23 July 2014

Liberia: Concern Mounts Over U.S.$8.5 Million Escrow Account

Civil society groups are mounting concern over the status of the US$8.5 million placed in the escrow account at the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL). The money was generated from the sale of petroleum products donated by the Japanese government following a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).

The Liberian and Japanese governments signed a MOU on March 8, 2011 but the products started arriving between August and September 2011. The sale of the products should have gone towards development initiatives.

Agreement between Liberia and Japan, dated March 8, 2011, stipulated one billion Japanese yen or US$13,205,418.72 for the purchase of 15,000 metric tons of petroleum products.

Officials at the Ministry of Commerce, speaking on condition of anonymity confirmed that US$8.5 million was placed into the escrow account of the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) following the sale of the oil.

When LPRC Public Relations Department was contacted by telephone, it declined to give details, referring The NEWS to the CBL and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for detailed information.

When the Foreign Ministry was contacted, the Communications Department declined to speak on the matter, saying that the matter requires information from the proper authority.

Some members of civil society told The NEWS that they are raising the alarm based on cogent information received concerning the account. According to them, US$8.5 million may have been used on a completely different project.

On Tuesday, July 8, 2014, The National Chronicle Newspaper published a front-page story captioned: "In LPRC Alleged US$5M Presidential Chopping": Oil Money Noise!

In the story, the paper said an in-depth investigation it conducted in early 2012, vindicated President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and the Liberia Petroleum Refining Corporation (LPRC) from the blanket accusation made by the former president of the National Oil Company (NOCAL), Dr. Christopher Z. Neyor, that both President Sirleaf and the LPRC mismanaged and " chopped" US$5 million from the Japanese oil proceeds. The accusation is far from the truth, according to The Chronicle.

The Chronicle revealed that the agreement between the government of Liberia and Japan, dated March 8, 2011, stipulated 1,000,000,000(one billion) Japanese yen or US$13,205,418.72(thirteen million two hundred and five thousand four hundred eighteen United States dollars and seventy two cents) for the purchase of the petroleum products, without specifying the quantity of product to be supplied.

However, document obtained during the Chronicle investigation showed that 12, 378.54 metric tons was the actual quantity supplied by the agent hired by the Japanese government to purchase the petroleum products for and on behalf of the government of Liberia, and not 15,000 metric tons as was speculated.

According to the paper, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry said 15,000 metric tons mentioned in the MOU between the Liberian and Japanese governments was a projection based on the PLATT'S price at the time of signing the exchange of notes.

The agreement was signed on March 8, 2011 but the products began arriving between August and September 2011.

However, civil society groups said based on investigation, they discovered 15,000 metric tons and not 12, 378.54 metric tons donated by Japanese government.

Investigation continues

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