Liberia: Trafficking Victims Await Restitutions, as Ex-NSA Agent Appeals 25-Year Sentence, Another Trial Indefinitely Suspended, Amid Drama Over Lack of Lawyer for Defendant

The two women who, a Monrovia court in January ordered Arthur Chan-Chan, a former agent of the National Security Agency to pay restitutions for trafficking them to Oman say they’ve yet to receive their payments.

The women have alleged that the government has done nothing about the payments.

“Things are not really going down with her,” said Sam (not his real name), father of one of the victims in a WhatsApp message to Frontpage Africa/New Narratives. “No place to sleep and she is not too well in the body. Her economic condition is not good.”

“I feel that I am neglected because if the government cares for its citizens, it will find a little livelihood for the citizen,” said Tomah (not her real name) by mobile phone.

But Adolphus Satiah, head of Secretariat of the Anti-Trafficking Unit at the Labor Minister denied the women’s claim.

“The government of Liberia, with the help of IOM, has procured additional two safe homes that have currently gone 90% in completion from renovation,” said Satiah in a WhatsApp call.

In January, Criminal Court “A” Chan-Chan abused his position when he trafficked Sam’s daughter, (name withheld to protect her identity), and Tomah by passing them through checkpoints at the Roberts International Airport and then putting them on a plane to Oman. It convicted and sentenced Chan-Chan to 25 years for human trafficking—the highest yet for a trafficker.

Roosevelt Willie, the court’s judge, ordered him to pay US$6000 to Sam’s daughter and US$5000 to Tomah. Although Liberia’s amended anti-human trafficking law says a convict’s assets can also be forfeited to pay a restitution to his/her victims, that cannot happen in the instant case, because Chan-Chan has challenged his conviction and sentence in an appeal to the Supreme Court. But the lower court has not approved our request for a copy of the bill of exceptions. Cllr. Sennay Carlor, Chan Chan’s lawyer has not fulfilled his promise to give us a copy of the documents.

The lack of restitutions worries the women.

“It does not make me feel good,” said Tomah. “I feel secured, but where I am, it’s not my own place. If I get that money, I will put it in business, and pay for my rent.”

“Nothing to start with financially and we are all sleeping in the same room. Not good at all,” said Sam.

Satiah said the government is also working with the IOM to address the women’s financial and psychosocial concerns.

“IOM has provided reintegration packages (US$1300 in kind, including goods for businesses) to 50 of those girls that came from Oman and the process is ongoing,” said Satiah. “The IOM does not provide cash. We took them for psychosocial counseling at the Lutheran World Service compound and a business management training.”

Drama at another human trafficking trial

But as the women wait for their money, another woman is also fighting for justice, which could also end up in a judgment of restitution after she was allegedly raped and illtreated when she was trafficked to Oman. But dramas beset her case at the moment at same court that convicted and sentenced Chan-Chan.

Sawo King Zubah, who refused to clearly show his face for photographs, denied in open court that he had agreed with Sennay Carlor, his lawyer that he would plead guilty to the charge of human trafficking. Credit: Anthony Stephens/New Narratives.

In perhaps the most dramatic scenes in human trafficking trials in Liberia yet, the court adjourned indefinitely on Tuesday because public defenders refused to plead for the man accused of the crime after he openly claimed one of them had lied about him.

Cllr. Sennay Carlor told Criminal Court “A” on Monday that Sawo King Zubah had told him that he was guilty of human trafficking, a statement the latter disputed when Roosevelt Willie, Judge of the court, acting in accordance with law, asked him about it.

It prompted Carlor to recuse himself from the case and decline representing Zubah.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Cllr. Joseph Debblay, Coordinator/Supervisor of public defenders in Montserrado said no public defenders were willing to represent Zubah.

“One of the counsels of the defense requests Your Honor to advise the defendant to procure a private lawyer other than the Office of Public Defense to represent him,” said Cllr. Debblay. “This is made in good faith, so as to avoid a conflict.”

Cllr. Debblay said the decision was also taken to avoid falling into trouble with the Supreme Court in event that the case went on appeal.

At this point, Willie called Zubah to the bar and explained Debblay’s decision to him in simple Liberian English.

“I am unable to find a private lawyer,” said Zubah. 

Then Willie called Debblay and Atty. Randolph D.M.O. Johnson, one of the prosecutors in the case to his bar for a discussion on the matter.

After a few minutes, Willie emerged to announce his decision.

“This court says based on the information as provided by Sawo King Zubah and in the interest of justice and fair play, and for this defendant to have due process of law, the court will write the Liberian National Bar Association, said willie. “There are lawyers who render pro-bono to party litigants that find themselves in such situations as defendant Sawo King Zubah.

It could take several weeks before the case is reassigned, as Zubah, believed to be in his mid 30s, wait to clear his name against an allegation that could see him spend not less than 20 years in prison if convicted.

Zubah inducing his victim and taking US$250 from her as “agent fees,” so that he could “process her travel documents to travel to Oman receive a worthy salary that would change her life,” according to his indictment.

But the indictment said when the woman arrived in Oman, she met one Sarah, who remain at large. The indictment said Sarah allegedly seized the victim’s passport and other travel documents.

It said the woman was taken to several places for work and “subjected to degrading and inhumane treatment” by individuals she worked for and that she worked for 12 or more hours without breaks. Zubah and Sarah did nothing to rescue the woman, according to the indictment.

The case mirrors the pattern and method of alleged deception other women experienced at the hands of alleged Liberian traffickers and their Omani partners.

This story was a collaboration with New Narratives as part of the Investigating Liberia program. Funding was provided by the Swedish Embassy in Liberia. The funder had no say in the story’s content.