Liberia: ‘Professional Engagement’ Delays Former Defense Minister’s Trial

By Abednego Davis

Former Defense Minister Brownie J. Samukai, Jr.

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The possibility of Judge Nancy Sammy of Criminal Court ‘C’ hearing the high-profile alleged corruption case that involves former Defense Minister Brownie J. Samukai and two of his deputies, is far from happening.

This is because her predecessor, Judge Blamo Dixon, granted a month-long “professional engagement leave” to defendant Samukai that may likely stall Judge Sammy’s ability to preside over the matter, as she has vowed in her charge to dispense justice without fear and favor, because she has about 52 days to serve as a judge of that Court.

Judge Dixon’s decision resulted from communication dated October 26, 2019, signed by Mr. Samukai.

Samukai’s letter, which copy is with the Daily Observer reads: ”I have the honor most respectively to request your kind indulgence to approve my travel to Cape Verde from November 17-25, 2019 to attend a professional engagement under the Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS), based in Washington DC, the United States of America.”

In that letter, Samukai said that he served as Adjunct Faculty on National Security and Security Reform, as well as Catalyst and Panelist upon demand.

“I have also been invited to serve as panelist/Catalyst at the ACSS sponsored symposium on Managing Security Resources in Africa in Abidjan, La Cote D’Ivoire from December 10-12, with travel dates December 8 and 9, and returning date of December 13, 2019,” the communication said.

“Your honor,” Samukai’s letter continued, “should you be kind enough to approve my travel aforesaid, my plan is to depart the country for Cape Verde on Sunday, November 17, 2019, and return on November 25, 2019, and be ready to face trial in the case presently before your courts against me and then, on December 8 and 9, I will also travel to Abidjan, La Cote D’Ivoire.

“In order to substantiate the legitimacy of my proposed trips, I am attaching copies of relevant documentations, which include the trails of email communications, and shall submit my air travel tickets upon receipt from the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, connected to my travel, for your easy reference and perusal.”

In conclusion, the letter added: “I appreciate your kind assistance, cooperation, and the confidence you may repose in me by granting my request to travel and return: I assure you that your trust will not be betrayed, and I promise to return at the times herein stated and fully participate in the criminal trial during the impending (2019) November Term of Court.”

Judge Dixon’s response, a copy of which is also in the Daily Observer’s possession, said: “By directive of His Honor A. Blamo Dixon, Resident Judge, Criminal Court ‘C” for Montserrado County, I acknowledge receipt of your letter dated October 26, 2019, requesting the court to grant you excuse for you to travel out of the country from November 17, 2019 to December 13, 2019 for professional engagement.”

It continues, “I wish to inform you that your request is hereby granted, and that you are hereby permitted to travel out of the bailiwick of Liberia on November 17, 2019, and to return on December 13, 2019.”

Samukai, together with two other co-defendants, Joseph P. Johnson, former Deputy Minister for administration and Nyumah Dorkor, former comptroller, are charged with theft of property, criminal conspiracy, economic sabotage misuse of public money and money laundering, in connection to the misapplication of over US$1.147 million from the account of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) at Ecobank-Liberia.

The charges filed against Samukai, particularly alleged money laundering, relates to claims that between July 2009 up to, and including November 2017, authorized the withdrawal of US$852,860 from the coffers of the Ministry of Defense’s (MoD) account, named and styled: “Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) Pension Account” at Ecobank-Liberia, which the government equates to “money laundering.”

The bank account was based on salary deductions and established to provide benefits to wounded AFL soldiers, and also to the families of dead AFL soldiers, as well as to supplement pension package to personnel of AFL upon retirement from active service.

State lawyers said documents showed that Samukai made several payments between 2009 up to and including 2017, which were basically for activities that were already provided for under the National Budget of Liberia, such as the AFL operators.

In their money-laundering claim, they said Samukai illegally paid US$50,000, as death fees to the families of the late Nigerian General Abdurrahman, who the document claimed did not contribute anything to the fund, while serving as AFL Chief of Staff (CoS).

They also claimed that Samukai made payment to facilitate AFL’s operations in the amount of US$170,955, and US$369,380 was also paid to the high command of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) peacekeeping operation.

The money laundering charge also alleges that Samukai used a total of US$270 to transfer the money to Mali.

Samukai has repeatedly denied the money-laundering claim, arguing that he acted based on the instruction of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who was also the Commander-In-Chief of the AFL under whose administration Samukai served as the Minister of National Defense.

It can be recalled that the government in August 2009, recommended that the appropriate and right thing to do in the AFL money saga at the time was restitution or refund the full amount of US$1,147,656.35 that was expended on the AFL for the past several years.

“This refund shall be immediately provided in the next budgetary appropriation to the AFL by the government, not an individual minister or designate(s),” the recommendation then said.

To this, the document said then Minister Samukai was exonerated from any wrong alluding to corruption.

In August 2009, the Ministry of Defense established contributory savings involving deduction from all ranks of the AFL for their welfare and supplementary pension benefit after their years of honorable service.

As of October 2017, the amount of US$2,062,160.14 (including accrued interest), were collected and deposited into that account at Ecobank. And, it was established that about US$1,147,656.35 were spent on the AFL, and the balance in the account was US$688,964.96 as of November 8, 2017.

What makes the arrest warrant for the former minister of defense a special case is that the AIRReT chose to ignore the August 2009 recommendations of the Board of Inquiry (BoI) that was established by then Brigadier/General Daniel Ziankahn, AFL former Chief of Staff (CoS) to determine the status, utilization and balances of said account.

Culled from Daily Observer.

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