MONROVIA, Montserrado – Judge Boima Konto of Criminal Court C has dropped charges of multiple criminal offenses against the former managing director of the National Port Authority, Maltida Parker, and her comptroller, Christina Pealay.
Konto’s decision was based on the failure of lawyers representing the government to produce witnesses during the trial. Both defendants were indicted by a grand jury in 2015, on charges of economic sabotage, criminal conspiracy, and theft of property.
They were accused by the government for illegally awarding a contract worth over US$800,000 to Denmar Enterprise, to dredge wreck from the Port of Greenville in Sinoe, disregarding the Public Procurement and Concessions Act.
Following an investigation by the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission prior to their indictment in court, former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf suspended the two defendants. The court trial began during May 2015 term of court and was adjourned in 2016 after the government’s lawyers alleged that an unknown person had tampered with jurors hearing the case.
At the start of a new trial on September 13, 2018, the prosecution petitioned the court to consider the testimony of six witnesses who testified in the first trial, on grounds that it could no longer locate them. The petition was granted by the court, but Arthur Johnson, who represented the defendants, rejected the court’s decision, arguing that he was not the defense lawyer during the initial trial. He argued that the prosecution needed to reproduce its witnesses to allow the defense to carry out cross-examination of the witnesses. According to him, such would allow for a fair trial and to prove the defendants’ innocence.
The defense lawyer appealed to the court’s ruling at the Supreme Court, where the justice-in-chamber, Sie-Nyene Youh, reversed the judge’s ruling and mandated that the prosecution team must produce its witnesses to testify at the new trial.
The second mandate for the case to resume from the Supreme Court was read on December 28, 2018, and the first assignment to hear the case was issued on March 4, 2019, but the prosecution requested that the hearing is rescheduled for another day.
According to the judge, the hearing was reassigned for April 10, 2019, but the prosecution lawyers requested another extension, which resulted in the decision to drop the charges against the defendants.
“This court finds it difficult to understand the legal and factual basis of [the] prosecution’s application for a continuance because the second mandate from the Supreme Court, dated December 28, 2018, said [the] prosecution should prepare their witnesses to testify on their behalf,” the judge noted.
According to him, the actions of the prosecution violates the Supreme Court’s mandate and the constitution, thus requiring the case to be dismissed. He said the prosecution’s actions also violate the defendants’ rights to a speedy trial under the constitution.
Featured photo by Zeze Ballah