20 February 2018

Liberia: Sexual Abuse, Harassment At Cavalla Rubber Corporation, Maryland Oil Plantation

Monrovia — "The Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of both companies, Mr. Ange Olivier Lezou, is in the habit of taking the girls working with the company to La Côte d'Ivoire to sleep with them.

The girls are forced because they are instructed by him as their boss to do so. Who are they to refuse?" said Maryann, one of the sexually harassed victims. In order to protect her identity, Maryann is not her real name

Frontpage African had been bombarded with the news of sexual abuse, exploitation and harassment at the Cavalla Rubber Corporation (CRC) and the Maryland Oil Palm Plantation (MOPP).

Based on this, the newspaper sent a team of journalists to that very end of Liberia, the Southernmost tip, to investigate the matter and get the facts regarding the reports.

Communications from the Concerned Youth Movement and the Association of Chiefs and Elders of surrounding communities of Plebo Sodoken District in Maryland County, are lined with alarms, including sexual abuse and harassment, unlawful dismissal from both CRC and MOPP of Liberians and replacing them with Ivoirians, victims being denied of rightful financial packages, etc.

FPA spoke to Maryann, who recently resigned from the company because of the same reason of sexual harassment.

She told our crew how female workers at both CRC and MOPP are being sexually harassed and exploited.

She further told FPA that though the two companies are registered separately, with separate concession agreements, but are being jointly operated as one and managed by one person.

"The Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of the both companies, Mr. Ange Olivier Lezou, is in the habit of taking many of the girls working with the company to La Côte d'Ivoire to sleep with them. The girls are forced to go because they are instructed by him as their boss to do so. Who are they to refuse?" asked Maryann.

Explaining why she risked everything to resign, Maryann disclosed that the Youth chairman, Lincoln Wesseh, told her that her name was given to them by a lady working at the company's hospital that she could not work with her any longer, because the company was regularly sending her out of the country for trainings.

She narrated that she had been going online looking for these training and going on them at her own expense and not on the company.

According to her, she found two trainings for India and when the second one was due she wrote to inform the company as she had always done.

She stated that it was at this point that she her trouble began with the CFO.

"He told me that since I learn how to do massaging in China during my first training, I should go and massage him," she stated.

According to her, when she told him that she did not learn it well and could not do it, he still insisted.

"I then told him I was not in the position to do it for him."

"It was strange. When you are not expecting something of such from your boss, and he tells you it, you will be concerned."

"He did not stop there, but started calling me to have dinner with him at his house. I used to agree but never showed up. He would get angry."

Maryann further stated that since he couldn't succeed himself, he had his secretary to call and offered me on gratis US$50.

"When I asked why he was throwing US$50 at me for doing nothing when he had never done it for the past five years I have been working for the company, he said it was nothing but I should receive the money."

She further stated that she was forced to lodge a complaint with the deputy managing director, few days after Lezou again asked her to go to his house for dinner.

"The DMD told me to leave it and stay away from him."

"So when it was time for me to go back for my training, which had been postponed for January of this year, the CFO said I should get supporting documents from the Indian government as to why I should go for the training."

"When I explained it to the DMD, he said I knew why the CFO was behaving the way he did, because I had refused to sleep with him."

So he [Mr. Ange Olivier Lezou] never approved for me going for the training in India, and I was denied the opportunity."

She disclosed that on one occasion, the DMD got angry and wrote warning letters to some girls, who had escorted Lezou to La Côte d'Ivoire.

"Many girls have fallen prey to his pressure. They are afraid to admit it because they are still in the employ of the company."

"The CFO has been doing this ugly behavior to many girls for a long time.

"Nobody can do anything to stop him, because he is powerful. I have not been paid my benefits and salary for the time I worked for the company, because he controls the finances of the companies."

"When he is out of the country, nothing can be done; everybody has to wait for him to return."

Maryann also told of one of her former coworkers, who worked as a personal assistant for few years to Lezou.

This girl fell prey to his sexual pressure, but he fired her when she started complaining of him seeing other girls, according to her.

Sitting at her business and serving customers, FPA caught up with the girl mentioned by Maryann.

She denied of ever been sexually harassed by the CFO, much to talk about ever sleeping with him.

Sarah's (not her real name) nervous body language and shaking speech, could not permit her to sit comfortably as she uneasily spoke but appeared like someone under pressure and fear.

"This is the first time hearing about such behavior from Mr. Olivier, because he never touched my hands before I talk about him touching my breast for the five years I worked with the company."

"Maybe when I left the company, is when he picked up this new and ugly behavior," Sarah said.

According to the Chairman of the Concerned Youth Movement of Plebo, Mr. Lincoln Weseh, Ange Olivier Lezou, who serves in many positions including: Chief Financial Officer, Skill Development Manager and Supply Chain Manager, is sexually harassing the girls on the plantations.

"Our sisters have raised the issue of CFO Lezou harassing them."

"He sometimes works from his home and demands the girls work with him until nightfall to carry out his devilish act."

"Those who refused, he fired them. He is also in the constant habit of taking them to La Côte d'Ivoire, his country, for weekend to sexually abuse them.

"Those of them who refused to comply with his demand are fired or demoted."

"We investigated and found out it is true and if Mr. Olivier is to be persecuted, we will provide the pieces of evidence," said Youth Chairman Wesseh.

He told this newspaper that they had sent a complaint to many institutions and individuals, including the County Superintendent's office, the Office of the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection.

Gender Minister Wiliametta Piso Saydee-Tarr, said via mobile, she has no knowledge of the alleged sexual abuse at CRC and MOPP because she had just taken over at the Ministry.

Gender Minister Saydee-Tarr, however, thanked FPA for the findings and promised to certainly follow up on the issue and get to the bottom of it.

FPA could not get comments from Ange Olivier Lezou. We were told by a security manning the entry to the company's office that he and other higher-up staff were presently across the borders into La Côte d'Ivoire on some investigation.

Besty Kuoh-Toe, Maryland County's outgoing Superintendent, said via mobile phone some of the matters concerning wrongful dismissal and denial of just benefits were brought to her attention, but the issue of sexual abuse or harassment was not brought to her knowledge.

All efforts to get Speaker Bhofal Chambers, who hails from the county and represents it in the Legislature, proved futile.

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