Liberia: Are Lawmakers Reneging on Impeaching Judge Klah?

By Abednego Davis

Judge Richard S. Klah at the center of US$19,700 bribery scandal at the Commercial Court

Following the opening of the 3rd sitting of the House of Representatives on Monday, January 13, a burning question in the corridors is whether there is any resolve in the the House to commence impeachment proceedings against Commercial Court Judge Richard Klah, as formally requested by the Supreme Court of Liberia.

A communication from the full bench of the Supreme Court, addressed to Speaker Bhofal Chambers, accused Judge Klah of soliciting, demanding and receiving bribes amounting to USD$19,700 from a party litigant, identified as Swansey Fallah, who is the General Manager of the Kingdom Business Inc.

Since the August 16 letter, there has been no indication from the lawmakers concerning their intent to proceed with Klah’s impeachment, as was done in the case of impeached Associate Justice Kabineh Ja’neh, which many legal practitioners believed was politically motivated.

Surprisingly, Judge Klah has resigned his post in preparation of his impeachment trial, though it is yet to be determined when the lawmakers would call him to defend himself against the accusation.

Corruption in the judiciary is and has been a recurring theme in various Human Rights reports including the U.S. State Department’s annual human rights reports, while international corruption watchdog, Transparency International, has ranked Liberia as one of the most corrupt countries in the world, with emphasis on the judiciary.

Corruption has also threatened peace and stability in Liberia and has been the primary subject of numerous protests in the capital city, Monrovia.

The Supreme Court said that its recommendation for the impeachment of Judge Klah by the lawmakers is in adherence of an investigative report of the  Judicial Inquiry Commission (JIC), a body set up within the Judiciary Branch of Government to investigate complaints against judges.

Chief Justice Francis Korkpor

The Supreme Court also claimed that Judge Klah’s conduct did not only bringing his sincerity and honesty into question, but also cast serious aspersions on the integrity of the entire judiciary.

They claimed that Judge Klah solicited and received bribes from Fallah, who has a case against a Lebanese national, Mousa Abdul Karim, the chief executive officer of the Atlantic Development and Logistic Inc, which was before Klah.

Shortly afterwards, Klah demanded USD$19,700 from Fallah in an attempt to rule in his favour, which the judge allegedly collected the money and did the opposite by ruling against Fallah, which prompted  Fallah’s complaint against Klah to Chief Justice Francis Korkpor.

After thorough investigation by both the JIC and the Supreme Court, they believed that Klah’s action amounted to perjury when he denied under oath before the JIC that he called and sent text messages to both Karim and Fallah.

They further alleged that Judge Klah later conceded that he did communicate with the parties after calls and SMS records from Lonestar Cell MTN were admitted into evidence.

Klah’s subsequent concession that he did communicate with the parties only after the production and admittance into evidence of calls and SMS records from the Lonestar Cell (MTN), amount to perjury, a crime punishable under Liberian law, the Supreme Court claims.

“Klah did not only bringing his sincerity and honesty into question but also casting serious aspersions on the integrity of the entire judiciary,” the Supreme court said at the time.

They added that Judge Klah is in direct violation of Judicial Canon 24 which forbids judges from engaging in private interviews, communicating with parties appearing before them with the intent of influencing their judicial action.

It can be recalled that on July 16 2019, the Supreme Court opened an investigation regarding the JIC’s investigative report that pinned Judge Klah to a telephone communication, allegedly soliciting bribe from party litigants.

The court heard arguments into the matter after listening to the parties the Amicus Curiae (meaning: “friends of the Court”) and Klah’s legal team.

The JIC’s report also said that Judge Klah allegedly received a bribe under the pretext that he would enter a judgment in favor of a complainant, Swansey Fallah, who is the General Manager of the Kingdom Business Inc.

The report also recommended that Judge Klah be immediately suspended from serving as a judge for a period of not less than one year, with the loss of all salaries and benefits including transport, fuel, scratch cards for the period of his suspension.

“That, for his false statements under oath made both in his response to the complaint and in his testimony before the Commission, which by law is criminal, a further three months suspension be imposed upon Klah,” the report further recommended.

It also recommends that the Supreme Court set aside the decision rendered by Judge Klah in the “Action of Debt By Attachment” lawsuit brought by a Lebanese businessman, Moussa Abdul Karim, the chief executive officer of the Atlantic Development and Logistics Inc., against Swansey Fallah due to the gross unethical breach and proven irregularities associated with the hearing of the said case and remand same for a new trial.

It was against the JIC’s recommendation that Judge Klah filed a complaint to the Supreme Court against the Commission, arguing that it proceeded wrongly in its conclusion, where the Commission expressed serious doubt when he quoted the report by saying, “while it is difficult to make a determination as to whether the respondent judge did receive the amount of which the complainant states was delivered to him.”

To that recommendation, Klah contends that the Commission proceeded wrongly in its later concluded that “the respondent judge did receive amounts from the complainant, Fallah without any factual basis or supporting proof.”

The bribery scandal grew when Fallah on March 17, 2016, wrote Chief Justice Francis Korkpor where he sought the Supreme Court’s intervention in regard to a grievance which he alleged he had been made to suffer by Judge Klah.

In that communication, Fallah complained that in a case where he was involved, and which was pending before the judge, he was told by the judge that if he, Fallah, paid the said judge a certain amount of money, he (the judge) would enter a judgment in his favor.

In total, Fallah claimed that he had paid to Judge Klah the amount of US$19,700.

Further Fallah’s letter alleged that on December 24, 2015, during the night hours, he received a strange call from a man who introduced himself as Judge Klah of the Commercial Court.

After his introduction, Fallah claimed that Judge Klah informed him that his friend Moussa Abdul Karim has taken his (Fallah’s) complaint to him (Judge Klah) that Fallah’s company was indebted to Karim in the amount of US$200,500 and that he Judge Klah was urging Fallah to pay such money and save him from trouble.

The letter said, Klah then instructed Fallah to locate him (Klah) at his office at the Temple of Justice for a conference with Karim to discuss a payment plan.

Fallah also claimed that during the communication on the telephone he told Judge Klah that they were not indebted to Karim and that he will come to Klah to explain the details of the transaction between him and Karim after the Christmas Season.

After the festive season, Fallah’s letter claimed that he went to the Temple of Justice and was told that Judge Klah had travelled, but he made several follow-ups, at which time he met Klah in his office.

During their meeting, Fallah said, he took time to explain the business transaction between him and Karim, but Judge Klah still maintained that he should pay to Karim at least US$150,000 and that he will ask Karim to abandon the rest of the money.

Culled from Daily Observer.

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