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Asset Taskforce ‘Blunders’

by newsmanager

MONROVIA: President Joseph Nyuma Boakai’s newly established Asset Recovery Task Force has, by all accounts, commenced its much-heralded asset recovery operation with a major blunder in the seizure of several vehicles or properties reportedly belonging to a local transport company, Gracious Ride.

Upon its formation, the Taskforce also impounded a vehicle belonging to Patrick Sudue, former Inspector General of the Liberia National Police (LNP), and several other vehicles believed to be owned by Gracious Ride Incorporated and other former government officials.

The way and manner through which the seizures were instituted by the president’s constituted Asset Recovery Taskforce have generated mixed public reactions, with some commentators applauding the method used by the Taskforce while others vehemently detested such method, calling it illegal.

The LNP former Inspector General, Patrick Sudue, after the seizure of his vehicle contended that he legitimately purchased the vehicle which was seized from him by the Asset Recovery Taskforce along the streets in Monrovia, while Gracious Ride’s Manager, Francis Blamo, sought legal redress to the Supreme Court of Liberia on the matter.
Consequently, Supreme Court Associate Justice, Yussif Kaba issued a temporary ‘stay order’ on the Asset Recovery Seizure operations and authorized the government to release all seized vehicles, pending the decision of the Supreme Court.

On Monday, April 1, 2024, Justice Kaba held a conference with both the Asset Recovery Team and Gracious Ride through its lawyers.
During said conference, Justice Kaba mandated Gracious Ride to show legal documents as to the ownership of the vehicles, something which was not attached to its petition to the Supreme Court.
Justice Kaba, however, gave five working days to Gracious Ride to comply with his mandate which ended on Friday, April 5, 2024.
Also, at the conference, the Head of the Asset Recovery Team, argued that Gracious Ride had no standing to file such petition and that said petition was only meant to undermine the progress of the Asset Recovery team.
Interestingly, on April 8, 2024, the Supreme Court of Liberia, sent a formal communication to the Asset Recovery Taskforce, through its Chairperson, Counsellor Edwin Kla Martin, in relation to the Petition for a Writ of Prohibition filed by Gracious Ride by and thru its Manager, Francis T. Blomo.
The communication, signed by Cllr. Sam Mamulu, Clerk of the Supreme Court of Republic of Liberia, informed Cllr. Martin that “By directive of His Honor, Yussif D. Kaba, Associate Justice Presiding in Chambers, and considering the attached communication from the respondent, you are hereby informed that the Justice has declined to issue the writ prayed for by the petitioner, reserving the rights to the respondent to proceed in keeping with law.”

In his intervention, and as part of the public reactions, a Liberian international journalist, Dan Martin, has strongly reacted to what “appeared to be a declaratory judgment” by members of President Joseph Nyuma Boakai’s ruling Unity Party (UP), and the former ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC).

According Journalist Martin, both UP and CDC, since Justice Kaba “declined to issue the writ prayed for by the petitioner, reserving the rights to the respondent to proceed in keeping with law,” are claiming victory in the Supreme Court of Liberia’s decision to deny a Writ of Prohibition filed before it on Monday, April 8, 2024, by Gracious Ride to halt the operation of the Asset Recovery Task Team.

The Liberian international investigative Journalist, Martin, opines that “the Justice in Chambers’ declining to issue the writ of prohibition does not mean that the Asset Recovery Team (ART) has finally won the case and can take possession of Gracious Ride’s cars.”

In a press release issued in Monrovia, Journalist Martin quoted Section 16.21(3) of the Civil Procedure Law which defines prohibition as a special proceeding to obtain a writ ordering the respondent to refrain from further pursuing a judicial action or proceeding specified therein, to support his assertion.

He contended that initially, the Asset Recovery Team (ART’s) arbitrarily seized Gracious Ride cars without any due process of law, which prompted Gracious Ride to petition the Supreme Court for a Writ of Prohibition against the apparent unlawful seizure of its properties.

“The Supreme Court thereafter released Gracious Ride cars, knowing that the Asset Recovery Taskforce performed illegally. The Court further requested Gracious Ride to provide legal title to the cars within a time limit. Gracious provided those title documents before the Justice in Chambers,” the journalist maintains.

According to journalist Martin, the Supreme Court Justice in Chambers cannot take evidence and investigate title documents; therefore, the Court has to permit the Asset Recovery Taskforce to do the investigation of the Gracious Ride title and come up with its own findings.

“At this stage, Gracious Ride will be in possession and control of her cars until ART concludes all processes of the investigation. Assuming the writ of prohibition was issued, in consonance with the above-quoted law, Asset Recovery Taskforce will not have any opportunity to pursue the investigation of the Gracious Ride title,” he asserted.

Martin: “That is why the Justice in Chambers said the Asset Recovery Taskforce reserved the rights to proceed in keeping with law.

“This means that before taking Gracious Ride properties, the Asset Recovery Taskforce must conclude with all necessary legal processes. In order to grant the Taskforce that window to perform its function, the Court declined to issue the writ of prohibition.

“This does not mean in any way that the Taskforce has won the case and can take Gracious Ride cars,” the investigative journalist argues.

According to him, before taking the properties, the Asset Recovery Taskforce must give legal effect to its work aimed at satisfying the law instead of arbitrarily taking actions” that do not fall within the perimeters of the laws of the country, and in line with international best practices.

The Court’s decision was necessitated by the respondent (Asset Recovery Taskforce) ‘admittance of error’ by not following the due process of law during the arrest and impounding of the Gracious Ride vehicles.

Howbeit, the Asset Recovery Team, told the Supreme Court that its action was not deliberate to disenfranchise the Petitioner but same was done to investigate the allegations of the Petitioner’s vehicles.

The Asset Recovery Team maintained that the investigation of suspicious asset falls within the mandate of the Executive Order which was announced by President Boakai.

The Taskforce was set up by President Boakai to search, seize and investigate government assets, including vehicles and other valuables, intentionally or unknowingly taken away by individuals while serving government.

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