28 September 2018

West Africa: Liberia - Ecowas, AU Expertise Requested As Anti-Corruption Commission Now Leads 'Missing Billions' Investigation

Monrovia — The Liberia National Police (LNP) will no longer lead the investigation into the alleged mysterious disappearance of 40-ft containers and bags of moneys amounting to L$15 billion from the Central Bank of Liberia, as the Ministry of Justice has mandated the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) to take charge.

It is not clear why the LNP will not head the investigation any longer in collaboration with the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) but a release from the Justice Ministry says, "The Government of Liberia (GOL) has submitted requests to the United Nations (UN), African Union (AU), and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) for expert assistance to the current investigation involving the Central Bank of Liberia."

On September 19, the Justice Ministry announced that it had invited the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to aid with the investigation. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) was also invited. In that same announcement, the National Bar Association, National Civil Society Organization, Federation of Liberian Youth, Association of Certified Accountants, Liberia Council of Churches and the National Muslim Council were included on the investigative team.

On September 20, the LACC, in a press release, said it considers as unfortunate, the decision of the Government to conduct an investigation into alleged missing money with the exclusion of the Commission on the Investigative Panel.

It is not clear whether the FBI will form part of the investigation, but according to reports, the U.S. Government said it is still reviewing the request made by the Liberian Government.

Former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who had been reacting to the news of missing containers of money since it broke last week, told the BBC that she's wondering why the Government, under President George Manneh's Weah, has refused to release the report of an internal investigation concluded by the Central Bank of Liberia.

"The Central Bank has already done an investigation on the direction of the Minister of Justice. Why haven't they released the report of the investigation? Why are they sitting on it? Has the President realized what he has done to the country? The reputation of the country is also at stake. They're talking about 16 billion, do they know what the GDP of this country is?" Madam Sirleaf said.

But the Central Bank in a recent release stated that it has not issued any final report to the investigative team to investigate the importation of moneys into the country by the Bank. According to the Central Bank, documents requested by the investigative team as being compiled include Financial Audited Statement dated December 31, 2016, December 31, 2017 and January 1, 2018 to present from Klyveld Peat Marwick Goerdeler (KPMG), Accra, Ghana, CBL's auditor; Vault cash balance at the Central Bank of Liberia and the National Housing and Savings Bank (both Liberian dollar and United States dollar) as at January 1, 2018 to present and the Government of the Republic of Liberia foreign reserve lodged with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York as at January 1, 2018 to present.

The Central Bank assured that it is working with the investigative team in verifying the existence of banknotes ordered and the accuracy of reported payments, balances (domestic and foreign) and receipts, as recorded in the accounting records in the Central Bank of Liberia in line with the laws and regulations, which effects will be considered in preparing the final report.

Travel ban

In the midst of the investigation, the Government of Liberia has, through a court order, issued a Writ of Ne Exeat Republica (restriction from traveling) on 35 employees of the Central Bank. Those banned from traveling include:

Dr. Milton Weeks, Charles Sirleaf, Dorbor Hagba, Richard H. Walker, Adolphus Forkpah, Cyrus Badio, Amie N. Rogers, Michael B. Ogun, James Wilfred, Joseph K. Jallah, Mounir Siaplay, Supuwood T. Tarpeh, Mussa A. Kamara, Mustapha E. Sherman, Sylvia Tarkpah, Joyce J. Dolo, George Wilson, Miatta Oberly Kuteh, Marica E. Grigsby-Toe, Musulyn RB Jackson, Maaka Amnlard, Prince Bull, Solomon Jaykpah, Theodoria, B. Jreh, oldada Deshield, Ophelia Nyenpan Barquolleh, Gabriel Zinnah ,Davison Lillie Ballah, Andrew Pabai, Edwina Edet, William Dargbeh, Stephen Nyenma, David M. Wilson, Lawrence Sirleaf.

The court order to the sheriff reads: "You're hereby ordered to arrest the living bodies of the defendants herein above named of the City of Monrovia, Montserrado County, the Republic of Liberia before this Honorable Court to answer to criminal charges levied against them by the Republic of Liberia, by and thru the Ministry of Justice."

Lawmakers on Banknotes Printing

Over the past few days, members of the Legislature have been agitating the decision by the Central Bank to print extra L$10 billion without their authorization. The lawmakers contended that the last authorization given the Central Bank to print new banknotes was in 2016 - only L$5 billion was authorized for the replacement of mutilated banknotes.

However, available documents show that the Central Bank operated under the mandate of the Legislature (both the House and the Senate) to print extra banknotes for the complete replacement of the legacy banknotes (Liberty) with the new design of the Liberian dollar printed in 2016.

This 'authorization' was contained in a July 19, 2017 communication from the Legislature to the Central Bank of Liberia.

The communication also authorized the Bank to mint coins in lower denominations to allow fractional transactions which would minimize inflation.

The letter asserted, "In the view of the above, and with the power assigned with the Legislature under Article 35(d) of the Constitution of the Republic of Liberia, this shall constitute your legal and sufficient authority."

However, most lawmakers still contend that the Central Bank should have informed them before going ahead with the printing and should have furnished both Houses with the volume of banknotes being printed.

Expert Opinion

Meanwhile, Cllr. Jerome Verdier, the former chairman of the defunct Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) giving his opinion said the joint resolution from the Legislature "absolutely surrendered, abrogated, delegated and arrogate its Constitutional authority and power to the CBL. Were this the case why would there be any talk by the legislature of limiting printing to 15bln."

"The transcription language or diction from a superior body to a subordinate body is required to be clear, simple, direct in such manner as to remove any doubts as to the meaning, intentions or will of the superior - unambiguous!"

His comments were in relation to part of the Legislature's communication which stated that "In the view of the above, and with the power assigned with the Legislature under Article 35(d) of the Constitution of the Republic of Liberia, this shall constitute your legal and sufficient authority."

He added: "In the military, it is said that a request from a superior officer is a COMMAND. But the Legislature and the CBL are operating in a civilian democratic environment where the language must be clear and direct. If a mandate, directive or instructions are issued let the appropriate terminology be used, for example, "by directive of" "you are instructed to" or "you are mandated to, directed to, or language of similar input.

"But to use words like "request" is a terminology from a subordinate to a superior and it's usually personal in most context. From one body or another like a superior body like the National Legislature in the subject at hand "request" was inappropriate. A request can be accepted or denied, it's a non-binding terminology in civilian setting.

"The joint resolution weakly or feebly said meanwhile, meaning an afterthought or something to consider or pass bye you:

"Meanwhile, the Legislature would REQUEST that you furnish this body with the appropriate details (vague) of the volume and denomination of the replacing banknotes prior to printing.

"In light of this, the Legislature has no case with Former President Sirleaf or her agent the Former CBL Governor on the volume of money printed except to question the economic sense and poor economic judgement exercised by them which may amount to fraud conspiracy or abuse of power and authority of a public office holder in acting on behalf of or in the interest of the public."


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