Liberia: Top Aides - Shaw, Bernard Vs. Mcgill, Tweah - in Fight for the President's Ears

The Supreme Court of Liberia

Monrovia — A major and intense friction is said to be ruffling feathers amongst President George Weah's principal advisors. FrontPageAfrica has learned that Presidential advisors Emmanuel Shaw and Archibald Bernard have been at loggerheads with the President's principal aides and central Cabinet figures, Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, Nathaniel McGill and Minister of Finance, Samuel Tweah over influence and access to the President.

Multiple sources confirmed to FPA recently that the feud which started from the early days of the Weah presidency is resurfacing at rapid speed with both Shaw and Bernard reportedly prevailing on the President to part ways with his trusted Cabinet officials.

In July 2018, when murmurs of the feuds emerged, Minister Tweah played down the reports, insisting that he and Shaw were on good terms. "Shaw and I are on good terms and there's nothing suggesting that we have a conflict for which he intends calling for my resignation."

That was nearly two years ago. Now, FPA has learned, the feud is spiraling out of control.

Divided Loyalties; Internal Wrangling

Both Shaw, Bernard and Economic Advisor Charles Bright, recently approached the president about the idea of letting his two Cabinet ministers go.

President Weah, reportedly concerned about division within his ranks, is said to be unsure what to do about the divided loyalties and the potential implications on his presidency.

The President's ties with McGill goes far back to his breakup with Ambassador Winston Tubman.

In June 2011, then presidential contender Weah, reluctantly ran second to Tubman on the CDC's ticket after a failed attempt to form what many considered to be a Dream Ticket with Late Liberty Party leader, Charles Walker Brumskine.

A Tubman-Weah alliance looked formidable but just not strong enough to unseat the incumbent, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.

Following the elections the relationship between the pair soured and in what one eyewitness described as a testy parting meeting between Tubman and Weah, the football icon turned to McGill, who had been a long-time ally of Tubman, and said: "I'm leaving this, are you coming?" to which McGill reportedly obliged and left Tubman for good.

Since then, the source said, Mr. Weah has held McGill as one of his loyal aides. Parting with him now, the source said could be difficult.

Tweah, a long-time party faithful is held highly by President Weah and has onslaught of calls for the President to dismiss him in the wake of a dismal economy.

But the economy, according to the source is not the primary reason Mr. Shaw and Bernard are eyeing McGill and Tweah out.

LBDI Loans Shaw; Loita Connections

Both Shaw and Bernard, the source explains see McGill and Tweah as standing in their way and their interests.

Shaw reportedly has close ties with Loita Capital Partners International, a division of the Loita Group with headquarters in Mauritius, which in January forged a partnership with the Liberian Bank for Development & Investment.

As part of the partnership, Loita aided the opening in Monrovia the investment banking unit of the LBDI, undertaken with the support of the Central Bank of Liberia, the Government of Liberia and the National Investment Commission (NIC).

Loita recently created a discount facility for the National Social Security and Welfare Corporation (NASSCORP), which was, inter alia, to refinance the Jahmale Diagnostic Medical Centre in Paynesville.

Loita, according to its website, has also been instrumental in advising on, structuring and placing the US$52 million facilities for the Liberian Bankers Association, which benefits the Commercial Banking Sector of Liberia through Afrexim Bank.

FrontPageAfrica has learned that Loita was also a major player for Liberia in the Sime Darby Concession equity interest sale.

In January, SDP announced the completion of sale of its entire 100% equity interest in Sime Darby Plantation (Liberia) Inc. (SDPL) to Mano Palm Oil Industries Limited (MPOI). The Bursa Malaysia filing follows an earlier press statement in December 2019 that a Sale & Purchase Agreement (SPA) of the asset was being finalized.

Under the SPA, SDP's entire equity in SDPL was sold to MPOI for a total cash consideration of USD1 plus an Earn-Out Payment, the sum of which will be determined by the average future crude palm oil (CPO) price and future CPO production of SDPL in year 2022. The earn-out consideration is payable in equal quarterly instalments over a period of eight (8) years, commencing April 2023.

In addition to exploring ways to diversify Liberia's financial services to support public and private sector, in accessing international markets for long-term financing needs, the company has also been involved in helping the GoL through the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, on various disposal strategies for the PUTU iron ore mine, as well as the development of Rail and Port infrastructure in Liberia.

Ironically, Shaw's daughter, Lamelle works with Loita as a communications consultant in the company's Johannesburg office.

Prior to the partnership, Mr. Shaw, FPA has learned secured a US$2 milion loan from LBDI in relations to the divestiture of his shares in MTN.

The source says while Mr. Shaw is not listed on the company's profile as a shareholder, he does wield influence.

Shaw, Bernard & Failed Eton Loan

Both Mr. Shaw and Mr. Bernard were heavily involved in the failed ETON Finance Private Limited, although Shaw later distanced himself amid earlier strains with Minister Tweah.

Bernard's relationship with Weah goes way back to the 1980s when he was President of the Invincible XI and Weah was the team's star player.

Shaw's relationship is more perplexed. Many in the inner circle are unsure how far back it goes.

Nevertheless, diplomatic observers have quietly expressed concerns about the close proximity of Shaw to the Weah presidency.

Shaw's rise to prominence mirrors a chameleon of sorts. He has been successful in reinventing himself and building alliance with the leaders of the day.

Shaw, then a rising star in the True Whig Party was tipped by late President William R. Tolbert to chair a committee setup to get the views of people around the country and make recommendations in a bid to make adjustments in the party and the country and make it more inclusive to all Liberians, in the aftermath of the April 14, 1979 Rice Riots.

The riots led to millions of dollars in damage and many Liberians lost their lives.

Shaw got his break during the civil war. He spent his time in South Africa where multiple stories about his escapades dominated the headlines and a few wanted posters on the streets of Johannesburg.

In December 1990, the Mail & Guardian under the headline: 'His main occupation was stealing'; cited US court documents showing how Shaw privatized Liberia's oil industry to benefit himself.

Shaw's trail of Bad Schemes

The article which was published after Mr. Shaw was tipped to help reshape South Africa's oil industry, reported that Shaw was accused in a United States court of masterminding a fraudulent scheme to pocket the profits from Liberia's petrol sales while serving as the country's finance minister.

The newspaper published court papers which offered an astonishing expose of one of the most ambitious money-making schemes pulled off by Mr. Shaw while in power under the Liberian dictator Samuel Doe.

The papers also include several blanket indictments of Shaw such as: "It was common knowledge in Liberia, and internationally as well, that his [Shaw's] main occupation while holding the office of Minister of Finance was to steal as much money as possible from the government and people of Liberia."

In 1991, when Liberia was still at war, a court filing in New York alleged that Mr. Shaw commandeered the Liberian National Petroleum Company (LNPC), set up by him in January 1989 making him the "sole and exclusive supplier of petroleum products" to the Liberian market. Also saw him having a 60% stake in the company.

According to the report, citing US court document, after resigning before Doe's downfall, Shaw wrote a letter to the LNPC as if he were still finance minister, in which he confessed that the government owed the millions to the LNPC. "In effect Mr. Shaw, acting as finance minister, negotiated and signed the two guarantee agreements relied on by plaintiff in order to assure his own company payment of $20-million," the US court was told by a representative of the interim government of Liberia, which took over after Doe was executed. The interim government was the defendant in the case."

The report added that Mr. Shaw's letter persuaded the British High Court - presumably unaware that Shaw and his accomplices were actually the plaintiffs - to order the government of Liberia to pay up about $US8.4-million in August 1990. "With Liberia crumbling, no defense was mounted by the country's government. The British court attached a Liberian Boeing 707 parked at Stansted airport as security and issued an injunction over other Liberian assets. Shaw obtained an injunction on more Liberian assets in a New York court in 1990 and then tried to pull off the same trick by suing for $19 million in a US district court in New York. But by then the interim Liberian government was ready to defend itself and Judge David Edelstein of the US District Court of Southern New York dismissed the case. The lifting of the injunction allowed the Liberian interim government to tap about $16-million that had been frozen."

Cllr. Philip Banks III, who was minister of justice at the time argued that Mr. Shaw was operating an ingenious scheme.

Banks argued that in 1986 Shaw, Liberia's justice minister Jenkins Scott and several other private individuals started plotting to acquire control over the sale of all petroleum products in Liberia. Their plan came to fruition in January 1989 with the creation of the LNPC, which immediately triggered a fuel price rise.

"Although the monopoly power exercised by LNPC inured directly to the benefit of Minister Shaw, who held a substantial ownership interest in LNPC, it came at the direct expense of the Liberian government and people. As soon as LNPC obtained control over the supply of petroleum products to Liberia, the price of those products increased sharply."

Banks, according to the report, said that the exclusive contract between LNPC and Liberia's existing national petrol company - the Liberian Petroleum Refining Company - was condemned by the judiciary committee of Liberia's House of Representatives, which said the agreement "brings in no new investment and will only raise the cost of products for LPRC". The house declared the contract null and void, Banks said.

Banks explained how Shaw secured himself a 60% stake in the new oil company through a company called Synergy Resources and also siphoned off all the lease payments LNPC was supposed to make to LRPC under the January 1989 agreement. Those payments were made to a company called Global Enterprises, which was owned and managed by Shaw.

Shaw was the LNPC's chief executive and later appointed as president his trusted associate Mark Wolman. Wolman, a South African, ran a private oil company called Tiger Oil, which was a key sanctions'- buster. Shaw acted as a "consultant" for Tiger when he arranged for it an exclusive contract to supply petroleum products to the LPRC in 1987 in a similar scheme to the one he pulled off with the LNPC. Wolman was brutally murdered in Cape Town in what appeared to be an execution by a drug gang. Shaw's passport was found in Wolman's briefcase.

In 2003, The United Nations Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1521 (2003) concerning Liberia restricted Mr. Shaw and several of Mr. Taylor's closest aides from traveling while also freezing their assets.

Although the sanctions were lifted during the Sirleaf-led government, much of the international community's concerns stemmed from the notorious Dutch gun-runner Gus Kouwenhoven, who made public a communication from Mr. Shaw detailing how he and Shaw were involved in various corrupt schemes in which he and Kouwenhoven engaged.

The Sirleaf Withdrawal

In 2012, former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was pressured by the US. Embassy to withdraw Shaw's nomination as chairman of the board of the Roberts International Airport (RIA).

In announcing Mr. Shaw's recall, Sirleaf through an Executive Mansion statement, wrote: "The Office of the President has issued the following statement said the appointment was intended to bring an experienced financial and aeronautical professional to assist in developing the plans for modernizing Roberts International Airport and to guide the process for correcting the continued difficulties found in International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) assessments of the airport safety and operational adequacy. "The assignment was meant to be temporary as the Government seeks management that is willing to assume responsibility for planning and implementing the long-delayed development of RIA and other domestic airports. However, given details regarding sanctions imposed against Mr. Shaw by the United Nations and the United States Government that have been brought to her attention, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has withdrawn the appointment."

While it is unclear how badly the ongoing wrangle will affect the presidency going forward, over the last few days, sources tell FPA, Bernard's influence appears to be withering. "The President doesn't listen to Archie the way he did in the beginning but for some strange reason, he seems to trust Shaw and seem impressed his maneuvers," the source concluded.

For Minister McGill and Tweah, nothing appears quite set in stone although, many insiders say, the President, while still continuing to have faith in the pair, is mindful of the implications of a lingering danger the internal squabbles could have on his own political survival.

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