21 May 2018

Liberia: Ex-Officials in 'Trouble' As Weah Vows To Implement Findings

Photo: Liberia Government
President George Weah delivering a speech in Paris

Former officials in the Ellen-led government accused of corruption in the sale of Oil Block 13 by Global Witness are in serious trouble with President George Manneh Weah who has vowed to implement findings of investigation done into the matter by a special presidential committee.

Speaking recently in Buchanan, Grand Bassa County, during the cabinet retreat, President Weah said findings from the five-member Special Presidential Review Committee set up to probe into allegations contained in the Global Witness' report will be executed to the fullest.

The Liberian leader said anyone held accountable by the committee will be dealt with according to the law.

The special committee last Wednesday, following weeks of investigation of alleged corruption surrounding the sale of oil block 13 presented its findings to President Weah who said he will review the findings and act accordingly.

Global Witness named former NOCAL CEO, Randolph McClain; former National Investment Commission (NIC) Chairman, Natty B. Davis; former Finance Minister Amara Konneh; former Lands and Mines Minister Patrick Sendolo; former NOCAL's Board Chair Robert Sirleaf, and former Justice Minister Christiana Tarr as officials who allegedly received huge bonuses following the authorization of the oil deal in 2013.

It can be recalled that on March 29, 2018, Global Witness released a report indicating that Exxon's 2013 purchase of Liberia's Block 13 oil license likely enriched former government officials who may have illegally owned the block.

The state oil agency, NOCAL, also made unusual, large payments to senior government officials, who authorized the 2013 deal.

Global Witness calls on the Liberian government to investigate those involved in Exxon's 2013 oil deal for corruption or wrongdoings.

Block 13 was originally awarded by NOCAL in 2005 to Liberian-Anglo Company Broadway Consolidated/Pepper coast (BCP). In 2007, the block was ratified by the Liberian Legislature through bribery.

But Global Witness' evidence shows that the company was likely part-owned by former Mining Minister Jonathan Mason and former Deputy Minister Mulbah Willie. Mason and Willie are suspected of granting the oil block to a company in which they held interests while they were also ministers in 2005, which was illegal under Liberian law.

Global Witness said Exxon knew that Block 13 was originally awarded through bribery and that its purchase of the oil block could enrich former officials who might have been behind BCP.

In a PowerPoint presentation obtained by Global Witness, Exxon wrote that it was interested in purchasing the oil block despite its "concern over issues regarding US anti-corruption laws."

"Undeterred by the corruption red flags, Exxon went ahead with the deal anyway. Global Witness' evidence shows that it structured the transaction in a way to skirt US anti-corruption laws by using a Canadian company - Canadian Overseas Petroleum Limited (COPL) - as a go-between to buy the block," the international watchdog said.

"It's appalling that an oil giant like Exxon would buy up an oil block they knew was tainted by corruption," said Jonathan Gant, Senior Campaigner at Global Witness.

"This kind of morally dubious corporate behavior is particularly shocking in a country like Liberia where endemic corruption continues to rob people of opportunities," he noted.

Global Witness said it has also seen evidence that shortly following the authorization of the 2013 Exxon deal senior Liberian officials were paid "bonuses."

Those ex-officials include former NOCAL CEO Randolph McClain, former National Investment Chairman Natty Davis; former Finance Minister Amara Konneh; former Mining Minister Patrick Sendolo; former NOCAL Board Chair Robert Sirleaf and former Justice Minister Christiana Tah.

Global Witness said each of the ex-officials received a payment of US$35,000 as bonus.

To this, former Minister Konneh admitted receiving US$35,000 as bonus but said others received as well.

Members of the special presidential committee include Cllr. Ndubuisi Nwabudike, Chairperson; Cllr. Pearl Brown Bull, member; Cllr. C. Alexander Zoe, member; the Rev. Joseph Gardea Johnson, III, member and Mrs. Frances Greaves, member.

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