24 February 2016

Liberia: Beyslow, Several Govt Officials Facing Arrest for U.S.$13 Million

Photo: Liberian Petroleum Refining Company
Nelson Williams, former managing director of the Liberian Petroleum Refining Company.

Several former and current officials of the Government of Liberia have been indicted to face prosecution on multiple criminal charges. At least one of the several defendants is spending the night at the Monrovia Central Prison in Monrovia while the court pursues the others. Former Deputy Managing Director for Operations at the Liberia Petroleum Refining Company (LPRC) was committed to the prison following a writ of arrest issued by Criminal Court C based on a complaint from the anti-graft Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission of Liberia.

The Court in its writ of arrest spotted by FrontPageAfrica at Criminal court C named some of the defendants as former Commerce Minister Miatta Beyslow, Director at Commerce, Steve Flahn-Paye and Aaron Whiegar, amongst others. The three along with others are charged with Economic sabotage, misapplication of entrusted property for allegedly making the Government of Liberia to lose over US$13 million. At the court Tuesday, defendant Whiegar dressed in an African shirt was seen sitting in the Sheriff's office for hours as Grand Bassa Senators Nyonblee Kangar-Lawrence, Johnathan Kaipay and lawyers of Sherman and Sherman struggled to secure his temporary release.

Several calls were noticeable made to the presiding Judge Blamo Dixon as his phone rang endlessly and later switched off as those seeking the temporary release of the defendant were seen dejected. Prior to the imprisonment of Defendant Whiegar there was a tussle as a bailiff of the court had no car to transport the defendant but was rescued by the LACC which the lawyer of the defendant detested but Whiegar was finally escorted to the prison by the two senators of Grand Bassa County.

Efforts by the senators to seek the temporary release of the defendant was questioned by the lawyer of the LACC as he was heard saying, "What do senators have to do with this, why the court staff wouldn't take responsibility of the law." The three, like the ongoing case of Madam Matilda Parker and Christiana Paelay are currently charged for Economic Sabotage, misapplication of entrusted property and theft of property, among others.

Indictees named by LACC

It can be recalled at the regular press briefing of the Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism months ago the head of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission or LACC announced the names of several officials forwarded to the Justice Ministry for probable prosecution for alleged mismanagement of public funds and corruption. The Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) at the time named the Managing Director of the Liberian Petroleum Refining Corporation (LPRC), along with other current and former senior government officials for their alleged involvement in the misapplication of millions of United States Dollars in connection with various government transactions.

The LACC named Clemenceau Urey, former Board Chair of the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL); Miatta Beyslow, former Minister of Commerce and Industry; Milton Teahjay, Superintendent of Sinoe County; David Kortie, publisher of the Flash Point Newspaper; Jesufu S. Keita, public relations officer at the Ministry of Public Works; Foday Kromah and Amos Koon, employees of the Ministry of Finance, among others.

Cllr. James Verdier alleged that the Managing Director of the LPRC and the former Commerce and Industry Minister single-handedly awarded a contract of over US$1million to several petroleum companies, including Aminata and Sons, without going through the Public Procurement Concession Commission (PPCC) procedure. On the part of Superintendent Teahjay, the LACC head explained that he misapplied over US$65,000 of county development funds. "In some of the cases we would give them the opportunity to restitute whatsoever amount they have allegedly mismanaged from the government," the LACC boss stated.

In addition, the LACC boss also listed the Secretary of the Liberian Senate, Robert Saygbe, for receiving allege bribe of US$2,000.00, Montserrado County District #2 Representative Sekou Kanneh was also indicted by the LACC for alleged fraud over a deal with the Donkan Gas Station and the Commission on Higher Education at the Ministry of Education, Dr. Michael Slawion was also indicted for receiving government money for plane ticket and perdiem for a trip abroad that was never executed.

Corruption a virus

He added that it is about time that all Liberians join forces to combat the corruption virus, soliciting the involvement of whistle blowers, as effective strategy to help curb the practice, particularly in the public sector. He vowed that the LACC will go after anyone in public office that is linked to corruption. Cllr. Verdier said corruption has been parading the Liberian society since the country's Independence in 1847. Cllr. Verdier at the time vowed that LACC will proceed with prosecution within days if the Ministry of Justice does not dos so could not explain what measures it would be against the Ministry cloth with authority to prosecute.

Regarding the Code of Conduct, he noted that "all government officials, including Directors, Ministers and other heads of Agencies were requested to start declaring their assets for the month of June, 2014 as mandated by the Code of Conduct signed June 20, 2014." "This allowed all government officials to declare their assets before taking public office and after leaving public office to carry out assets declaration also," said Cllr. Verdier.

Government officials engaged in Corruption

Corruption remains a serious problem confronting the government. The United States Department in a Human Rights Report on Liberia for 2014 stated that Liberian government officials are engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. The law does not provide explicit criminal penalties for official corruption, although criminal penalties exist for economic sabotage, mismanagement of funds, bribery, and other corruption-related acts. Corruption persisted, and the World Bank's most recent Worldwide Governance Indicators reflected that corruption is a serious problem.

According to the report, low pay for civil servants, minimal job training, and little judicial accountability exacerbated official corruption and a culture of impunity. "The LACC is empowered to prosecute any case it refers to the Ministry of Justice and which the ministry declines to prosecute within 90 days," the report asserts. Underfunding, under staffing, and judicial bottlenecks, the report further asserts, hampered the LACC's ability to act on its own initiative. "During the year, the LACC received 26 cases, investigated 11 cases, and recommended seven cases for prosecution.

One of the defendants in the current case, Steve Flahn-Paye was the focal person on the Japanese Food Aid Project at the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, who it can be recalled highlighted the positive pro- poor impact of the Japanese KR Project on the Liberia. Paye provided updates on the amount received from the sale of the Japanese Rice and how the Counterpart Value Funds were disbursed to projects supported by the Liberian/Japanese Governments. It can be recalled that the Government of Liberia indicted 10 former officials of NOCAL on similar charges but the charges were later dropped.

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