The Supreme Court of Liberia handed down two-year prison sentences to former defence chief Brownie Samukai along with deputies Joseph Johnson and James Nyuman Ndokor after they failed to return one million euros worth of stolen money from a government pension account.
Samukai, who was in court as the ruling was being read on Thursday, fled the building before he was taken to jail.
Accroding to Marvin Sackor, Liberian Deputy Inspector General for Operations: “We are working with our counterparts, the National Security Agency, to get a clear understanding about the whereabouts of Samukai.”
The funds were stolen from the Armed Forces of Liberia pension account during the mandate of former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, when Samukai headed the defense ministry.
The three men were ordered by the court to pay a total of €500,000 within six months, but failed to do so.
The Supreme Court’s Associate Justice Sie-A-Nyene G. Yuoh said the convicts will remain in prison until the balance amount is paid in full, with an interest rate of €20 per month, for what she termed a ‘gross violation’.
The three were found guilty of theft of property, criminal conspiracy, and misuse of public money among others for embezzlement from the Army’s compulsory savings account.
The ruling means Samukai will not be allowed to serve as Senator of Lofa County.
Brownie Samukai, a staunch critic of incumbent President George Weah and a stalwart of the former ruling Unity Party, was elected during the 2020 midterm Senate election but was barred from taking his seat after he was found guilty of raiding the Army coffers.
Positive ruling for soldiers
Soldiers whose money was stolen by the three former officials have welcomed the court ruling.
“The money was forcefully deducted from us monthly; surprisingly we heard the account was empty,” says soldier James Wilson*.
“I am happy, but I think their properties should be seized. We need the money,” Wilson told RFI via telephone from the Edward Binyan Kessely Military Barracks in Monrovia.
Samukai supporters say ruling politcally motivated
Supporters of Samukai have described the court’s ruling as a plot against the senator-elect.
“This is purely political! The people of Lofa are under-represented because our senator-elect has been prevented from taking his seat even though he’s already paid some of the money,” exclaimed Lofa resident Yanquoi Flomuku.
This refers to a payment made on Thursday of €170,000 in three separate checks, prior to the judgement.
But the court maintains as the three were convicted together, they must return the funds together.
Others insist that President George Weah and his Congress for Democratic Change party influenced the court’s ruling. They maintain he also has plans for political opponents such as politician Alexander Cummings of Alternative National Congress (ANC).
“Just as they used the court to keep Brownie Samukai out of the Liberian Senate, the Congress for Democratic Change intends to use the slanderous but baseless case of fraud to keep Alexander B. Cummings off the ballot paper,” says Menipakei Dumoe, an ANC political activist.
However, Adolphus N.S. Weah, an independent political analyst who doubles as Chairman of the Center for the Exchange of Intellectual Opinions (CEIO) disagrees.
He says the case is purely legal, describing the ruling as a boost against corruption.
“I don’t see any witch hunt here,” says Weah.
“It sends out a bad picture for someone to illegally take away resources belonging to servicemen so we should all support the court clampdown on corruption,” he told RFI in Monrovia.
While court’s search for the three culprits took two years, many see the ruling as a new day in Liberia’s fight against corruption.
*names have been changed for protection