By Abednego Davis
From left: Jung Dal Park, the Attorney-in-Fact of the Korean national, and two of the four accused, at the Temple of Justice in Monrovia
The Supreme Court on Friday, August 9, 2019 ordered the reopening of the US$247,500 case that involved operatives of the National Security Agency (NSA), including the agency’s former director, Fombah Sirleaf, a son of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and some Korean investors, as part of the corruption investigation that the Special Independent Committee initiated since late 2014.
The committee, headed by the late Counselor David A.B. Jallah, then Dean and Professor of Law at the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law, University of Liberia, was instructed by Madam Sirleaf to investigate the incident.
The court’s decision on Friday was necessitated by a judgment of then assigned Judge Peter Gbeneweleh of the 13th Judicial Circuit Court in Margibi County. However, Gbeneweleh dismissed the Korean businessmen’s US$2,849,000 “Action of Damages for Wrong” lawsuit against the NSA.
The investors in their 2015 suit claimed that while in custody at NSA headquarters, they were stripped naked and “subjected to various forms of humiliation without any formal charge and were never advised of their rights as required by the law.
In his ruling at the time, Judge Gbeneweleh said that the Korean nationals produced insufficient evidence to reasonably support their accusation that they were subjected to various forms of humiliation and degradation, thereby supporting the NSA lawyers’ “Motion for Judgment During Trial” filed to the court.
A motion for judgment as a matter of law, is made by a party during trial, claiming the opposing party has insufficient evidence to reasonably support its case. If there is no evidence to support a reasonable conclusion for the opposing party, judgment is entered by the court and the case is over, a legal expert explained to the Daily Observer.
Besides, Gbeneweleh ordered that the NSA’s operatives should not take the witness stand to provide their individual testimony about the accusation.
However, reading the High Court’s opinion, Justice Yussif Kaba, said the evidence produced by the Korean investors when they rested their case created a rebuttal presumption, therefore, “the trial judge was in error when he granted the judgment during the trial.”
Justice Kaba: “The court’s judgment is reversed, therefore, the case is hereby remanded for a new trial.”
It can be recalled that the Jallah Commission produced a 3-volume, 399-page report and handed it at first to Dr. Edward McClain (now deceased), then Minister of State for Presidential affairs, instead of President Sirleaf.
The Jallah Commission found out that the Korean businessmen committed no crime as the NSA had alleged to justify the seizure and arrest.
Further, the Jallah Commission uncovered an NSA operatives conspiracy directly involved, along with the gold dealer Naseer Aly, and two others from outside the agency, to defraud the Korean businessmen.
Among the report’s recommendations, the committee called for return of the cash seized to the Korean businessmen, and for the matter to be referred to the Ministry of Justice to prosecute all conspirators.
The investigation further found that the seizure was an NSA operatives conspiracy and co-conspirators outside the agency, who had lured the Korean businessmen to Liberia, and recommended prosecution of all perpetrators.
President Sirleaf did not heed to the Jallah’s recommendation, which prompted the Korean investors to file the lawsuit of US$2,849,000 as damages against the NSA.
Madam Christiana Tah, then Minister of Justice and Attorney General, resigned, accusing President Sirleaf of interference in an NSA investigation.
The case grew when a group of four Korean businessmen had arranged the purchase of gold bars through emails with Nasser Aly, whom they believed to be a Lebanese gold dealer with mining interests in Liberia.
Under the deal negotiated by Kim Aleck, one of the Korean businessmen, the counter parties agreed to the sale of 16 kilograms (35 lbs) of gold at the price of US$568,000.
Half of the purchase price, amounting to US$284,000, was to be paid upfront in Liberia.
On July 8, 2014, the NSA operatives carried out a raid at the City King Hotel in Monrovia, without a warrant.
Five NSA operatives burst into a hotel room where the Korean businessmen and Aly had been holding a discussion for a few minutes.
The NSA seized cash in the amount of US$247,500 and other possessions, including a gas dish, melting dish, two packs of gold testing chemicals, an electronic gold scale, and two pocket wallets containing money and credit cards.
Earlier, on the day of the raid, the Korean businessmen had withdrawn the same amount of money seized from the Sinkor, Old Road branch of the International Bank of Liberia and then gone directly to the City King Hotel, expecting to complete the transaction with Aly.
The Korean businessmen were arrested by the operatives and taken from the hotel to the headquarters of the NSA.
Later, NSA charged the Korean nationals with the commission of crimes of illegal possession of combustible cyanide that posed national security risk to the lives of Liberians, money laundering, counterfeiting, and conspiracy to defraud the government.”
The criminal charges were later dropped against the Korean investors by the Criminal Court ‘C’ at the Temple of Justice, which prompted their civil lawsuit against the NSA.