Letter to Cllr. Sayma Syrenius Cephus, Solicitor General, Ministry of Justice,Republic of Liberia
February 6, 2020
Dear Mr. Solicitor General:
Re: The Matter of Dismissal of the Case against Ellen Cockrum and the Award of the Contract to Fox Rothschild
I present professional compliments and wish to advise that my attention has been drawn to a letter under your signature dated February 3, 2020, addressed to the Chairman of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC), and published in the Monday, February 3, 2020, edition of the Frontpage Africa newspaper in which you justified dismissal of the criminal case against Ellen Cockrum by asserting, among other things, that:
1. "A careful review of the records of the case shows that the previous government entered a Nolle Prosequi in favour of a number of defendants involved in this matter prior to our ascendancy, and we in recent times did the same due to the absence of Madam Cockrum and to avoid being seen as pursuing a selective prosecution";
2. “We also noticed that a sole source recommendation was made by our predecessor Cllr. Betty Lamin Blamo to hire a US-based firm, Fox Rothschild to which US$200,000.00 (Two Hundred Thousand Dollars) was alleged paid to Fox Rothschild to have Madam Cockrum brought back to Liberia”; and
3. “That the investigation should take into consideration the legal basis for the former Solicitor General Betty Lamin-Blamo recommending the sole source bid or selection of Fox Rothschild, “what became of the extradition proceedings, if any [emphasis supplied] among them”.
The above-mentioned edition of the Front Page Africa newspaper also attributed to you the allegation that “the decision to dismiss the case was recommended by former Solicitor General Betty Lamin-Blamo.”
I am shocked by the above-quoted allegations made and reported to have been made by you against me, since none has any basis in fact and you personally know and ought to know their falsity.
While I would have ordinarily ignored these patently false allegations trumped up apparently for some sinister objective, I am however constrained to respond for the record and the benefit of the public that is sought to be misled. For clarity, I will respond to the allegations individually.
I. The Allegation that the “previous Government Entered a Nolle Prosequi in favour of a number of defendants involved in this matter prior to our ascendancy”
This allegation is false and misleading, and you are the least person to make such allegation as you are personally aware of the one and ONLY proceeding where we entered a a Nolle Prosequi in favour of the Liberian Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI) and you were one of counsels for LBDI.
Here is a summary of the facts that you are quite aware:
1. The case was brought against Ellen Cockrum, Melvin Johnson, Momar Dieng, Diaspora Consulting, Musa Bility and two banks- LBDI and First International Bank (FIB), with the bank’s complicity being principally in the content of the provision of services related to facilitating deposit and withdrawal of the stolen funds.
2. Co-Defednat FIB confessed judgment, and restituted the amount of $56,750.00 that it had transferred to Melvin Johnson's United States account at the instance of Ellen Cockrum, and the court accordingly issued a suspended sentence in favour of the co-defendant First International Bank (FIB);
3. LBDI pleaded not guilty, but later accepted to cooperate with the Government and serve as a witness in the case;
4. In consideration of and ONLY on the basis that LBDI will cooperate and serve as witness in the case, the Government decided to enter nolle Prosequi in favor of LBDI.
5. You, Cllr. Cephus, served as one of several counsels for co-defendant LBDI at the time, and thus certainly know the consideration, purpose and object for which charges were dropped against LBDI; the object and purpose being far removed from that of a “selective prosecution”.
6. The charges were dropped against LBDI specifically without prejudice to the Government. Dismissal without prejudice means, if LBDI did not cooperate, the Government reserved the right to re-file charges.
7. No Nollee Prosequi was entered in favor of Musa Bility. Instead, the charges against Musa were dropped by the Court based on a motion filed by Musa Bility.
8. You are aware and are also in notice of the court records available in your office that Bility filed a motion to dismiss the indictment for the Government's failure to prosecute the case within two terms after indictment as is provided for under Section 18.2 of the Criminal Procedure Law. The Government vigorously resisted Bility’s motion, but the court granted Bility's motion over the objection of the Government.
9. You are aware and are also in notice of the court’s records available in your office , that the indictment against Co-defendant Melvin Johnson was never dropped/dismissed by the former Government. As a matter of fact, we filed a formal complaint against Melvin Johnson before the Georgia Bar of which he was a member and requested his extradition along with Cockrum.
10. You are aware and are also in notice of the court records available in your office, that the indictment against Co-defendant Diaspora Consulting, LLC and Momar Dieng was never dropped/dismissed by the former Government.
II. Allegation attributed to you, that I recommended that Charges be dropped against Ellen Cockrum
Again, this allegation is false and misleading, and you are the least person to make such allegation, as you are personally aware and are possessed of court records that we vigorously challenged the Motion Dismiss the indictment filed by Ellen Cockrum. Here is a summary of the facts that you are quite aware:
1. That Ellen Cockrum who was out of the bailiwick of the Republic of Liberia, filed a Motion to dismiss the indictment against her before the Criminal Court C, where the matter was venue. We vigorously challenged the motion, argued same, and the court ruled denying Cockrum’s motion to dismiss the indictment.
2. That subsequently, on September 22, 2016, Cockrum proceeded to the ECOWAS Court and filed a case against the Government of Liberia. Cockrum had requested the ECOWAS court to declare that her human rights had been violated by the issuance of an indictment against her, which she claims, was baseless and unfounded, and that the Government had failed to have her tried. She also requested the court to enjoin the Government of Liberia from arresting her and that she be allowed to freely travel in and out of Liberia. You are aware that during my tenure, we filed a defense on behalf of the Government challenging the allegations made by Cockrum.
3. You are also aware that I was hired as a Consultant in 2018 to assist the Ministry of Justice with some matters including that of Cockrum, and I personally appeared before the ECOWAS court and argued the Cockrum case in favour of the Government of Liberia, and won the case for the Government; that at no time before or thereafter did I recommend that charges be dropped against Cockrum.
III. Allegation that I recommended sole-sourcing of “a US-based firm, Fox Rothschild to which US$200,000.00 (Two Hundred Thousand Dollars) was alleged paid”.
I categorically deny knowing Fox Rothschild or any partner or associate of the firm before it was hired or making any recommendation or even an informal suggestion for it to be hired. Even assuming that I did recommend the hiring (which I maintain I never did), there is still nothing criminal or wrong about that if the sole-sourcing was justified by reason sufficient in law and the requisite no objection was granted by the Public Procurement and Concessions Commission.
You are aware that as a matter of course, procurement matters in the Ministry of Justice as in all Ministries and Agencies of Government are handled by the Department of Administration and not by the Solicitor General. In the case of the Fox Rothschild contract as the records show, it was the then Deputy Minister for Administration who wrote the Public Procurement Concession Commission (PPCC) to request “No Objection” for the use of the sole source method of procurement. The request was granted by the PPCC and the Ministers of Finance & Justice subsequently entered into the contract with Fox Rothschild on behalf of the Government of Liberia. Your statement that I was responsible for that decision, or requesting it of the PPCC, are thus clearly false.
You are also aware, as the records show, that the contract with Fox Rothschild was capped [emphasis supplied] at US$200,000. The former Administration did not pay Fox Rothschild US$ 200,000 at all. The agreement provides that Fox Rothschild would be paid at an hourly rate provided that the firm will bill no more than US$200,000 in aggregate for the services to be provided, and to the best of my recollection, the invoices submitted by Steven M. Schneebaum (the assigned lawyer) which was paid by the Government of Liberia, did not exceed US$100,000.
IV. Allegation that you do not know “what became of the extradition proceedings, “ if any”
You are possessed of access to the records which contain evidence of the request made by the Government of Liberia to the Government of the United States for the extradition of Cockrum, yet you assert “that the investigation should take into consideration “what became of the extradition proceedings, if any [emphasis supplied] among them.” We are struck by the “if any” language because the records left behind at the Ministry of Justice, to which you have access, are replete with information as to the existence of a request to the Government of the United States for the extradition of Cockrum. The records are also clear as to the follow-up work done by Steve Schneebaum including steps taken against Melvin Johnson to the extent that the Georgia Bar Association upon complaint filed on behalf of the Government by Steven Schneebaum disbarred him. The “if any” language thus falsely implies that we may not have even requested the extradition of Cockrum at all. Assuming you did not know of “what became of the extradition proceedings”, wouldn’t it have been prudent for you to have simply asked me? Don’t you think I deserved the professional courtesy?
I am thus mystified by your plainly false and misleading assertions, categorically deny them, and hereby demand that you retract same. There is no basis for the false statements you have made because the Office of the Solicitor General in the Ministry of Justice is the custodian of the records in this matter. These efforts are clearly designed to evade your own responsibility to divert the attention of the public from responsibility for the decision just made to drop charges against Ms. Cockrum even though as Solicitor General you had responsibility for such matters. You have instead intentionally elected to unjustly injure my reputation. I thus have no choice except to reject them and to seek by this letter to clarify the public record.
The foregoing shows that your numerous allegations against me are totally baseless and that you are aware of their falsity. Making false statement against another constitutes defamation as a matter of law where it damages the other. There is no doubt that your allegations are defamatory as a matter of law.
In view of the above, I request that you do the honorable thing to retract the allegations.
I request that you kindly have this done upon receipt of this my letter, otherwise I will be constrained to take such actions and measures as would be necessary including the filing of an ethics complaint against you, to protect my hard-earned reputation.
Betty Lamin Blamo (Cllr.)
cc: Cllr. F. Musah Dean
Minister of Justice & Attorney General
Ministry of Justice
Republic of Liberia
Heritage Partners & Associates
1 Heritage Drive, Old Road Junction
J. Johnny Momoh & Associates
8th Street, Sinkor
The Liberian National Bar Association
Law Library Building