Liberia: U.S. Says Evidence Being Gathered for Possible Sanctions Against Corrupt Officials of Government, Private Citizens

Monrovia — Visiting U.S State Department's Global Anti-Corruption Coordinator Richard Nephew said the U.S. is currently compiling evidence for possible imposition of sanctions against corrupt Liberian officials.

"Are we developing sanction cases and evidence for additional sanctions? Yes absolutely. We are constantly developing sanction cases," Nephew said in a live interview on OK FM, a local radio station in Monrovia.

"We have a very vigorous evidence gathering process that include using open source materials like civil society organizations and journalists... Our kind of sanction tool and sanction development, I can tell you, is not anything that is going to stop."

Ambassador Nephew, along with Shannon Green, USAID's Anti-Corruption Task Force Executive Director has been visiting Liberia and meeting with major stakeholders including government officials, integrity institutions and civil society organizations and the media to discuss ways on bolstering the fight against corruption.

Nephew's prime role as Coordinator on Global Anti-Corruption is to integrate and elevate the fight against corruption across all aspects of U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance, while the Executive Director of USAID's Anti-Corruption Task Force leads USAID's implementation of the U.S. Strategy on Countering Corruption.

Their trip to Liberia followed the sanctioning of three top Liberian Government officials including President George Weah Chief of Staff last year. Since then there have been mounting speculations that the U.S. is expected to unleash another batch of sanctions on perceived corrupt officials.

Responding, Nephew said while his visit to Liberia does not in no way indicate that the U.S. is about to announce another batch of sanctions, the government through relevant agencies is constantly developing evidence for possible sanctions.

He said while the U.S. will not show a specific date for the imposition of sanctions, his admittance should serve as warning to those engage in corruption to change their behavior.

"Our objectives by saying that, is to give those people who are engaged in corruption a more general warning. If you are robbing the people of Liberia then you need to stop. And you need to change your behavior now," he said.

Prosecution is Liberia's responsibility

The top U.S. Anti-graft envoys visit to Liberia also came amid mounting calls on the Liberian Government to prosecute the sanctioned officials. Following their designation by the U.S. Treasury Department for public corruption, the officials, Nathaniel McGill, Minister of State for Presidential Affairs and Chief of Staff of the President, Bill Twehway, Managing Director, National Port Authority and Cllr. Sayma Syrenius Cephus, Solicitor General of Liberia, though denied any wrong doing, resigned from their respective positions. McGill and Twehway have expressed their intentions to contest the senatorial seat within their respective counties.

Their critics say they should be barred from contesting and face prosecution. But the government has been reluctant to prosecute, citing lack of evidence.

Asked if the U.S. was willing to assist the Liberian Government with the evidence to try the sanctioned officials, Nephew said prosecution was solely the prerogative of the Liberian Government. He said since his arrival, he has gathered that the people do not trust the system to ensure accountability.

Sanction, he said is a reliable foreign policy tool used by the U.S. to combat corruption in that they expose corrupt officials and pave the way to change their behaviors. But most importantly, it creates the opportunity for host nations harboring these corruption officials to prosecute them in line with their local laws.

He called on the Government of Liberia to listen it its citizens and begin the prosecution of corrupt officials to end the culture of impunity. He then warned that "Anyone who provides support to sanctioned officials will be sanctioned."

Telling the hard truth

Tuesday was the busiest day of the pair's visit to Liberia. They met with the Minister of Justice and Attorney General Cllr. Frank Musa Dean and his team,and Finance and Development Planning Minister Samuel Tweah, Jr.

Addressing a press conference at the U.S. Embassy alongside Ms. Green, Amb. Nephew told journalist that in the meetings, they expressed the United States' concern about widespread corruption in Liberia and called on the government to listen to its citizens' demand to hold those involved in the menace accountable.

"It is our view, it is our belief that the people of Liberia are demanding accountability and demanding a demonstration that the government will hold accountable those who are engaged in corrupt act. And we very much encouraged, we very much hope and urge the Government of Liberia to investigate allegations of corrupt behavior and to prosecute those accused accordingly.

Ms. Greene added: "It was time the Liberia Government step up its fight against corruption. The U.S. Government is an enduring partner of Liberia, and part of that partnership is to be true to one another, and one of the truths we have been saying is that corruption is really undermining the promise of Liberia; that the government must step up its fight against corruption, particularly in the run up to the elections.

Continuing, she said: "And it will take that persistent urgent action to hold corrupt officials accountable to unleash the progress that is available for all Liberians and to deliver on its development promises and other economic activities."

On day one of its inception, the Biden Harris' administration declared corruption a national security threat. Since then, the administration continues to exert pressure on its allies to exercise the political will in fighting corruption.

Ms. Green said part of their visit is to work with relevant authorities and make recommendations aimed at strengthening the fight against graft. And some of these recommendations include staffing and empowering integrity institutions, prosecuting corrupt officials, working with the Legislature to act on audit reports and make voting records public.

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