from MULBAH WESSEH in Monrovia, Liberia
MONROVIA, (CAJ News) – THE trial of Liberian opposition leader Alexander Cummings, has been thrown into doubt with the release of a report by London barrister, Cherie Blair.
Mrs Blair, wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, had been commissioned by Mr Cummings to carry out an independent investigation of the evidence against him after he was arrested in January in the capital, Monrovia.
The charge relates to a document setting up a coalition of parties, with allegations that Mr Cummings altered some of the clauses of the text without telling the signatories.
“The evidence simply does not stand up,” Mrs Blair said as she released her 16-page report.
“We have been through copies of all the papers and can find nothing to back claims made by the state,” she said.
Mrs Blair’s law firm, Omnia, had worked in tandem with corporate investigators, Alaco, also based in London.
At the last election in 2017, Liberian soccer hero George Weah won the presidency for his All Liberia Party. The country has a troubled history of dictatorship and genocide, and former president Charles Taylor is serving a life sentence after a trial at The Hague for crimes against humanity.
Weah had promised a new beginning for Africa’s oldest republic — Liberia has been independent for almost two centuries — and pledged to end corruption, uphold the rule of law and give citizens more say in how the government was run.
But over the past four years, the country has continued to rank poorly in global charts on democracy, justice and freedom of speech.
Liberian elections work on a pattern similar to France, with a range of candidates in the first round, followed by a second vote for the two front-runners.
In 2017, there were 20 presidential hopefuls and Weah scored an initial 38 per cent, but romped home with close-on two-thirds of the vote in the run-off.
Mrs Blair said she was concerned that several versions of the state’s case had emerged with later drafts altered for no apparent reason. And the chair of the committee appointed to investigate Mr Cummings is a leading member of President Weah’s party, raising doubts about neutrality.
“Mr Cummings and his Alternative National Congress have done nothing wrong,” Mrs Blair said, “and it would be unsound if the authorities went ahead with a prosecution.”
Charges of this kind have been common in Africa. In Zimbabwe, the late Morgan Tsvangirai was accused of treason when he stood against former president Robert Mugabe, until the case was dismissed by the court in Harare.
The matter dragged on for two years, draining Mr Tsvangirai’s party financially while some of his shadow cabinet were held in custody.
George Weah is regarded as one of Africa’s former greatest footballers. Now 55, in his youth he played for Chelsea, Manchester City and AC Milan, and scored crucial goals in the 1999-2000 series that won Chelsea the FA Cup.
Weah made history when voted the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) World Player of the Year in 1995.
His victory at the polls in 2017 came when Africa’s first female president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, stepped down after 12 years in the top job during which time she won the Nobel Prize for bringing peace to Liberia after years of war and oppression under Charles Taylor.
Controversially, Mr Taylor’s ex-wife now serves as vice president under Mr Weah.
Cummings followed a corporate career after training as a lawyer in his home country and the US.
He retired in 2016 as global vice president of Coca Cola and has lived and worked in Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and the US.
This experience, he says, informs his plan to rebuild Liberia which, with more than five million people, has an economy little bigger than Lesotho.
Mrs Blair has released all the documents from her investigation including pages with the signatures that were labeled forgeries.
She said the evidence left no doubt that the authorities had engaged in “a wild goose chase”, to discredit her client.
The case was adjourned in January after Mr Cummings made an initial appearance at the court in Monrovia and was released pending a trial date.
“The baselessness of the accusations against me are now laid bare,” said Mr Cummings, describing the charges as an “attempt to impugn my integrity and derail our movement for real change”.
It was, he said, “an assault on the rights of all Liberians and the values of the international democratic community.”
The government in Monrovia has yet to comment on the findings.
– CAJ News