Will Samukai Take Seat Through Presidential Pardon?

It remains to be seen whether former Defense Minister J. Brownie Samukai, who was sentenced to prison term by the Supreme Court for corruption, will finally take his seat after President George Weah pardoned the Lofa County Senator-elect.

It means Samukai will not enter jail but the pardon is still yet to point to whether he will be able to take his seat as a Senator and works towards repaying the government.

Samukai received the most votes in the December 8, 2020 Senatorial election. Of the 11 candidates who vied for the LofaCounty senatorial seat, Samukai received 20, 431 votes, followed by Independent candidate Cllr. Joseph Jallah with 13,968 votes.

Samukai and two others who worked under him were convicted of failing to account for more than US$1m deducted routinely from soldiers’ salaries for savings while he was Defense Minister under former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

On Monday, February 21, 2022, President Weah issued proclamation granting clemency, ordering the Ministry of Justice to pardon 500  inmates where applicable.

In the proclamation, President Weah said those expected to be pardoned include those who committed misdemeanor and capital offenses. However, rapists and armed robbers are not included

The President has also ordered the suspension of the two year prison sentence imposed on Samukai.

The President of Liberia, pursuant to Article 59 of the 1986 Constitution which vests in him the power and authority to grant reprieves, suspend fines, sentences and pardon anyone convicted and sentenced for a crime has, with immediate effect, ordered the suspension of the two (2) year prison sentence imposed on Mr. Browne J. Samukai, following his conviction by the Honorable Supreme Court of Liberia; with the proviso that he (Brownie J. Samukai) will work with the Ministry of Justice to enter a stipulation for the full settlement of the Armed Forces of Liberia money.

The President has directed the Minister of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP) to make full payment of the outstanding balance of the AFL money, while Samukai is going through the Stipulation Payment Agreement.

As Liberians joyously celebrate 200 years of existence as a nation and people, the President has further directed the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General to submit to his Office a list of persons to be pardoned during these festive celebrations.

The President has also called on all Liberians to reconcile their differences and transform Liberia into a haven of peace.

Prior to the decision by President Weah, the Liberian Senate had written the National Elections Commission (NEC) of a vacancy for the seat of Lofa County pursuant to Article 37 of the Liberian Constitution.

In a letter addressed to the chairperson of NEC, DavidettaBrowne Lansanah, the Senate, through its secretary J. NanborlorSingbeh, wrote: “I have the honour by the directive of the Presiding Officer (IN SESSION), presents my compliments and apprise you that by operation of the law, fifteen (15) counties vacancies were created in the Liberian Senate (one for each of the 15 counties) at the end of the Third Session of the Fifty-Fourth  Legislation, and elections were held on December 20, 2020 to fill the vacancies for those 15 counties.”

It added: “That after those elections, Mr. Brownie J. Samukaiwas declared the successful candidate to fill the vacancy in the Liberian Senate for Lofa County but he couldn’t be seated as a consequence of the case: Republic of Liberia by and through the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) and through the Ministry of Justice, Plaintiff versus Brownie J. Samukai,  Joseph Johnson and James Nyumah Ndokor, Defendant for the crime: Theft of Property, Criminal Conspiracy, Economic Sabotage, Misuse of Public Money and Money Laundering for which Mr. Brownie J. Samukai and his co-defendants were convicted by Criminal Court “C” of the First Judicial Circuit Court.”

The Senate Secretary stated that having appealed to the Supreme Court to reverse their convictions and pursuant to the law that a convict is not eligible for position to public office or hold public office, the vacancy for a seat in the Liberian Senate for LofaCounty remains outstanding pending determination by the Supreme Court.

He said the Constitution provides that in the event of a vacancy in the Legislature the presiding officer in the Chamber in which the vacancy occurs shall within thirty days after such occurrence notify the NEC thereof and the NEC shall not later than ninety days cause a by-election to be held to fill the vacancy, the Presiding Officer would have to formally notify the Senate about a vacancy for a senatorial seat of Lofa County exists.

The Senate’s decision came after the Supreme Court of Liberia ordered the incarceration of  Samukai and co-defendants for two years for their failure to comply with the mandate of the court.

The court said Samukai and co-defendants would serve for two years imprisonment and pay the full judgment amount of US$1,147,656.35, less than the amounts already paid by them.

The Supreme Court ordered that upon their failure to pay, they shall remain in prison until the full balance is liquidated at the amount of US$25 per month.

The Supreme Court in its ruling said that the law provides that “where criminal defendants are jointly adjudged guilty of a crime, they are together considered collectively responsible for any fine or penalty until the Judgment is fully satisfied.”

It notes: “That Judge A. Blamo Dixon inappropriately executed the Mandate of the Supreme Court when he relied on the ruling of Judge Yamie Gbeisay (which had been modified by this court) and apportioned the judgment amount of $147,656, 35 among the three respondents and ordered that each respondents, including the co-respondent J. Brownie Samukai, pays his share of the judgment amount  of 50 percent which he calculated to be $191, 276, 05, the judge is clearly in error and hence the bill of Information will lie.” “Given the clear language of the February 8, 2021 of the Supreme Court regarding the joint liability of restituting the judgment amount, the payment by Samukai in the amount of $191,276,05 can’t be considered as compliance with the Mandate of the Supreme Court,” the court said.

The Supreme Court’s decision against Samukai, who was elected on the ticket of the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP), was trigged by a Writ of Prohibition filed March 2, 2021 by O’Neil Passewe, Chairman of the Movement for Progressive Change (MPC).

Passewe asked the court to halt the certification of Samukaibecause he has been convicted by the Supreme Court for the crime of money laundering.

Throughout his trial, Samukai maintained the money had been spent on other official matters on the orders of the former President.

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