11 August 2013

Liberia: U.S.$130 Million 'Kill Plot' - Liberian President's Aide Debunks Role in RIA Airport Conspiracy

Monrovia — Mr. Gyude Moore, a senior aide in the office of Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has dismissed suggestions contained in the secret recording of Defense Minister Brownie Samukai by Ellen Corkrum, the former head of the Liberia Airport Authority(LAA) that he, Finance Minister Amara Konneh and others, including Minister of State, Dr. Edward McClain, were involved in a plot to steal portions of some US$130 million dollars intended to refurbish the Roberts International Airport.

FrontPageAfrica recently reported that Teodoro Obiang Nguema, the President of Equatorial Guinea and his son, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, had expressed interest in the refurbishing of the RIA with reported US$US130 million offered on the table.A delegation from Eq. Guinea was scheduled to come to Liberia recently but the deal never materialized after alarmed blew the lit of the controversy.

Moore, who is one of President Sirleaf's principal lieutenants, serves a special function of aiding the president, but also provides support in her policy decisions. His reaction is contained in a chain of emails shared on the online Liberia Expats group.

'No Backdoor Channels'

Moore writes: "I'm going to assume that my opinion too doesn't matter because I'm mentioned in the tape and my name was on the radio yesterday. Apparently, it is to be believed that not only am I a part of a conspiracy to steal an unholy amount of money, but I am also a murder conspirator. Just wanted to point a few things out."

Continued Moore: "When you put stuff like this out there and give it credence, you do great disservice to people who work their butts off because they believe in their country and want to make a difference. Amara Konneh or Dr. McClain did not plot to kill anybody or steal any boatload of money."

" We are in discussion with the European Investment Bank, the Saudi Development Fund and the Arab Bank for Development to finance portion of the runway. This is the closest we have ever come to signing anything airport related. There are no deals. No backdoor channels to steal tons of money. You should know better.

On the recording, Minister Samukai is heard telling Corkrum that she was a victim of a plot by Moore and Minister Konneh to get Corkrum out of the negotiations for the US$130 Million dollar deal for the airport. The officials, according to Samukai were afraid that Corkrum would not "sign on" with their plot to obtain $US130 Million from Equatorial Guinea for renovation of RIA.

'That's Why They're Scared'

Samukai, who was speaking to two of his deputies in the presence of Corkrum remarked: "The whole thing is, believe you me, from everything I have heard,... I have been in this business too long for me not to know. I told her(Corkrum) there is an administrative lapse. Clearly, she herself admitted. But it is clear they don't want her anymore. There is $130 million contract coming. Musa Bility is on his way to Abidjan today. She will have to put her signature to it. But they never asked her, whether she will oppose or will not oppose. They just scared."

Corkrum replied: "But other contracts they brought, I went to the table negotiating right, and then, Musa told me, say 'No'. Don't negotiate right now. We'll just sign the contract and then we'll decide the numbers later, because I went there with actual numbers, I was asking the people clear and succinct questions.

But Minister Samukai averred: "That's why they're scare."

Corkrum suggests on the recording that she was being pressured by the board and Minister Konneh to stay clear of the negotiations. "And they were saying: 'You're coming with this your Harvard negotiating thing here'; But I'm supposed to. You know. And then they're like 'alright sign this contract'. You must not tell anybody that we have signed for these equipment and things like that. Meanwhile, we don't' even know, what the people are charging us."

Dieng in the picture

But Samukai countered: "I told you it is part of that deal. Remember. Can you imagine $US130 million, for a brand new airport and it looks like Finance is about to sign. Now whatever Senegalese person you brought, their fear was this is the guy who is gonna do the work."

The Senegalese referenced is Momar Dieng, one of several persons indicted in connection with the embezzlement of thousands of dollars intended to refurbish the RIA.

Dieng, a mathematician and international development practitioner, previously served as a Senior Policy Advisor in the Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs and worked as a consultant providing technical expertise and strategic advice to the Liberia Reconstruction and Development Committee on Liberia's long-term economic strategy, "Liberia RISING 2030".

Dieng, came to Liberia in 2010 as an intern from the Kennedy School assigned at the Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs, as part of a summer internship program between the government and Harvard that bring several masters level students to work in Liberia during the summer.

FPA has previously reported that the Liberian government was not pleased with the quality of work Dieng provided and thus decided not to renew his policy advisory contract.

PPCC Raised Red Flag on Dieng

The red flag on Dieng was raised by the Public Procurement Concessions Commission(PPCC). When the PPCC conducted its regular background on Diaspora Consulting, a company formed by Dieng, it turned out the company did not exist in New York as reported by Corkrum as none of the information could be verified by the Better Business Bureau (BBB) or even the Park Hill, New York address given on its letterhead. In addition.

An FPA investigation previously established that even though it was proven that Diaspora Consulting was a special purpose vehicle organized to suck money from the government of Liberia and the PPCC did not grant approval to award any contract, Ms. Corkrum had already wired, in two installments, the total of US$250,000 to the group by December 13, 2012.

Additionally, some of the transfers were wired to the accounts of Melvin Johnson (Ms. Cockrum's boyfriend) who then later wired payments to other so-called vendors. Though approval was given and no service has actually been provided to-date by Diaspora Consulting, Corkrum had already paid them US$250,000.

FrontPageAfrica gathered from Justice ministry sources last week that a delegation is due to head to the U.S. this week to begin request for the extradition of Corkrum and her fiancé, Melvin Johnson.

Extradition Preparations in play

Dismissing suggestions from Corkrum that she and her fiancé had been served the indictment, the MOJ source said all of the defendants who were indicted in the RIA case have presented themselves and have been arranged. However, Corkrum, Johnson, Dieng and Diaspora Consulting are outside of the bailey wick of the Republic of Liberia and so are out of the reach of the jurisdiction.

"Moreover, they are claiming to be citizens of the jurisdiction in which they have fled. The normal process to bring them under Liberia jurisdiction would be the extradition request. Sources say that lawyers for the MOJ are scheduled to travel next week to the United States to begin drafting the formal extradition request.

Because of the nature of the case it is anticipated that an extradition process would take about 6 months," said a source working on the case but not authorized to speak on the record.

Debunking 'Setup': Eq. Guinea Option Came Late

Moore, in his email exchange on the Expat forum explained that "Equatorial Guinea as a source to finance the airport did not become an option until June 2013. "The recording was made in January 2013. Unless we were psychic I haven't faintest clue of what $130 million is mentioned in that recording."

Continued Moore: "The President's Office is not a highway. We don't grant every audience or honor every speaking request. There are gatekeepers everywhere. It is part of my job to screen who gets through and who does not. Doesn't necessarily mean I'm plotting to kill you or steal $130 million dollars."

On the secret recording, Corkrum sought to explain to Samukai that Dieng was not an engineer and there was no need to fear that he would be a principal player in the US$130 million airport refurbishing. "No but the guy is not an engineer," Corkrum told Samukai.

But Samukai insisted: "But that's what I'm telling you. I told you they set this whole thing up. You hear it yourself. You hear what he told me. To which Corkrum replied: "I say, a complete setup."

Samukai told Corkrum that it was important that took her plight to the President. "That's what I'm telling you. So I insist that we try to see the president."

To bolster her argument of a setup, Corkrum said Bility put two board members on LAA's PPCC Committee, "Another setup. So when I send these things to Peggy,(PPCC Director, Peggy Varfley Meres) she'll send something back and say, board members are not supposed to be on it; hence we didn't have a PPCC Committee, but when we did the emergency work for the runway, we had not sent, not one thing to PPCC. When we signed the contract for SSF to come do the work, Air France had just gotten stuck in the mud; the Old Ma called all of us to the office and blasted."

As a result, Samukai encouraged Corkrum to take emergency steps. "They were trying to find a way to use the silence of the president during the workshop to take their decision. They don't know what will be the President's reaction. So they wanted to find it easier for you to have written the letter of resignation, pass it on to the President and say Madam President, we have accepted the Lady's letter of resignation. "

"And it will be like, well I didn't accept it, but since she's already left and the board has endorsed it, so it creates a problem where the board accepts somebody's resignation and the President who doesn't have, who statutorily is not supposed to be interfering in the decision of the board, so will come back and ask the board to reverse. Currently, that is not happening, so whatever board meeting he say he had, yesterday, maybe was, was just to push whoever coming to inquire, to get back to you and say look, the board has decided to tell the lady to resign, you know."

Samukai suggested that the Pressure to indict Corkrum came from Minister Konneh and that everyone in the circle were not convinced that Corkrum had stolen RIA funds.

"The pressure is coming from Amara. "I just spoke to Musa and I just spoke to Gyude Moore, just in confidence. And after all the talk, I asked them a simple question: Do you really believe the lady ate the money? Musa said no, Gyude said no. But it is the way she spent the money. I said but did she spend the money on these programs that actually one can trace, they said yes."

"So that means there is administrative lapse. So if it is administrative lapse, you can penalize somebody for administrative lapse, but not impropriety. They say yes. They say oh but there is a company, you know, And then you don't see where they, when they try to hold her here, you raise the issue, they say but. And then in the end, I say can we, the same question I asked Musa Bility, All right, is there a way we can try to fix this thing here to get."

"They say well you know, you see the other thing, well the decision is already taken. Well the President hasn't met. This would be the first time the president would be taking a decision against a senior official of government. A female official of government, that she hasn't called. He said, no but the President took the decision on Saturday. I said, Did the President tell her, what you just told me?"

"He said no, but she told me yesterday, which means it is unusual for Madam President. There are people here who, female people, we know, the people took tens of hundreds of thousands of dollars for their direct beneficiaries, and in spite of what the people wrote, the people are still working today, signing government checks."

Indictment announced

The government of Liberia last week announced the indictment of several officials including the former Acting head of the Liberia Airport Authority, Ellen Corkrum, the former Board Chair Musa Bility, Cllr. Melvin Johnson of the US, First International Bank (FIB) thru its president Wole Sodipe who was arrested on Wednesday and placed behind bars because he could not file a valid criminal bond with the court, Jeremi Tegli, Justin Ogugua and all authorized agents of (FIB) and Gloria Menjor of LBDI.

The indictment drawn by the special grand jurors of Montserrado County said upon Oath that they do hereby more probably than not that the defendants some in Liberia and the United States of America did conspire to and committed the crimes of economic sabotage, misapplication of entrusted property, theft of property, and criminal conspiracy in flagrant violation of the new penal law of Liberia.

The indictment states that co-defendant Musa Bility was aware that he was not authorized to sign any financial instrument whether cheques or transfer application along with co-defendant Cockrum the managing director as the signatory but co-defendant Bility ignored the instruction and allowed the LBDI to sign all cheques and application for transfer of funds from October 1, 2012 to February 4, 2013.

The indictment further that co-defendant LBDI had clear instructions from the prosecutrix through a letter communicated to that bank by the board chairman Bility that A and B signatures are required for transaction at the time C signature will be forwarded in the absence of A, the co-defendant LBDI allegedly disregarded this instruction and colluded with co-defendants Ellen Cockrum, Musa Bility, Momar Dieng and Diaspora Consulting LLC to deprive the prosecutrix of US$269,000.00 known that at no time that co-defendant Bility and Corkrum jointly initiate a transaction on the private prosecutrix's LBDI account.

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