Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Liberia: Govt Loses Appeal to Halt U.S.$100 Million Cocaine Verdict

… Supreme Court’s denial of the government’s request for a writ of prohibition is expected to be read today

The Supreme Court has denied the administration of President George Weah’s emergency request for a writ of prohibition to block the enforcement of the not-guilty verdict of Criminal Court ‘C’ in the US$100m cocaine smuggling case.

The Ministry of Justice has requested the Court to halt the acquittal of Malam Conte, Adulai Djalo, Makki Issam, and Oliver Zayzay by a 12-man jury whose decision the government has heavily criticized and described as shameful.

However, the ruling by the Supreme Court brings an end to the maneuver by the Weah government to render the acquittal non-enforceable and to prove a point the jurors’ verdict was erroneous.

The verdict of the Supreme Court is expected to be read today after a notice of assignment was issued to both prosecution and defense lawyers two days ago.

The Ministry of Justice had bet on winning the case to boost the government’s claims of fighting the widespread abuse of drugs in the country, but the loss dealt a blow in that narrative as many questioned the investigation that led to the accused being charged with numerous crimes, the unlicensed importation of uncontrolled drugs.

The Ministry, in an apparent fight against criticism, has not only condemned the jury verdict as appalling but claimed that this lends credence to the widely held international and local perception that the judiciary is inherently compromised.

It added that the verdict ignited the debate as to whether the judicial system should continue with the age-old jury-trial process, which has been susceptible to jury tampering.

RELATED ARTICLE: Supreme Court Orders Gov’t to Return US$113K to Men Acquitted in US$100M Cocaine Case

“There was US$100 million worth of drugs stacked in a container that landed in Monrovia and the accused were caught red-handed attempting to take ownership of the container holding the illicit drugs by attempting to bribe the businessman housing the container,” the Minister of Justice, Cllr. Frank Musah Dean, said in a release issued on May 20.

“Yet the court, through the empaneled 12-man jury, said such brazen evidence did not warrant a guilty verdict. What more can the joint security and the Justice Ministry do to convince the court that the law was broken,” the Minister wondered.

The criticism, however, ignited a ferocious response from the Judiciary — claiming that the Ministry of Justice was deflecting blame for its poor investigation and handling of the case — which led to them losing it.

The Spokesperson of the judiciary, Ambrose Nmah, claimed that the Ministry’s allegation of jury tampering is a shocker as the prosecution at no point raised an issue or concern about the jury selection process.

RELATED ARTICLE: Weah Gov’t Loses US$100M Cocaine Case

Nmah noted that the Ministry lost the case because of a lack of sustained evidence to prove that the accused were guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, which is their fault and not the judiciary’s.

The Ministry’sr writ of prohibition comes after 11 of the court’s 12 jurors found the accused not guilty of all charges, including money laundering, unlicensed possession and importation of uncontrolled drugs, and criminal conspiracy.

According to the jury, the men had no knowledge of the cocaine smuggling operation, as claimed by the government, and that the US$200k, which was seized from the men, be returned.

The 520-kilogram haul of the illicit substance was seized by authorities in 2022 among containers that TRH Trading had imported from Brazil. The drugs were estimated to be worth over US$100 million, making it one of the largest drug-related cases in the country’s history.

According to TRH Trading, which is a subsidiary of AJA Group Holdings, the accused allegedly offered to pay US$200,000 for a single container of frozen foods, on which the cocaine was smuggled, which at the time cost less than US$30,000.

RELATED ARTICLE: Defense Witness Exposes Gov’t