FrontPageAfrica (Monrovia)

Liberia Concludes Probe Into Rental Saga At Belgian Mission

Monrovia — The long awaited findings of an investigation launched by the government of Liberia into fake lease contracts involving the Liberian Ambassador to Brussels, Luxemburg and the European Union, Francis Tuan Karpeh, which led to the government recalling of the Ambassador and the entire embassy staff has been unveiled by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Monrovia.

Fake Lease Agreement? Liberian Diplomat in Dubious Rental Deal

A 7-member Investigative Committee led by Ambassador-At-Large Robert Lormia conducted the government investigation, which covered all Liberian foreign missions.

The Committee in its report as issued by the foreign ministry stated that it established that there was no criminal intent nor was there a motive for personal enrichment by Ambassador Francis Tuan Karpeh or other Liberian diplomatic officers in Belgium with respect to leased properties, but stated that it noted procedural and administrative breaches in the way payments were handled, which it concluded did not conform to accepted accounting standards.

"The Investigative Committee found that the rigidity of the budgeting system often impelled the Embassy to secure initial leases based on estimated cost in order to obtain approval before the budget process was completed," stated the foreign ministry release.

Continued the findings: "The Embassy then concluded final leases based on actual cost from the landlord. The difference between the proforma and base rent in the case of Ambassador Karpeh and his officers in Belgium was expended on sundry costs such as fees for general maintenance of the building, maintenance of elevators and other systems connected to the building, heating and cooling of areas external to the apartment, security, garbage collection, and utilities, which unfortunately, were not adequately covered in the quarterly remittances from Monrovia. These extra obligations, if left unattended, would cause embarrassment to the officers concerned, in particular, and the Government and country in general."

The investigation report found that this situation was not widespread at all Liberian diplomatic missions as was widely speculated and reported according to the foreign ministry release.

The ministry stated that the report found that some missions experienced serious difficulties as a result of shortfalls between remitted amounts and actual amounts due to what the committee calls the ever increasing nature of leases and the cost of utilities coupled with exchange rate losses caused by fluctuations in foreign exchange rates between the US dollars, the currency in which monies from Liberia are remitted and the currency of the host country including bank charges.

"The Investigative Committee found that this problem is more acute in the euro zone countries, including Belgium," stated the Ministry of foreign affairs.

In its recommendations the committee called on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, working in concert with the Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank of Liberia, to put in place a realistic policy that will oversee monetary transactions at Liberia's diplomatic missions abroad, particularly with reference to payment of rents and leases.

"The Report also recommends; that transactions and accounting practices at Liberian diplomatic missions should undergo regular, periodic inspections through the Office of the Inspector General of the Foreign Service, in a bid to enhance accountability at the missions as well as objectively assess difficulties experienced by Liberian diplomats, which could lead to a more expeditious solution of the difficulties," stated the MFA release.

"It emphasizes that due notice be taken of the cost of living index in countries hosting Liberian diplomatic missions, and that adequate budgeting and other measures be taken to address those conditions.. Additionally, the report states that keen note should be taken of the currency exchange rate fluctuations to avoid shortfalls in remittances to the missions."

FrontPageAfrica reported that it had documents in its possession showing that Ambassador Karpeh overstated the rental expenses for his residence in Brussels. FPA uncovered two separate lease agreements for Ambassador Kapeh's Belgium residence showing conflicting figures for rental expenses.

The Ambassador had a lease agreement from a real estate company named ESTIA NV/SA which he (Karpeh) presented to the Government of Liberia as the lease agreement for his official residence in Brussels amounting to 3,600 Euros a month, amounting to a yearly sum of 43,200 Euros an estimated US$ 56,160 yearly.

Estia the company from which the Ambassador seems to have acquired the lease agreement said the contract was a fake. The company told VTM NIEUWS in Brussels that it had no contract with the Liberian Embassy. The allegedly fake lease agreement with ESTIA on which basis the Government of Liberia paid the rental expenses of Ambassador Karpeh is said to be located on Boulevard du Rio Albert li 45, 1030 Scharbeek.

Documents received from the ministry of Foreign Affairs upon an FPA request corroborated the lease agreement in the possession of FrontPageAfrica putting the cost of the Ambassador's residence for 3,600 Euros when he was actually paying 1,140 Euros. This paper through its Belgian counterpart VTM NIEUWS based in Brussels contacted ESTIA NV/SA and the company denied ever entering into a lease agreement with the Liberian Ambassador (Karpeh).

"This lease agreement is fake. We do not have a lease with this person," the company told VTM NIEUWS on enquiry in Brussels.

Second contract questionable

The second lease contract also in the possession of FPA, which turns out to be the rightful lease agreement of Ambassador Karpeh's current residence in Brussels according to FPA sources in Brussels.This contract was entered into between Vilvo Invest and Karpeh on February 1, 2013. But the investigation failed to establish which lease agreement was the proper one.

The value of the lease is 1,140 Euros per month almost three times the amount being paid by the Government of Liberia as reflected on the lease agreement in possession of FrontpageAfrica and obtained from the foreign ministry. This agreement was entered into February 1, 2013 and is valid until January 31, 2022.

A payment voucher dated Wednesday, August 14, 2013 showed that the Government of Liberia through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs paid an amount of US$29,858.66 as rental fees for Ambassador Karpeh, Comfort Swengbe, Paul Tate and Konah Moore. The voucher's narrative stated that an amount of US$ 9,497.78 was paid for Ambassador Francis Karpeh for July and August, 2013, an indication that the Government of Liberia paid US$4,748.89 per month for Ambassador Karpeh residence.

The payment as reflected on the voucher indicates that the Government of Liberia pays US$4,748.89 per month an equivalent of 3,600 Euros in line with lease payment arrangements known to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as in actuality the Liberian diplomat receives lease payment amounting to 3,600 per month.

This leads to an unexplained variance of 2,460 Euro monthly, between payments made by the GoL and payment made to the property owner in Belgium. Instead of the Government of Liberia paying 13,680 Euros as yearly rent, its pays 43,200 Euros with an amount of 29,520 Euros unaccounted for.

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