MONROVIA – Liberia’s Justice Minister Cllr. Frank Musa Dean, recently appointed by Liberian President George Manneh Weah to lead the investigation into a Global Witness report alleging that the US oil giant Exxon’s purchase of Liberia’s Block 13 was tainted with corruption has recused himself over concerns regarding a major conflict of interest.
In a statement following FrontPageAfrica inquiry, Cllr. Dean said:
As minister of Justice/Attorney General of the Republic of Liberia, I hereby recuse myself from the investigation commissioned by the President into the acquisition of the National Oil Company of Liberia’s Oil(NOCAL) Block 13 by Broadway Consolidated/Peppercoast (BCP) and its subsequent sale to Exxon Mobil. The decision to recuse myself is based on the fact that I served as President and Chief Executive Officer(CEO) of NOCAL between 2004 and January 2006. I have obtained the approval of the President, His Excellency, George Manneh Weah to recuse myself from the investigation.
In making this recusal, may I categorically state for the record that all oil blocks awarded between 2004 and January 2006 were awarded pursuant to the companies compliance with NOCAL’s full disclosure requirements under penalty of law.
Kindly note that my recusal is intended to avoid any semblance of conflict of interest and to ensure that the investigation is characterized by transparency and integrity.
In its report, the London-based watchdog group reported that some officials of the former Liberian government officials may have illegally owned an interest in the block through the company Broadway Consolidated/Peppercoast (BCP). Global Witness’ report also found large US$35,000 payments were made to top Liberian officials after Exxon got the block in 2013.
On Monday, GW urged the George Weah-led administration to ensure a fair and independent investigation into the Exxon Block 13 deal while stressing that Justice Minister Dean poses a major conflict of interest risk and should not head the investigation into Exxon’s Block 13 purchase.
Last Friday President Weah ordered a probe into the scandal and named the Justice Minister as the lead investigator. Global Witness said this week that while it welcomed the president’s move that the government will undertake a preliminary investigation into corruption in Liberia’s oil sector, it cautioned that conflicts of interest within the Ministry of Justice unit could undermine the review.
“It’s very encouraging that President Weah has called for an investigation into the 2013 Block 13 deal,” said Jonathan Gant, Senior Campaigner at Global Witness. “However, the review must be led by an independent investigator and not by Minister Dean.”
Block 13 was originally awarded by NOCAL in 2005 to Liberian-Anglo company Broadway Consolidated/Peppercoast (BCP). In 2007, BCP’s Block 13 license was ratified by the Liberian legislature through bribery. Minister Dean was no longer the President of NOCAL at this time. Global Witness’ evidence shows that, in 2005, BCP was likely part-owned by former Mining Minister Jonathan Mason and former Deputy Minister Mulbah Willie. If so, it would have been illegal for them to benefit from the award of the block.
GW said the Government investigation will examine “allegations of bribery and misuse” outlined in multiple recent publications, including the Global Witness report.
Justice Minister Frank Musa Dean is tasked with heading the investigation, despite posing a clear conflict of interest. Minister Dean was the President of NOCAL in 2005, when the agency awarded BCP Block 13, and was one of the Liberian officials who signed BCP’s contract.
Global Witness calls on this investigation to be independent and thorough, and asks that the Liberian Government hold accountable any individuals or companies that are found to have broken the law, while also respecting the due process rights of those being questioned.
GW noted that the investigation must also be conducted with integrity. For this reason, Justice Minister Dean cannot be involved, given his earlier role. He should immediately hand responsibility to an independent investigator who was not attached to the Block 13 award, either in 2005 or 2013.
“President Weah has promised Liberians that he will tackle Liberia’s endemic corruption. This is his first major test in office to see if he will make good on that promise,” said Gant. “Calling for this investigation is a good start. Now the President should ensure it is independent and fair – and it cannot be as long as it is led by Justice Minister Dean.”