued at 15,506 billion Liberian dollars.

The court indicated that Crane Currency detailed in its response the breakdown of the denomination as per the contract and fully accounted for 15.506 billion LRD.

However, for the 2017 contract, the court observed and agreed that the PIT double counted deliveries by two SN Brussels Airlines that were cancelled.

The court observed that the cancellation and re-configuration of the two shipments is apparently what resulted to the double counting, thereby over stating the total amount of banknotes delivered to Liberia.

“This court is, therefore, clear on the fact that due to weather condition in Brussels, SN Brussels management cancelled two flights and reconfigured the cargo load into three,” the judge ruled.

The two shipment for 472.5 million LRD and 620 million LRD were shipped in different configuration to Monrovia; while the remainder of the banknotes was delivered to Liberia by a Ukrainian Air Alliance.

“From the analysis of this quantum of evidence, this court is of the considered and informed opinion that the PIT report was in error with reference to the mathematical calculation and its limitation to the parking list only”, the court said..

It added: “With reference to the allegation of re-cycle of mutilated notes, the court notes that the prosecution did not provide any substantive evidence at trial to prove the accused guilt. Our laws say, allegation no matter how well laid, does not constitute a proof or amount to truth without the production of evidence.”

The court continued: “Whether or not the state established and proved that all the defendants herein are guilty of an unauthorized printing of 13 billion dollars, and if the answer is yes, does the unauthorized printing amount to a criminal offense? The court is constrained to answer Yes and No.”

The Court noted that paragraph three of that communications on the printing of the banknotes, in the mind of the court, inserted a caveat to the CBL not to print any money until it reverts to the Legislature as to the exact amount to be printed and the denominations of each note to be printed.

 The court observed that it is clear that the Executive Governor of CBL and the board of governors of CBL ignored the caveat and proceeded to print without an expressed approval of the legislature, which ought to have come through a joint resolution of both Houses.

It said the situation was even made worse by the fact that co-defendant Milton A. Weeks had entered an agreement with Crane Currency one month earlier before the letter of July 19, 2017 and the Board of Governor’s resolution authorizing the printing.

“This court totally disagrees with Executive Governor Weeks and board member Mr. Kollie Tamba contention that the July 19, 2017 communications in spite of the caveat inserted in it was a full authorization to the CBL to Print 10 billion.

‘Wherefore and in view of the forgoing, it is a well-calculated opinion of this court that from the analysis of evidence adduced at trial before this court, it is 10 billion LRD that was printed under the 2017 contract with an excess of 374,750,000,000, making a grand total of 10,345,750,000,000.00; and that there were no printing of an extra 2.645 billion LRD and that no such 2,645 billion LRD existed to be missing and/or not accounted for,” this court hereby declares.

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