2 August 2012

Liberia: Comium Liberia's Trouble Deepens

The Executive Mansion has strongly rejected claims that some members of the first family are linked to the sale and buying of Comium Liberia, vowing that the company's free tax haven will be eliminated.

The Heritage Newspaper last week reported from "credible" sources that Comium Liberia, one of the four GSM companies operating in the country, has been allegedly sold to Mr. George Abou Joaude for US$18M.

The paper said Mr. Joaude is a top Lebanese businessman operating in the country and is very close to a member of the first family and that he is being used to front for a member of the first family in the alleged sale of Comium for US$18million.

But responding to the report yesterday during a press conference, Presidential Press Secretary Jerolinmek Piah said there was no iota of truth in the allegation.

Mr. Piah said the report was only intended to bring the name and character of the first family into disrepute. The press secretary then disclosed that plans are currently underway to ensure that the duty free privilege being enjoyed by Comium among GSM companies is purged.

"Comium is the only cell phone company in this country that is enjoying duty free privilege and we will take action to stop that," Piah said, adding, "We met that on the book and we will change it."

He claimed that effort were made in the past during the sitting of the last Legislature to change the Act that gave Comium that tax holiday it is enjoying, but the process was killed.

According to report, the alleged sale of Comium includes the assumption of the company's local debts. Comium was given notice by the Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA) that its license would be cancelled for indebtedness to the Government of Liberia (GOL).

In 2007 the 52nd Legislature commenced a debate on a 20-year tax holiday and duty free privileges granted COMIUM for the importation of network equipment and accessories, but the issue was later pushed under the carpet, with unconfirmed report that huge envelops were dished out to the lawmakers then.

Sources said Comium struggled to influence some legislators to stall the passage of the Telecommunications Act which had been before lawmakers for several months.

Comium then feared that if passed into law, the LTA would repeal it privilege to import duty free goods under a 20-year concession agreement signed between COMIUM and the past government in November 2004.

Under the agreement signed by former Transitional Chairman Charles Gyude Bryant, certain rights and privileges were granted to COMIUM in consonance with an Act Adopting the Investment Incentive Code enacted on March 6, 1973 and published by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on February 28, 1975 (hereinafter referred to as "Investment Incentive Code").

COMIUM, controlled by COMIUM (Africa) Limited, a company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands, was duly incorporated as a Liberian Corporation pursuant to Title (5) of the Liberian Business Corporation Act of 1977, on April 28, 2004.

The agreement stated that "on the 3rd day of March A.D. 2004, the Government of the Republic of Liberia represented by its Minister of Post and Telecommunications, Honorable L. Eugene Nagbe (now transport Minister), entered into a Telecommunication License Agreement with Comium Services, a company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands."

It further stated that "on the 3rd day of March A.D. 2004, the Government represented by its Minister of Finance and Chairman of the National Investment Commission (NIC), entered into an Investment Incentive Contract with Comium Services which was attested by Honorable Kabineh Ja'neh, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Republic of Liberia."

The deal said COMIUM Services assigned its License agreement to COMIUM in application of Article 11 of the aforementioned Telecommunication License Agreement. The company subsequently obtained a concession agreement in its desire to further concretize its relationship with the Government.

"Whereas, the Government of Liberia has agreed to grant to COMIUM concession rights in the areas of its operations which include the establishment of telecommunications networks, including a GSM Cellular Mobile Network and an Internet Network and to engage in the business of providing various communication Services include mobile, international and Internet Services as well as engage in the importation, sale and distribution of cellular phones and equipment that relate to the various communication services amongst others;

"NOW THEREFORE, in consideration of the promises exchanged and the mutual covenants herein contained, it is agreed by and between the parties hereto as follows:

This Concession Agreement entered into and by and between the Government of the Republic of Liberia, (hereinafter referred to as "GOVERNMENT"), represented herein by the Honorable Lusine F. Kamara, Minister of Finance and the Honorable Roosevelt K. Quiah, Chairman of the National Investment Commission (NIC), and Comium Liberia Inc., a corporation organized under the Laws of the Republic of Liberia represented by its General Manager, Mr. Adnan Farhan Ukaily, (hereinafter referred to as "COMIUM").

In the agreement, COMIUM was authorized to do business in the country and, according to the deal, COMIUM has fully complied with Section 8, Application Procedure of the Investment Incentive Code.

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