Monrovia – The lingering mystery over the discovery of some 38 vehicles allegedly stolen from the United States of America cast a dark eye on Oragon Rent-A-Car International and its owner Dr. Nelson Oniyama.
Now, new information suggests that the company and its owner were actually victims of a well-organized criminal syndicates within the LRA, Customs and some well-placed officials in Liberia who have been taking advantage of major loopholes in government’s control systems to deny the country much-needed revenues, and never part of the scheme.
The vehicles in question were reportedly shipped to Liberia under false declarations and cleared at the Freeport of Monrovia allegedly with the aid of some customs officers, leaving many to wonder how existing mechanisms failed to catch on to the scheme before authorities jumped the gun into linking the rental car company and the Oniyama family to the scheme.
While this discovery was made through an LRA Anti-Smuggling and Intelligence Section investigation which was aided by the National Security Agency (NSA), the Office of the Solicitor General, Liberia National Police (LNP), Ministry of Transport and the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia, many are now wondering why both US and Liberian authorities allowed the vehicles to leave the US and then enter on Liberia’s soil.
The vehicles according to the LRA’s own investigation, were stolen for export oversee and loaded into shipping containers and accompanied by false documentation claiming the container holds a different type of cargo.
Investigators would later uncover that organized crime groups right in Liberia may have linked with overseas commercial cargo in a bid to carry out the scheme.
The syndicate, according to investigators, has been established in 2012.
In a few instances, duty-free privileges were used to conceal and import some of the stolen vehicles. In fact, the LRA’s own investigation determined that some of its custom officers were compromised.
“Our folks at Customs, according to our investigation did not exercise rightful due diligence in ensuring that proper controls were not put in place verification and ascertaining rightful ownership documents of the vehicles on these manifests.
More than that, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that mechanisms were put in place to mitigate an influx of stolen vehicles through our major port of entry – Freeport – as a stream of stolen vehicles will continue well over three years,” the investigators noted.
It is an argument Mr. Oniyama countered recently when he charged that if the anti-smuggling investigators were honest and qualified, they would have reported correctly that the custom officers, the consignors and consignees are to be held responsible for any international trade of stolen items or vehicles from other countries, not innocent buyers who rely on government due diligence and buy vehicles from local sellers.
Mr. Oniyama was emphatic when he spoke to FrontPageAfrica, insisting that Oragon did everything by the book – and everything right. “The Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) and custom higher authorities should identify the "bad eggs" and cover ups within their system and punish and replace them appropriately.”
In 2015, thirteen stolen luxury and middle-level vehicles easily made their way through the Freeport.
The movement of the vehicles through the Freeport of Monrovia, according to the investigators indicates how resilient the criminal enterprise had become with Customs at the Port and roaming freely.
Oragon Rent-A-Car International has also distanced itself from the allegation, noting that it has not purchased any car from the United States of America since 2013 when it broke away from AVIS Car Rental. “Neither Oragon nor the shareholders have any criminal records. Therefore, attempt to ruin the reputation and image of Oragon and its shareholders is wicked and callous,” the company said in a statement.
Oragon have stated for the record that its vehicles are imported from Europe through loan secured from Ecobank (Liberia) Limited.
The company says it has also purchased other vehicles locally from third parties/importers who paid all government taxes, had their vehicles registered with the Ministry of Transport and obtained valid license plates, validating that it followed the proper channels regarding the vehicles in its possession.
The company says it submitted a listing of all of its vehicles with their particulars – i.e. type, vin No. and license plate of each of its vehicles along with their supporting import documents.
More importantly, the company has said that the Government of Liberia through the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) has reviewed all Oragon Rent-A-Car International’s vehicles documents, and that the company is free from impropriety and taxes obligations.