FrontPageAfrica (Monrovia)

Liberia Indicts Ellen Cockrum, Musa Bility, LBDI, FIB Diaspora Consultants, Others

Photo: Liberia Government
President Sirleaf and members of her cabinet.

Monrovia — The corruption saga involving Ellen Corkrum a U.S. citizen and a pilot who served in the American military has come full circle with the government of Liberia unsealing her indictment along with that of others including the board chair of the LIBERIA AVIATION AUTHORITY (LAA), Musa Bility, the Liberia Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI), Diaspora Consultants, First International Bank Liberia Limited, Cockrum's boyfriend Melvin Johnson and many others.

The indictment copy of which is in the possession of FrontPageAfrica handed down by the Special Grand Jurors of Montserrado County charges Cockrum and co with the crime of Economic Sabotage, Theft of Property, criminal conspiracy and misapplication of entrusted property.

The indictment reads that Ellen Cockrum, former Managing Director of the Liberia Airport Authority and Musa Bility, Chairman of the board of the LAA, Diaspora Consulting LLC thru Moamar Dieng, Momar Dieng and the Liberia Bank for Development & Investment (LBDI) by and thru its President John B. S. Davies and General Manager , Gloria Menjor did conspire to and did do and commit the crime of economic Sabotage in flagrant violation of Chapter 15, sub-chapter "F", section 15.81(a)(b)(c),Misapplication of Entrusted property in violation of Chapter 15, sub-chapter "D", sections 15.56; Theft of Property in violation of Chapter 15, sub-chapter "D", section 15.51 (a)(c); Criminal Conspiracy in violation of Chapter 10, sub-chapter "D" section 10.4 (1)(2)(3)(4) of the penal code of Liberia.

The indictment states that Bility and Cockrum who happen to have been signatories to the account of the LAA maintained with LBDI, Criminally conspire with Co-Defendant Diaspora Consulting LLC represented by Dieng and LBDI defrauding the government by making unauthorized transfer of funds aggregating US$269,000.00 from the LAA account 005USD21235003306. The indictment states that the accused on diverse occasions remitted monies to the Bank of America account of Diaspora Consulting LLC through the LBDI for services which were never rendered.

The indictment also states that on December 4, 2012, the LAA through its MD Cockcrum submitted two requests to the PPCC for "no objection" to single source SSF Entrepreneur INC and Diaspora Consulting LLC for the rehabilitation of the RIA's runway and other pavements in the combined amount of US$1,283,333.00 proposed for SSF Entrepreneurs Inc. and US$ 255,000.00 proposed for Diaspora Consulting LLC.

The indictment also states that Board Chair Musa Bility even though he was aware that he was not authorized to sign any financial instruments, whether cheques or transfer application along with Cockrum as a signatory to the account, Bility according to the indictment ignored the instructions of the Board of Directors to the LBDI and signed all checks and application for transfer of funds from October 1, 2012 to February 4, 2013.

The government's move comes months after the Documents (including emails, wire transfers and bank statements) were released by FrontPageAfrica unveiling a web of corruption that permeated the Liberian government's aviation sector.

Genesis of the Saga unearthed by FPA

A FrontPageAfrica investigation revealed earlier this year that there was massive and successful corruption of unbelievable proportion including flagrant disregard for the country's Public Financial Management (PFM) and the CPublic Procurement Concession Commission (PPCC) laws allegedly by Cockrum and Melvin Johnson Cockrum's boyfriend within three months of Ms. Corkrum's tenure.

Corkrum, a US-based Liberian female pilot tasked with the responsibility of revamping the Roberts International Airport reportedly attempted to defraud the Liberian government of nearly a quarter million United States dollars leading her dismissal by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Corkrum reportedly masterminded a scheme to set up a fake company called Diaspora Consulting Engineering which was heralded as being listed on the New York Stock Exchange with the intention of securing a bid to revamp the Roberts International Airport.

The value of the deal was set in the tone of US$250,000, almost five times more than the fee the previous company hired to perform refurbishing work at the airport.

The plan, FPA later learned reportedly fell apart after an investigation by the PPCC determined that the company said to have offices on 5TH Avenue and Park Avenue in Manhattan, New York did not exist.

But FrontPageAfrica gathered that the Diaspora Consulting LLC was registered in 2009 in the state of Cambridge, MA with an Internal Revenue Service number 45-225-7856 according to information.

It is not clear whether the company had a physical address as the address listed on a Harvard Business Service Inc. which processed the registration lists Momar Dieng, a Senegalese national listed as CEO of the Diaspora Initiative company as residing in an apartment building at 2 Gorham Street in Cambridge, MA, 02138.

FPA investigation also found that it was Finance Minister Amara Konneh who rejected Diaspora Consulting because according to one source close to the story, told the PPCC, Ms. Corkrum and the RIA Board in a meeting on December 22, 2012 that "Mr. Dieng though a good mathematician, didn't have the technical competence and experience to provide supervision for such a complex project and insisted that the Ministry of Finance would not release any payments to Diaspora Consulting, LLC."

Minister Konneh then insisted on the inclusion of the Ministry of Public Work to provide oversight for the airport rehabilitation project.

The LAA board then identified another engineering company named NACO, a real company with years of experience, to do the same work that Ms. Cockrum was requesting US$250,000. NACO is a Netherlands based airport consulting company that charged about US$52,000 to provide the same service Ms. Corkrum had paid $250,000 for. The difference between the US$250,000 that Diaspora Consulting asked for and the US$52,000 that NACO requested shows the value of the PPC Act.

While all of these were going on, FPA has also learned that Ms. Corkrum was also paying her boyfriend US$60,000 for legal consulting fees as well as travel and other expenses that totaled about US$30,000 for a total value of about US$90,000 in a relatively short period of time. Ms. Corkrum also paid to her boyfriend Johnson for car rental service for the car RIA had rented for her which also belonged to her lover.

All of these acts committed by Ms. Corkrum and her boyfriend were gross violation of the PFM and PPC Acts and require that the duo be further investigated and prosecuted. Legal experts and anti-corruption advocates say that "it is unacceptable for white collar criminals to come to Liberia after years of residence in the US and fleece the public trust in such a flagrant manner."

The smoking gun was a letter written to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf by Finance Minister Amara Konneh. According to sources, Minister Konneh's letter prompted President Sirleaf to ask the Board to investigate the matter and take appropriate action. In his letter to the President dated January 10, 2013, Minister Konneh recommended to the President that "appropriate actions be taken against Ms. Corkrum," for attempting to defraud government by awarding a contract worth more than $200,000 to a company with no engineering experience and without "due process."

Solid aviation background

Corkrum came to Liberia backed with a solid aviation credential and a U.S. military clearance in hopes of giving back to her homeland, a post-war nation emerging from war and was recruited at US$13,000 a month salary with free housing, full relocation cost and monthly round trip business class ticket to the US.

The embattled Corkrum fought back at a press conference in Monrovia successfully changing the narrative from what seems to be a very disturbing corruption case that could ruin her career.

The resume of Ms. Corkrum, a Liberian born Ghanaian, states that she is a former air force reserved pilot who also just completed graduate studies at Harvard's Kennedy.

She also holds a graduate degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, according to her resume which FPA has been able to verify. This impressive pedigree led the RIA Board and the President to ask Ellen Corkrum to return and take this position. Both Harvard and MIT prepare their students to be leaders who advance reforms across the world.

FPA also learned that Corkrum was recruited directly by President Sirleaf because of her impressive resume and recommended to the Board for appointment as Managing Director of the Liberia Airport Authority in September 2010; she officially began her tenure in October. Documents in FPA's possession also show that within a relatively short period of time (4 months), Ms. Corkrum, has been able to successfully siphon close to US$500,000 from the RIA, some of it through her boyfriend, Mr. Melvin Johnson to companies and individuals. Mr. Johnson is well known in the Atlanta, Georgia area as a Magisterial Judge.

Minister Konneh wrote the President: "additionally, the Commission in the review of documents submitted by Ms. Corkrum was unable to find the past performance history and references validating that Diaspora Consulting Engineering had performed similar services for other such clients, consistent with Section 32 (1) (c) of the PPC Act. The Commission also could not find evidence which proved that

Diaspora Consulting Engineering is International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) certified, which was a primary justification for its selection by LAA for supervision of the proposed works.

Consequently, the Commission was constrained to inform the Liberia Airports Authority that it could not honor its request for "no objection" to single source Diaspora Consulting Engineering for supervision of the proposed works due to the reasons stated above, further delaying the execution of RIA rehabilitation.

It is noteworthy to mention that, the Liberia Airports Authority, under the guidance of its Board Chairman and in collaboration with other stakeholders, later identified a company, Netherlands Airport Consultants B.V (NACO) to provide the services as indicated above for an amount of Fifty One Thousand, Nine Hundred United States Dollars (US$51,900). Kindly note that NACO, which is an internationally acclaimed company in the aviation industry, is familiar with the Liberian airport as it was earlier contracted to develop and update the National Master plan of Roberts International Airport.

This action by Ms. Corkrum to award a Government of Liberia contract to a bogus company undermines the developmental efforts of the Administration. Additionally, a significant reduction in the contract value from Two Hundred Fifty Five Thousand United States Dollars (US$255,000) to Fifty One Thousand, Nine Hundred United States Dollars (US$51,900.00) indicates an attempted waste and abuse of limited public funds on the part of Ms. Corkrum.

Konneh recommended that appropriate actions be taken against Ms. Corkrum. "I sincerely believe that when that is done, it will send yet another message of your resolve to fight corruption in the public sector. I look forward to your continued support as we all strive to enhance transparency and accountability in the public procurement and concessions processes and management of public resources."

Others indicted

The government also indicted two employees of the First International Bank Liberia Limited in persons of Jeremy Tegli, former head of operations of the bank and Justin Ogugua and all authorized representatives of the FIBank for Defrauding the GOL by making unauthorized transfers of funds amounting to US$56,750.00 from the LAA's account. The bank and its two employees are said to have conspired with Cockrum and Johnson and his company to make illegal transfer of funds.

Many are waiting to see where these new war and corruption will end as the government under President Sirleaf has only been able to successfully prosecute a single corruption case- the case involving Mr. Albert Bropleh former Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA) boss.

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