Monday, April 16, 2012

Libel Per Se Absorbs Whistle-Blower

MDD Togba Says he’s not deterred Though the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) is still conducting investigation of an alledged fraud surrounding the rehabilitation of the new office building of the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL), the whistle-blower Movement in Defense of the Downtrodder (MDD) and its Executive Director Alfred G. Togba, Sr. has been found liable of liber per se against the CBL. Jourors in the Case Last Thursday returned from their chamber of deliberations with a verdict which charged the Defendants to pay to the CBL L$250M for damages done by a handbill issued as press statement which, according to the prosecuting counsel, imputed the CBL to theif, bribery and corruption. The case had been before Judge Yusus Kaba at the Civil Law Court for about two week, where both the defense and prosecuting counsels paraded several witnesses to prove and disprove that a libel was committed by the MDD for releasing in the media a statement which was libelous on its face. On April 12, 2012 AD, during the final argument between the defense and prosecuting counsels before the court and jury, the defense counsel in person of Atty. S.L. Lofem Kaneah, Jr. and Atty. Gayflor Zayzay prayed an acquittal verdict for the defendants while the prosecuting counsel in person of Cllrs. Emmanuel B. James, A. Kanie Wesso, Rose-Marie Banks James, Esther Barcley and Joseph Jallah, argued that the defendant liable for the libel it commited. Each side argued for an hour before the jury retired into its delivery room and came back with the verdict of liability to which the defense is expected to file a motion for retrial in about four days after the verdict was passed. The defense counsel during their final argument cautioned the jury to be mindful in deciding the verdict for the case because the allegation of corruption which had prompted the lawsuit was still being investegated by the LACC. The defense counsel said the libel lawsuit should have been after the LACC concluded its investigation which could have inflicted actual damages on the plaintiff, CBL. Defense counsel further argued that if the defendant was convicted, such verdict may butress or contradict the outcome of the LACC investigation, thus opening a Pandora box which will have government institutions sueing individuals who intend to speak agains corruption. The counsel lamented that the plaintiff was hiding behind the lawsuit because it the verdict was rendered in favor of the CBL it would make the LACC investigation into the corruption allegation irrelevant. They however raised qualm over the appearance of Cllr. Francis Johnson Allison to testify in the case rather than the investigator who was investigating the MDD accusation against the CBL. During the defense witness testimony, defendant Togba alledged that the CBL got a US$3M kickback of the initial US$6M given to the contractors for the completion of the CBL office buliding to which the prosecution noted they were going to present a rebuttal witness. Failure on the part of the prosecution to produce a rebuttal witness to the allegation, the defense argued that, that was a clear admittance that such action did happened. The defense counsel noted that they were not in court to do the work of the LACC but rather to prove that there was no libel commited. Earlier the prosecution counsel argued that the alegation made against their client by the MDD was based on hearsay with no concrete researched edvidence to prove such statement. The prosecutions counsel exonerate the governor of the CBL from acts of corruption during his present life time saying that the MDD was trying to tarnish and damage such reputation. They argued that some people who wanted to get into government use individuals and institutions like the MDD to castigate those in the position that they want to occupy. Prosecutions counsel added that the condemnation of CBL officials to by the MDD in its press statement clearly indicates that the group was being funded by some individuals that does not mean well for the country. Arguing further, they said the defendant was an extortionist who targeted government officials with threats of blackmail. According to them (prosecution) if the jury did not fine the defendant liable for his actions and go unpunished, he would not desist from maligning other people’s character. They argued that if whistle-blowers can say anything without concrete prove, it would be a bad presidence for the state and could bring many reputable individuals and institutions to disrepute. Citing Article 15 of the Liberian Constitution which states “Every person shall have the right to freedom of expression, being fully responsible for the abuse thereof...” the prosecution meantained that the defendant had abused such right by defaming the character of the plaintiff. The defense counsel stated and restated that the MDD had committed no libel against the plaintiff and at such the case must be rule in favor of its client to insure that odinary Liberian got justice. However, Judge Yusuf Kaba when he charged the jury said that libel can occur in two forms; libel pro code which reflects quantified damages and liber per se which does not quantify the amount of damages that was done. He told the jury, before they could when into deliberation room, to focus on the press release issued by the MDD and edvidences surrounding since in civil cases the superior species of evidence determines who the verdict will favor. Speaking to the defendant Togba after the reading of the verdict which states that he is guilty of libel, he said the trial was a test for the jusicial system and the verdict have proven that ‘there was no justice for the poor.’ He said the just ended lawsuit was intended to silent the advocacy against acts of corruption. “I am not deterred. This was just an energizer for us. There are more Alfred Togbas other than me. I may go to jail today but it will not stop the advocacy against corruption in this country,” Mr. Togba said.

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