21 September 2018

Liberia: 'Missing' L$16 Billion - Who Is Telling the Truth?

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(file photo).

Conflicting accounts by Finance Minister Samuel Tweah, Justice Minister Musa Dean and Information Minister Eugene Nagbe over the reported disappearance of 16 billion Liberian dollar banknotes have left the public wondering just who is telling the truth in this matter.

In a Wednesday, September 20 story by Daily Observer reporter Cewhy Kwanue, Nagbe is reported to have told the VOA Daybreak Africa Program that in November 2017, a batch of banknotes was brought into the country shortly before President Weah assumed office, claiming that President Weah had no prior knowledge of the money or container.

"Now, when the president received information about these newly-printed banknotes, he sanctioned an investigation, which is being chaired by the Ministry of Justice, the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), and other security apparatus. The idea is to understand how much money came into the country, how much was ordered, how much was printed, which country printed the money, and how did it affect the country's foreign exchange situation," Minister Nagbe said.

Continuing, he declared, "We can confirm that the money was brought through the Freeport of Monrovia and the Roberts International Airport and for now we can confirm that the amount was L$16 billion. An estimate of a little over US$60 million as far as we are concerned from ongoing investigation as of today, and it came in the two ports of entry," Minister Nagbe confirmed.

Earlier, on Monday, September 17, Justice Minister Frank Musa Dean had declared that the previous administration of President Sirleaf was responsible for the missing containers. He said "initial findings indicate that the container and bags of money allegedly arrived between November 2017, prior to the inauguration of the current government, and August 2018. 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", Minister Dean stressed.

But former President Sirleaf, commenting on the matter in an interview with FrontPageAfrica publisher, Rodney Sieh, indicated her displeasure over what she described as a wicked ploy to impugn her character and that of past officials adding, "I have been reliably informed that the Central Bank of Liberia has undertaken an internal investigation, and by a directive from the Minister of Justice provided a full report to the police".

Continuing she said, "the CBL has prepared a release that gives full evidence and clarification that refutes the statement of Minister of Information Eugene Nagbe. This had been held for two days, because the CBL Governor and the Minister of Justice have refused to approve the release. It is most unfortunate that the government would give false information that wickedly impugns the reputation of past officials and, by extension, the country itself."

The former President declared, not revealing her source, that she was reliably informed that the Central Bank of Liberia had undertaken an internal investigation, and provided a full report to the Police based on a directive from Justice Minister Dean. She said, once the evidence is made clear that the previous government has maintained its integrity on this matter, I request Deputy Governor Sirleaf to resign immediately,".

However, according to Justice Minister Dean, "initial findings indicate that the container and bags of money arrived between November 2017, prior to the inauguration of the current government. He emphasized that "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 Minister said.

Meanwhile Finance Minister Samuel Tweah, dismissing Information Minister Nagbe's claims, told the public, on a local radio Thursday, September 20, to pay no heed to the Information Minister's account on the missing billions, adding that the money had since been infused into the economy. His view was shared by former Republic of Liberia Comptroller-General Hassan Kiazolu now elected to the House of Representatives who also maintained that the money had been infused into the economy.

But in an unusual twist, current Republic of Liberia Comptroller-General Janga Kowo, reacting to Kiazolu's claims dismissed it out rightly, charging that Kiazolu did not know what he was talking about. He said money coming into the country does not go the Finance Ministry but rather to the Central Bank which is by law, the custodian of all funds coming into the country.

He added that any further movement of such money has to be documented which ostensibly creates a paper trail which can easily be followed and so, according to him, if the money was gradually infused into the economy as claimed by Finance Minister Tweah there should be evidence of that transaction, suggesting in effect that there was or is no paper trail to substantiate such claims.

Meanwhile, investigation continues.

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