Liberia: "Missing L$16b Report Due in February" - Pres. Weah

President George M. Weah, during his second Annual Address to the Joint session of the National Legislature on January 28, 2019.

Pres. George Weah: "This Order recognizes existing imperatives that government must tackle."

Amid claims over the government's delay in releasing the report on the investigation conducted by international experts, including those from the United States, the African Union (AU), the European Union (EU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), President George Weah said in his annual address on Monday, January 28, 2019, that the report will be ready for the public by the end of February.

He said the report will be delivered to the public by a special technical team of investigators from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

While delivering his second state of the nation address before the 54th Legislature on Capitol Hill in Monrovia, Weah said: "... the Liberian news media circulated stories alleging that containers of Liberian dollars imported by the Central Bank were missing.

"Given the gravity of the allegation, our administration took several actions in response, including the setting up of a special presidential technical committee to investigate," he said.

He continued, "In addition, the government requested the assistance of the EU, AU, ECOWAS and the U.S. government to conduct a separate and standard investigation into the alleged missing money and with the assistance from USAID, an audit team from London was invited to independently investigate and report the findings."

President Weah meanwhile warned, "If it is established that there has been any willful act of criminality, negligence or maleficence by anyone implicated by the report, the full weight of the law will be brought to bear."

On Monday, September 17, 2018, Justice Minister Frank Musa Dean declared that the previous administration of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was responsible for the missing containers of money. 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 established that the current administration was not informed about the arrival of the containers and bags of money into the country."

President Sirleaf told a local media publisher that there was a wicked ploy to impugn her character and that of past officials. "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."

She added, "The CBL has prepared a release that gives full evidence and clarification that refute 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 said 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.

Information Minister Lenn Eugen Nagbe, who was said to have escalated the matter by raising the initial reported amount of L$9 billion to L$16 billion, said in a Voice of America (VOA) early morning interview that when the President received the information about the newly-printed banknotes, he sanctioned an investigation, which was being chaired by the Ministry of Justice, the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), and other security apparatuses.

"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.

"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 the ongoing investigation as of today, and it came in two ports of entry," he confirmed.

Two civil society organizations -- Citizens United for the Campaign of Bring Back Our Money (CUCOMB) and the Economic Freedom Fighters of Liberia (EFFL) -- jointly staged a peaceful demonstration calling on the government to speedily investigate the alleged mysterious disappearance of containers said to have been filled with billions of Liberian dollars.

Following their protests, a series of communications were served the international community through the offices of ECOWAS, EU, the U.S. Embassy, and AU in the country, an act which prompted the Government of Liberia to create investigative teams, including the current international team of investigators, to find out what happened to the money under question.

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