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Lawyer Urges Liberian Government to Return Seized Money

The Liberian government is under fire for spending, without legislative or court authorization, more than half a million dollars it claims it had seized from an alleged Nigerian drug dealer. Velentine Ayika, described by his Liberian lawyer as an investor, arrived in Liberia in 2006 to pursue business interest.

But upon his arrival at the Roberts International Airport, Liberian drug enforcement officers seized 508 thousand 200 dollars from Ayika mistaken him for a drug dealer. A court ordered the government to deposit the money with the central bank of Liberia.

Justice Minister Philip Banks this week told the House of Representatives Committee on National Security that the government used the money for national security purposes.

Ayika's Liberian lawyer Sayma Syrenius Cephus told VOA the Liberian government stole Ayika's money and must return it.

"Under our law and practice in this jurisdiction, especially in Liberia, you cannot have a judgment against somebody who has not been brought under the jurisdiction of the court. Now, the confiscation order was issued against a person who was not before court. The second thing is there is no law in Liberia that authorizes any government that says that if you confiscate private property you can use it for national security purposes.
That is broad day light stealing. The only way forward…is to refund the money," he said.

Cephus said Liberian drug enforcement officers used association in their decision to confiscate Ayika's money because they believed that since other Nigerians had been arrested in the past for drug trafficking therefore Ayika was a drug trafficker.

He said Ayika was never found with drugs none was he ever found guilty of drug trafficking in a court of law.

"I have said to you that under our law and practice, if somebody commits for instance a deportable offense, there has to be a trial. That trial will have to go as far as to the Supreme Court you have to be convicted before a deportation hearing can be had. But in the case of the man (Ayika), they just deported and stole his money. That's just what they did, and there is no amount of explanation can justify such criminality," Cephus said.

Justice Minister Philip Banks this week told the House of Representatives Committee on National Security that the government used the money for national security purposes.

But Cephus said the court did not give any order for the government to use the money. He also said the justice minister made contradictory comments to the legislators.

"I saw the written submission the justice minister made to the House committee that is probing the matter. If that's the kind of submission that our justice minister will make to the House, then I think we need to find another new justice minister. For example, there are glaring contradictions. In count six of the submission he said the man attempted to smuggle. Now under our law and practice in Liberia, an attempt to commit a first degree felony is a second degree felony. Smuggling is a third degree felony, so an attempt to commit smuggling constitute a first degree misdemeanor," he Cephus said.

He said Ayika lawyers will go before the Supreme Court Monday because they believe the government committed too many errors.

Justice Minister Banks told lawmakers that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's national security advisor H. Boima Fahnbulleh would be able to provide explanation how the government came to spend the confiscated money without court authorization.

But Cephus said he is not interested in knowing how the money was used but why it was used in the first place.

"Under our law and practice, when an issue affecting the interest of government raises the question of law that question of law is addressed by the attorney general. So the office of the national security advisor is absolutely irrelevant in this matter. We are not interested in how the money was used. The question that the issue raises is why the money was used. What legal reliance that gives the government of this country the authority to confiscate private property and spend it for national security purposes?" he said.

Cephus said the only redress his client wants is for the Liberian government to return the 508 thousand 200 dollars it seized from Ayika.