Monrovia — Barely 24 hours after being acquitted of all charges linked to the notorious US$100 million cocaine bust in Monrovia, all four defendants have reportedly fled the country, leaving behind the US$200,000 to be returned to them as ordered by the court following their acquittal last Thursday.
The Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Cllr. Frank Musah Dean, has expressed his disappointment with the verdict issued last Thursday. He has raised concerns about the sudden departure of the defendants from the country following their acquittal, questioning the validity of their claim of innocence in light of this action.
"The court ordered the return of the two-hundred thousand United States dollars seized by the joint security during the arrest of the four men, so why are they not around to receive their money if they know they have nothing to run from?" Min. Dean questioned.
Cllr. Dean condemned the verdict, stating that it undermines the collective efforts of Liberia and its international partners in combating the illegal transit of illicit drugs through West Africa.
The acquitted individuals include Makki Ahmed Issam, Adulai Djalo, Oliver Zayzay, and Malam Conte, who were tried on charges of money laundering, unlicensed possession of controlled drugs, unlicensed importation of controlled drugs, and criminal conspiracy.
Zayzay, a Liberian citizen, along with two other foreign nationals, was arrested at the Sierra Leone border with Liberia on October 5, 2022, while attempting to flee Liberia following the bust.
"There was $100 million USD 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 drug by attempting to bribe the businessman housing the container. Yet, the court, through the empaneled 12-man jury, said such brazen evidence didn't warrant a guilty verdict. What more can the joint security and the Justice Ministry do to convince the court that the law was broken?" he retorted.
Minister Dean further pointed out that such verdicts only reinforce the widely held perception, both locally and internationally, that the judiciary, particularly the courts, may be compromised. He raised the question of whether Liberia should continue with the traditional jury trial process, considering the ongoing debate about the unethical practice of jury tampering during such trials.
Meanwhile, the joint security forces are continuing their search for the four men who remain at large, intensifying efforts to bring them to justice.
Judicial Reform Needed
This case serves as a stark reminder of the challenges faced by Liberia in combating drug trafficking, especially considering the country's history as a transit zone for narcotic drugs destined for Europe and other parts of the world.
The issues surrounding the jury trial system in Liberia have also come to the forefront. Legal experts continue to raise concerns about the composition of the jury, with many individuals assigned to jury service being financially disadvantaged and potentially lacking a comprehensive understanding of the cases presented before them. In addition, the lack of adequate funding for prosecutors has resulted in insufficient trial preparation, leading to a high rate of case losses for the government.
These issues have raised doubts about the fairness and effectiveness of the current system and resulted in a high rate of case losses for the government.
The lack of adequate funding for prosecutors is another significant issue. Prosecutors are often not given sufficient resources and support, hampering their ability to thoroughly prepare for trials, according to a state prosecutor who spoke to FrontPageAfrica on the condition of anonymity.
"Inadequate trial preparation can lead to weaker arguments, difficulties in presenting evidence, and ultimately a higher likelihood of losing cases. This not only undermines the government's ability to secure convictions but also erodes public trust in the legal system," the prosecutor said.
Legal experts say statistics reveal a 75% loss rate for the Liberian government in cases due to jury trial and low funding for prosecutors.
"The current system is failing to deliver justice effectively, particularly in high-profile cases. As a result, there have been calls for alternatives to the jury system, such as bench trials where judges assess the evidence and make determinations. Advocates argue that this would mitigate the influence of inexperienced or underprepared jurors and place more responsibility on judges to ensure fair and impartial decisions," the legal expert said.
In addition to considering alternative trial procedures, discussions have also arisen around amending and repealing certain laws to address the shortcomings of the legal system.
"Systemic changes are necessary to rectify the vulnerabilities that have been exposed by the acquittal of the accused in the infamous drug trial. By addressing these shortcomings, the hope is to restore faith in the judiciary, strengthen the fight against drug trafficking and related crimes, and ensure that justice is served," the lawyer said.