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Solicitor General Cephus was once Cockrum’s defense lawyer in LAA’s corruption saga

MONROVIA, Liberia – The case involving the indicted former managing director of the Liberia Airport Authority (LAA), Ms. Ellen Cockrum, who is accused of stealing more than half a million United States dollars from the country raises the unpredictably of the practice and application of law and the attitude of lawyers not only in Liberia but perhaps the professional in general.

Cockrum, the Liberian–American, ex-major in the U.S. Army Reserve, a helicopter fighter pilot, MIT, and Harvard Kennedy School graduate, is accused by the Liberian government of betraying the trust and confidence reposed in her by her native country when she was appointed managing director of the Liberian Airport Authority by the Unity Party government of former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

The Unity Party-led government accused Cockrum of conniving and stealing funds allocated to the Liberia Airport Authority before fleeing to the United States. 

The Sirleaf administration prior to leaving office filed legal documents with the U.S. government requesting the extradition of Ms. Cockrum from the United States to Liberia to face prosecution.  That process did not materialize as a result of a fierce defense from Ms. Cockrum’s legal team that the Sirleaf government was categorically corrupt and torturous, and had lacked transparency and accountability. 

The legal team also maintained that extraditing Ms. Corrupt to such a volatile environment where the then Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf had ‘sanctioned theft of public funds, excessive corruption and the discreet torture of perceived enemies’ was a bad idea. 

Ms. Cockrum’s legal team at the time also proffered the notion that Ms. Cockrum also had top U.S. government secret (“Security”) clearance such that when placed under severe torture and enhanced investigation by the then ‘ruthless’ Liberian security forces under former president Sirleaf could facilitate a process of such top-secret “Security” clearance being revealed.

Ms. Cockrum at the time fought her legal battle with lawyers both in the United States and Liberia.

According to documents obtained by Globe Afrique, representing Ms. Cockrum in Liberia at the time was Counselor Sayma Syrenius Cephus, Liberia’s current solicitor general in the administration of President George Manneh Weah. To date, there is no indication that Counselor Cephus’s representation of Ms. Cockrum is non-existent, which means he still remains one of her legal defense lawyers.

Recently, Ms. Cockrum decided to return to Liberia allegedly at the purported ‘invitation’ of President Weah.  Upon her return, she paid a dozen poverty-stricken Liberian dancers and others as is commonly done by most corrupt and affluent Liberians, to give her a heroic welcome at the Roberts International Airport during a brief ceremony at which she thanked President Weah for inviting her home.

Barely a week after her arrival in Liberia, the country’s aggressive corruption-fighting Solicitor General Sayma Syrenius Cephus, a one-time popular defense lawyer in the Cockrum’s corruption saga has now become her main prosecutor for the same ‘crime’ or case he represented her in.

The solicitor general, as a former defense lawyer for Ms. Cockrum, is said to be privy to essential details and secrets of the case, especially from the point of view of his former client. 

This apparently reflects the real definition of the law of contradiction which is a principle in logic – the foundation for law and all forms of jurisprudence.

The law of contradiction maintains that a thing cannot at the same time both be and not be of a specified kind (as a table and not a table) or in a specified manner (as red or not red). 

The implication is that the current solicitor general cannot be a documented defense lawyer for Ms. Cockrum and simultaneously be the chief prosecutor for the Liberian government in the case.

Some legal analysts argued that if Solicitor General Cephus decides that his office has every reason to prosecute the case against his former client Ellen Cockrum in a case was already dismissed by a ‘corrupt’ judicial process, it would imply that he is certain that Ms. Cockrum, like majority of the individuals who served in senior leadership roles in the Unity Party administration did actually rubbed the Liberian people and government because he (the Solicitor General) is privy to the details of his client’s involvement and testimonies in confidence and in public.

The fight against corruption is a good fight and it is something needed in Liberia where officials find pleasure in looting public funds at the expense of the country and its poverty-stricken population. However, common sense and fair legal practice suggest that the solicitor general must do the right thing by recusing himself from the Cockrum case as he endeavors to ensure that all those who committed economic crimes and theft of public funds in Liberia are held accountable.

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Dave Okonjie

Dave Okonjie is a public affairs analyst, researcher and senior issues correspondent.

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