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Cherie Blair to investigate tampering allegations in Liberia

IN a new twist to the forgery allegations against him, Alexander Cummings, the leader and flagbearer of the opposition Alternative National Congress (ANC) forthe  2023 presidential election in Liberia, has instructed renowned British lawyer Cherie Blair, QC to lead an independent and internationally-staffed forensic investigation into the document tampering alleged by the All Liberian Party (ALP).

The allegations forms the basis of ongoing criminal proceedings against Cummings and others.

A statement issued by the ANC on Thursday said Cummings ‘vigorously denies the allegations made by the ALP and its political leader and Chairman, respectively, Mr Benoni W Urey and Mr Theodore Momo,  that he conspired to tamper with the CPP Framework Document before or after it was filed with the National Elections Commission (“NEC”) of Liberia.’

According to the statement, Cummings, a former Coca-Cola Executive Vice-President and  Chief Administrative Officer, commissioned the independent investigation to provide an objective evaluation of the claims made by the ALP and the Liberian government. ‘Throughout his corporate, philanthropic and political career, at home and abroad and his recent political engagements in Liberia, Mr Cummings has always been committed to high standards of integrity, honesty, probity and transparency. These allegations are an attempt to question and undermine his values.’

The statement added: ‘This investigation is a response to concerns from friends and questions from partners and colleagues, but, above all, Mr. Cummings’ desire to be thoroughly scrutinised through public, private, and all forms of investigation to prove his innocence and highest moral standing. The findings of this investigation will therefore be transparently shared with the Liberian public and his international partners.’

Alex Cummings: My opposition to the corruption, incompetence, and mismanagement by the administration of President George Manneh Weah is well-known.’

Cherie Blair, a pre-eminent human rights lawyer and wife of former British prime minister Tony Blair, will lead a joint team comprising experienced experts from her international law firm, Omnia Strategy LLP, and renowned London-based investigations and intelligence firm, Alaco Limited.

The move is the latest  in a saga in Liberian politics, with the  Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Musa Dean, and Solicitor General, Syrenius Cephas, appearing to be  at loggerheads over the controversial decision to take Cummings, to court.

One report late April claimed that the government’s lawyers had dropped the case against Cummings, but this was quickly rebutted.

Things came to a head when Cephas apparently sent a text message to a radio station contradicting the prosecution.

He said that he was not responsible for omitting key evidence nor having the case thrown out in the first and that it was Dean ‘who ordered the re-issuance of the writ of arrest…after it was first quashed.’

Under pressure from local media to elaborate on his claim, Cephas’s initial response was that the message could have been sent by someone else.

Pushed further, he turned to the fallback position of politicians – equivocation – by replying: ‘I will neither deny nor confirm until I know the recipient of this message.’

But a day later, Dean’s office issued an official statement calling on Cephas ‘to furnish’ the Attorney General ‘with the proper evidence which provides the basis for the prosecution’ of Cummings and others.

The statement added: ‘The minister cautioned that henceforth, the prosecution of all cases must be approved by his office; and prosecutors are advised to furnish the office of the minister with the proper evidence in support of any and all prosecutions.’

The reaction of Dean to the Cephas message clearly indicated that the text was genuine, and that the Attorney General must have confirmed this before releasing a statement from his office.

What the tussle between the government’s two senior lawyers has shown is the dysfunctional nature of the law department.

A source told Africa Briefing that it would appear that Cephas was not sure about getting a conviction if the Cummings case went to trial.

‘I think a statement of this nature by the SG is significant, given he, as the lead prosecutor, is indicating that he doesn’t believe in the evidence against Mr Cummings,’ the source said.

The source also pointed out that there was a conflict of interest in the case

‘The Minister of Justice and Attorney General is, or was, a partisan of the Unity Party, one of the parties accusing Mr Cummings of forgery.

In fact, the ANC standard bearer, Mr Cummings, was challenging for the CPP standard bearer position, which the UP leader, Joseph Boakai, was also going for.’

For many Liberians these days, the disjointed manner in which President George Weah’s government has been running the country has not gone down well.

What is emerging, as the political parties gear up for crucial presidential and legislative elections in October 2023 is that Cummings’ popularity among ordinary Liberians is constantly rising.

This could be down to his experience as a senior executive at Coca Cola where he performed excellently.

‘Liberians are looking for a leader who would manage their expectations in a productive manner so that they see an improvement in their living standards,’ the source in Monrovia told Africa Briefing.

Cummings said: ‘My opposition to the corruption, incompetence, and mismanagement by the administration of President George Manneh Weah is well-known. My message of real change in the direction of the country and hope in a better future is gaining momentum, as Liberians hold his failing government to account’

He added:’ The trumped-up and false charges are politically motivated to smear my reputation and undermine my candidacy, at home and abroad. It is also a weaponisation of the courts, a waste of public resources, and a gambit to have a failed President re-elected by weakening his most formidable challenger or denying my participation in the elections. We will not permit this to happen. Liberians are ready for change, and we are ready to provide the changed leadership, with the high standards of transparency and accountability Liberia desperately needs.’

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