CLAIMS that the leader of Liberia’s Alternative National Congress (ANC), Alexander Cummings, tampered with an opposition coalition document ‘does not withstand scrutiny, provides no reliable substantiation for the allegations it purported to uphold and is a wholly unsafe basis for any criminal prosecution’.
This was the main point of the findings of an investigation by Cherie Blair, the wife of the former British Prime Minister, through her law firm Omnia Strategy, and Alaco a London-based business intelligence and investigations firm, which was commissioned by Cummings in February this year, and released on Tuesday through a virtual press conference.
The unprecedented step was taken after the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) spectacularly imploded amid acrimonious arguments over the veracity of the group’s Framework Document that was presented to the Liberia’s National Elections Commission (NEC).
The document was meant to map out the strategy of the four political parties within the CPP – the ANC, the Liberty Party (LP), the All Liberian Party (ALP) and Unity Party (UP) – formed in April 2020 to put up a united front against President George Weah’s Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) in next year’s presidential and legislative elections.
But after it was submitted to the NEC in July 2020, Benoni Urey, leader of the ALP, claimed that Cummings and two other senior members of the ANC tampered with the agreement prior to its submission.
This was as a result of a CPP Investigative Committee Report, which now forms the basis of a prosecution against Cummings and his co-defendants who have always denied the allegations of forgery and criminal conspiracy.
In disregarding the Investigative Committee Report, the Omnia-Alaco findings noted: ‘Ultimately, the simple fact is that the Framework Document as filed with the NEC on 14 July 2020 had been duly reviewed, discussed, approved, endorsed and signed by the relevant leaders of the Constituent Parties.
‘The existence of substantial differences between the original draft and later versions of the Framework Document is not in dispute, but nor is it untoward.
‘Such an evolution is the logical and expected consequence of the iterative process of negotiating the Framework Document.
‘In particular, the amendments proposed as a result of the CPP parties’ legal review of the draft text were reviewed and approved by the constituent parties prior to registration of the Framework Document with the NEC,’ the findings added.
The Omnia-Alaco investigators said that the fact that the Chairman of the CPP Investigative Committee, Theodore Momo of the ALP, ‘played a prominent role in the multilateral review of the Framework Document and therefore had direct knowledge of how the process had unfolded, gives rise to questions not just about the CPP Investigative Committee’s competence, but also about its motives’.
During the press conference at which the findings of the legal experts were released, Mrs Blair said: ‘Despite all the details, individuals and parties involved, the accusations against Mr Cummings follow a classical arc: someone has conspired to fix a process to his own advantage but got caught.
‘The only problem is that for all the noise and furore, in this case there was no fixing – and there was no conspiracy, at least not on the part of Alexander Cummings.
‘Whatever the reason, be it lack of capacity, negligence or something more malign, the CPP Investigative Committee overlooked key evidence and made obvious factual errors in reaching their conclusions’.
Cummings, also speaking at the press conference, said he welcomed the ‘detailed and comprehensive report’ after ‘politically motivated allegations’ had attempted to impugn his integrity and character
‘I’m deeply offended by these baseless allegations,’ he added.
Cummings accused the government of weaponizing the judiciary to attack the country’s opposition parties.
But he was upbeat about the prospect of the CPP, which still has the ANC and LP as members, urging other like-minded parties to join the coalition.
Both Mrs Blair and Cummings agreed that in light of the findings of the Omnia-Alaco report, it was difficult to see how the court case against the ANC leader would continue.
In an initial reaction to the report, Urey told Africa Briefing that the whole exercise was biased in favour of Cummings since he commissioned the investigation.
According to the ANC, Cummings had “instructed Mrs. Blair’s team to report without fear or favour”.
But Urey also said that the exercise was one-sided, arguing: “Did the investigators speak to me, to [Joseph] Boakai [leader of UP] or the legal teams on both sides?”
However, the investigation team said that it was looking purely at evidence from a technical perspective and that was why its members did not interview people.