19 September 2018

Liberia: Govt Prevents Weeks, Sirleaf, Others From Leaving the Country

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(File photo).

While investigation into the reported disappearance of US$16 billion as confirmed by Information Minister, Lenn Eugene Nagbe, is yet underway, the government has restricted the movement of individuals who it believes can help solve the mystery of the lost containers.

The Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism (MICAT) by an executive mandate, in a press release yesterday, ordered all security apparatus, particularly the Liberia Immigration Service (LIS), and the Liberia National Police (LNP) to ensure that former Central Bank Executive Governor, Milton Weeks and his deputy, Charles Sirleaf who is still employed at the CBL, do not leave the country until investigation into the mystery is completed.

Weeks, who headed the CBL under former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's administration, has been declared a person of interest to the investigation along with his deputy, Charles Sirleaf, son of former President Sirleaf and thirteen other persons. "The Government takes the ongoing investigation seriously because it has National Security Implications," the release said.

The MICAT press release, signed by Minister Nagbe said "The Government has issued a security circular advising persons of interest who are required to assist with the ongoing investigation into the circumstances surrounding the importation of Liberian Dollar Banknotes into the country between November 2017 and August 2018 not to leave the country."

Mr. George Abi Jaoudi, owner and operator of Abi Jaoudi businesses across the country is another big name wanted by the investigation team and has, therefore, been named as one of the fifteen persons ordered not to leave the country.

"Authorities at all points of entry and exit, including land borders, air, and sea ports have been directed to take due cognizance of the circular," the release further noted. Others wanted by the investigation team which comprises of the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), the LNP and the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) include Richard Walker, Mariea E.G. Toe, Musulyn R.B. Jackson, Ophelia Nyenpan and Oldada Deshield.

The release also named Prince Bull, J. Barquolleh Gabriel, Theodosia B. Jreh, Zinna Davison and Solomon Jaykpah as persons of interest to the investigation who are also not to leave the country.

Kollie Ballah and Andrew Pabai were also listed as persons of interest who are required, as in the case of other persons named, to stay in the country and help with the ongoing investigation.

With the collection of statements from the persons of interest having begun already at the LNP headquarters in Monrovia, CBL former Executive Governor, Milton Weeks is expected to appear before the Police today at 10 a.m. to assist in the investigation.

In a release on Monday September 17, the MoJ said: "Evidence available to the Investigative Team has established that the current administration was not informed about the arrival of the containers and bags of money into the country."

The release, issued under the signature of Justice Minister and Attorney General Cllr. Frank Musa Dean, Jr., said: "As this is an ongoing and active investigation, the release of information to the public will be measured against the need to preserve the sanctity of the investigation and ensure that professional standards are not compromised."

The above statement did not, however, confirm the validity of the allegations, and the question now resonating in the public is, who could possibly be involved in the deal, and does the allegation confirm any procedure that may have been used by the Liberian government, through the Central Bank of Liberia, to bring money into the country?

The Central Bank of Liberia, in a telephone conversation Monday, flatly denied that containers consisting of bags of money had allegedly disappeared from the Freeport of Monrovia. "The CBL will issue an official statement on the situation today," CBL's Communication Director Cyrus Badio said. The records however show differently and make nonsense of Badio's denial.

Prior to the leak of the information to the media, informed sources told the Daily Observer there intelligence reports indicated that a huge consignment of printed Liberian banknotes, via the various ports of entry, had entered the country. This is confirmed by records detailing such information as the bills of lading, name of consignee, the arrival date of the containers and the dates on which they were checked out of the Freeport of Monrovia.

There is however little evidence to suggest neither that President Weah or his officials were actually informed by the then outgoing government it had pursued such q course of action to print additional Liberian dollars/ "We are doing our analysis of reports of illegal money printing and entry into the country," the source said.

It may be recalled that a local daily reported last week that agents of the National Security Agency(NSA) as well as the Liberia National Police(LNP) on September 13, 2018, raided the offices of the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) whose officers are alleged to have signed off for the container before it left the port.

The report has generated a lot of interest in social media. But the truth of the matter will be revealed as CBL provides its side of the story and as government security agencies work to reveal what might have happened as well as who might have been behind the mystery ship that reportedly brought such a huge consignment of money into the country only for it to allegedly disappear, like night at the break of day, while millions of Liberians, desperately in need of hard cash for economic and infrastructural development, wallow in base poverty. However, the identity of the shipping lines that brought the money into the country is revealed: MAERSK Liberia Limited.

According to a matrix of activities provided by a source within the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA), a copy of which is with the Daily Observer from 2016, 2017 and 2018, the CBL detailed its activities with MAERSK Liberia Limited in three major transactions from 2016, 2017 and 2018. The CBL brought three shipments to the country and took delivery of the contents of the ships. The Bill of Laden numbers for the first shipment brought into the country were 570422072, 710775940 and 710779058. Their Declaration References were C-6694, C-1141 and C-7250. The first container's commodity description was marked Liberian Banknotes and it was marked MRK-905-0460, though it did not say how much money and in what denominations were in it. This particular container that contained the Liberian Banknotes also had 47 other packages in it.

The second container in 2016 was marked MRSU-008-6377 and the commodity description was PRINTED MATERIAL. The last container marked MRSU-023-9049 the commodity description was marked PRINTED MATERIAL.

In 2017, the CBL again brought two containers into the country. According the records the two containers came on 21 and 28 of November 2017 and their special release dates were December 18, 2017 and November 20, 2017. The first one had MACHINERY as its commodity description and the second one had PRINTED MATERIAL.

1n 2018 the CBL brought in three separate consignments. The first two containers arrived in Liberia on January 17 and February 3, 2018 and their commodity description were marked PRINTED MATERIALS. The third container arrived on 25 March 2018 and it did not have any commodity description on it and the dates they left the country, that is the Freeport of Monrovia were also not marked.

What this information strongly suggests is for the General Auditing Commission to conduct a forensic audit of the government of President Sirleaf for accountability purposes if for nothing else than to know the full truth, according to observers.

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