Liberia: A Tragedy of Errors – Printing of New Banknotes Unlikely by X-Mas as New Questions Arise
GENEVA – Printing of new Liberian dollar banknotes is unlikely to happen before the busy and festive holiday season. FrontPageAfrica has learned that efforts by the George Manneh Weah-led government is being stifled in light of new information reaching FPA that the Swedish money-maker, Crane Currency has submitted a stinging response to the USAID-Backed Kroll report into the missing LD 16 billion scandal, detailing a litany of errors Crane believes misrepresented its role in the saga.
Report by Rodney D. Sieh, [email protected]
FrontPageAfrica has learned that Kroll will now most likely be asked to look at the new information provided by Crane in which the Swedish money maker suggests that the Presidential Investigative Team Crane double-counted in referring to waybill from SM Brussels. Crane, according to the new information viewed by FPA, says no extras other than the 15.5 billion ever came to Liberia.
Complicating matters is the new diplomatic twist beyond Sweden and now involving the Americans.
FPA has learned that some diplomats, especially the Swedes, have alarmed over what they believe is the Weah administration’s lack of evidence against Crane, a Swedish Company that was recently bought by an American firm based in Connecticut for US$800 million. The Swedish embassy, FPA has learned appears keen on establishing the facts and reportedly met the delegation from Crane last week. Crane is no longer just a company with Swedish interests but an American as well – in the wake of its recent acquisition.
A Litany of Errors Unraveled by Crane
The Crane revelation could shed new light into the missing billions saga with both Kroll and the PIT set to revisit their respective reports as the Weah administration work the clock in revamping the economy and fast-tracking the printing of new banknotes.
The crux of Crane’s argument is based on a March 2019 response from Crane to Kroll.
When investigators from both Crane and Kroll began probing into the scandal, lawyers from CRANE CURRENCY, were busy preventing lawyers and people with knowledge of what could have gone wrong, from speaking on their alleged role into how LD16 billion vanished into thin air and into a sea of misconceptions dubbed Liberia’s Missing Billions saga.
When Crane finally decided to open up, the damage had already been done.
Anders Blomberg Managing Director, Crane, in a response to Mr. Paul Nash, Associate Managing Director in Business Intelligence and Investigations practice at Kroll, cited a number of errors he says put the company in a bad light.
Said Blomberg: “Your report has raised a concern about inconsistent or incorrect shipping documents relative to the banknotes that were delivered by Crane to the CBL. To dispel this concern, we have prepared a detailed schedule that reconciles each shipping document against our production records, and as against the shipping records referred to in your report (taken from the CBL’s Internal Audit records) to confirm that every banknote Crane manufactured was delivered to and accepted by the CBL.”
Crane said it observed that there were errors in the schedule contained in the Kroll report, which resulted in one shipment being double counted, and one shipment not being counted at all, with a net effect of your report showing LRD 1,944,000,000 more banknotes shipped than were actually shipped.
Said Blomberg: “We can appreciate the difficulty you faced in preparing this report given the exigent circumstances you must have been under to deliver your final report, but we trust these clarifications and corrections will allow you to re-issue your report, or at a minimum, a corrective statement. We are available to discuss this with you at your convenience.”
On May 6, 2016, Crane entered into the first of two currency printing contracts with the Central Bank of Liberia (“CBL”), relating to the 2016 series of banknotes. This occurred after a meeting in Monrovia on April 26, 2016 several of the duly authorized members of the CBL. Upon conclusion of the meeting, CBL presented an unconditional bid award letter to Crane.
On July 28, 2017, Crane entered into the second contract relating to the 2017 reprint of banknotes (the “2017 Contract”).
“What we observed is that there were errors in the schedule contained in your report, which resulted in one shipment being double counted, and one shipment not being counted at all, with a net effect of your report showing LRD 1,944,000,000 more banknotes shipped than were actually shipped.”
– Anders Blomberg Managing Director, Crane
Blomberg informed Nash that as with the 2016 Contract, the 2017 Contract was negotiated and agreed with senior members of the CBL.
Crane entered into both contracts in reasonable reliance on the CBL’s apparent authority to lawfully award and enter into the subject contracts.
At all points, Blomberg says, Crane worked with officials from the CBL to enter into and perform under the contracts, and was not aware of any fact that would suggest the CBL was not fully authorized to award and execute the 2016 and the 2017 Contracts.
Blomberg dismisses Kroll’s contention that as per both contract award letters, and the 2016 and 2017 Contracts left room for overproduction of Banknotes.
Section 5.3 of the Kroll Report asserts that Crane overproduced banknotes outside of the contract bounds, and sold them to the CBL without mutual consent or agreement. “As noted in your report, the 2016 Contract specifically contemplated that, given the nature of specialized, multi-step printing process required for banknote printing, a margin of error was built into production to ensure that clients’ delivery needs were met. When the excess notes were identified, the CBL was given the option of (i) having the excess notes destroyed; (ii) asking Crane to hold the notes in safe storage for use on later banknote production requests for the CBL; or (iii) sell the excess notes to the CBL. The CBL specifically elected to receive the excess notes at the unit price of the 2016 Contract (expressed as $62.583 USD per 1000 banknote pieces).”
Crane: Excess Notes Not Part of Scheduled Shipment
Crane contends that when overproduction occurred again under the 2017 Contract, Crane offered the excess stock this time to CBL free of charge, requesting only that the CBL to pay the shipping costs for the excess notes. Again, Blomberg notes in his communication to Nash, that the CBL instructed Crane to again deliver all of the excess notes produced, at no cost to the CBL other than the cost of shipping.
These actions, Blomberg asserts were taken with the express mutual consent of Crane and the CBL, and duly memorialized.
The Kroll report notes that the final balance due to Crane by the CBL was paid four weeks prior to the final delivery of banknotes as scheduled in the 2017 Contract. But Blomberg points out to Nash that Crane delivered the last contract shipment under the 2017 Contract on January 7, 2018 and issued its final invoice on February 5, 2018. “Subsequent to the last contracted shipment, but before the issuance of the final invoice, Crane and the CBL agreed on January 23, 2018 to the shipment of the excess notes on the 2017 Contract which obviously could not be included in the final contract shipment.”
In any event, Blomberg said, the shipment of the agreed excess notes was not part of the scheduled shipment of banknotes under the 2017 Contract.
Said Blomberg: “The issuance of the final contract invoice, therefore, did not pre-date by four weeks the final contract shipment
Blomberg also suggest an oversight on the part of Crane regarding the 2017 Contract excess notes on payments on the Shortage of Banknotes. “Section 18.104.22.168 of the Report asserts that Crane received an overpayment from the CBL for the cost of printing 750,000 LRD 20 banknote pieces that were not delivered to the CBL. Respectfully, this too, is an oversight.”
But Blomberg says, Crane expressly notified the CBL that due to a printing error, there was a shortage of 750,000 LRD 20 banknote pieces, and that Crane would deduct the cost of the shortage on its final invoice. In fact, the final invoice contains a line specifically noting that the deduction had been applied. The chart below identifies how the math works for this calculation, based on the 2017 Contract value of $10,121,689 USD.
Mum Crane Finally Opening Up
Crane had previously told FrontPageAfrica that it does not comment about our customers or potential customers.
But in March, the company issued a statement, clarifying that it had not been charged with any crime in Liberia, and at all times Crane has operated in full compliance with the law and rejects completely any allegation of wrongdoing.
The Swedish company denied receiving kickbacks to print more money than it was contracted to print. “That allegation is false and without merit. Crane fulfilled its contractual obligations as set out in two delivery contracts and two subsequent documented agreements between the CBL for Crane to deliver the finished banknotes, and every banknote delivered was properly invoiced and accounted for. Crane was paid in full the correct amount (and no more) as had been agreed with our Liberian customer for these contracted deliveries of banknotes, and there were no excess or improper payments made by the CBL or any other party.”
Crane indicated that since its founding in 1865, it has operated with the highest standards of ethics and integrity. All employees are bound to operate in spirit and in practice with the resolution of our founder R.T. Crane, who stated on July 4, 1855: “I am resolved to conduct my business in the strictest honesty and fairness; to avoid all deception and trickery; to deal fairly with both customers and competitors; to be liberal and just toward employees; and to put my whole mind upon the business.” We are also an independently audited member of the Banknote Ethics Initiative.
Crane challenged the allegations and declared: “In the spirit of openness and transparency, we have also shared all relevant evidence from within Crane with the authors of the Kroll and Presidential Investigation Team reports.”
Team From Crane in Monrovia
Last week, the saga took a decisive turn when a delegation from Crane arrived in Monrovia in hopes of resolving the issues that dragged the company in a controversy that has ripped Liberia for the past years.
A diplomatic source confirmed to FrontPageAfrica at the weekend that a serious conversation is ongoing between the Liberian government and international stakeholders in a bid to establish the facts surrounding the outstanding issues from both the Presidential Investigative Team(PIT) and the Kroll Report over the missing LD16 billion and the US$25 million mop up money, which could pave the way for the printing of new local currencies as the George Weah-led government race against time to solve issues surrounding the dismal economy ahead of the festive holiday season.
While in Monrovia, the Crane delegation is holding talks with officials of government including the Central Bank of Liberia and members of the national legislature in a bid to resolve the sticking points raised in both the Kroll and PIT reports.
The unresolved issues between Liberia and Crane has been complicated by what sources say, was the Liberian government’s decision to take legal actions against Crane. Crane’s lawyers, according to one source, acted the way they did because the GOL had taken the matter to court. “Only the legal people who did not have the details were allowed to handle the situation,” a source speaking on condition of anonymity told FPA Sunday.
New LD Notes Unlikely Before X-Mas
Establishing the facts of the saga is critical before any new money can be printed. This is why, FPA has learned, the new developments could make it difficult for any new monies to be printed before the festive holiday season.
Both Crane and Weah administration officials are quietly convinced that from the look of things, no money was ever missing which could give the government the greenlight to print with Crane and get cheaper or more flexible payment terms considering current fiscal situation. But whichever way it turns, out, the source said, “printing of new money is unlikely to happen before Christmas, considering the short time remaining.”
The main issue now being debated is whether Crane prints the same design that sparked the controversy – or change to a new design before printing new money.
A key reason why many Liberians favor the printing of a new design of LD notes, is because of the PERCEPTION that money was missing in the last printing exercise. But one diplomat said Sunday that even if it is clear no money is missing, for the government’s long-term survival and confidence, it would be good for the administration to approve a new design bank-notes.
Despite the public sentiments, some diplomatic observers do not appear to hold the view that money went missing even as the tragedy of errors unravels.
LACC Report to Raise Procedural Issues
FrontPageAfrica has also learned that the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission(LACC) will soon issue report confirming that no money was missing in mop-up but is expected to raise potential money laundering issue. “Where did CBL staff take the LRD from, if the businesses they claim they traded with are saying they did not interact with the CBL staff,” a source privy to the background discussions confided to FPA at the weekend.
The LACC’s finding, FPA has learned, will conform with the GAC’s findings, which accounted for 2.3 billion but raised accounting and procedural issues. The report which has been viewed by FPA will state that CBL staffers deviated from the framework of the MOP-up exercise conducted in the past by the CBL.
A senior administration official said Sunday: “Clarifying that no money went missing in the two cases is a major step to assuring and reestablishing public confidence in the CBL and the banking sector at large.”
FPA has also learned, that the CBL officials currently charged, including former Governor J. Milton Weeks and his Deputy for Operations, Charles Sirleaf, are prepared to concede to violating the law in not seeking authority from the legislature. “This means the government may only hold them on this and not for any extra money as alleged in the PIT report,” the source explained.
With the Weah administration racing against time to flood the market with new banknotes, many consumers are scratching their heads and the administration scrambling for answers.
In February, the USAID-backed Kroll report concluded that it was unable to reconcile the total value of disbursements for the period January 2016 to December 2018 with the total value of legacy and new banknotes disbursed for the corresponding period. Kroll then recommended that a full forensic audit of disbursements from the CBL for the period January 2016 to December 2018 be undertaken, which should include an exercise to verify, that disbursements from the CBL have actually been received in full by the stated recipients, using a risk-based approach.
The investigation came following a request of the Liberian government to the United States Agency for International Development which issued a tender to contract an independent forensic investigation firm to conduct a scoping report engagement to ascertain the basic facts of the alleged disappearance of the new banknotes, and to determine to what extent a broader investigation would be required into the matter to help achieve a clearer understanding of the currency situation.
Kroll Associates, Inc. was engaged by USAID on November 21, 2018 to undertake a scoping report (hereafter the “Independent Review”) into the alleged disappearance of new banknotes. The allegations relate to new banknotes ordered by the CBL from Crane AB, a Swedish banknote manufacturer. Crane AB operates as a subsidiary of a US corporation, Crane and Co. Inc.
Kroll Redacted Portion Concerns Key to New Printing
For confidentiality purposes, Kroll redacted commercially sensitive information and removed the names of non-elected or confirmed persons in this report.
It is those redacted portions of the report, FPA has learned, has now become a matter of concern for diplomatic stakeholders, who are pressing for all unresolved issues to be addressed prior to the printing of additional money of the same design by the Weah administration.
Similarly, a report by PIT concluded that given the many discrepancies as to the total and actual amount of new Liberian banknotes printed, shipped and received by CBL, thereby creating doubts as to the total amount of Liberian dollar banknotes in circulation; as well as, the negative impact said discrepancies are having on the economy, recommended the demonetization of the current Liberian dollar banknotes(new and legacy)
The PIT probe found that the action of Mr. Charles Sirleaf, in the discharging of his duties as Acting Executive Governor of the CBL for endorsing the printing of the $146,250,000.00 Liberian dollar banknotes above the approved amount of 5,000,000 Liberian dollar banknotes and thereby incurring an extra cost.
The PIT probe noted: “Given the scope limitation that the PIT-TC encountered, the investigation recommends that a forensic examination of foreign currency banknotes and foreign currency auction/exchange be conducted.”
Said PIT: “Given the many discrepancies noted in the manner in which the mop-up exercise was conducted in relation to the infusion of the US$25 Million into the Liberian economy; and the scope, time and financial resource limitations of the PIT-TC, the investigation recommends that the TEMT and CBL put a halt to the exercise, and that a forensic investigation of the entire mop-up exercise be conducted without delay.”
PIT said given the many discrepancies observed throughout the investigation in relation to the operations of the CBL in executing the statutory mandate, there is a need to review the Standard Operational Procedures(SOP), banking supervision and internal controls of the CBL to curb the possibility of abuse of the money supply of the nation; as well, enhancing efficiency and productivity. “To further protect the currency banknotes in reserve, CBL should consider discontinuing the use of the Vault at the erstwhile National Housing and Savings Bank.”
A Tricky Point of Contention
Where it becomes tricky is the issue of the printing of new money.
FPA has learned that part of the reason CRANE is in town is to clear its name before proceeding to printing new money.
Crane’s quest to clear its name is key to any conclusion reached at the printing of new money. The government had reportedly contacted Thomas De la Rue firm but were told by the company that it needs more time to come up with specimen. Given the administration is pressed, they could not afford to wait that long and decided to stick with Crane Currency.
It can be recalled that Crane was accused last March of receiving over €700,000 for printing additional Liberian dollar bank notes, over and above what had been contracted. The report said Crane, which was a party to two contracts to print Liberian dollars, “knowingly and willfully conspired with officials of the CBL to defraud the Government of Liberia.”
In the PIT Report, investigators concluded: “The action of CRANE AB SE-14782 Tumba Sweden, a company duly contracted by the Government of Liberia, through the Central Bank of Liberia in two separate contracts to print the total of L$15,000,000,000(fifteen billion Liberian Dollar Banknotes) at the total cost of US$15,331,689.20, knowingly and willfully conspired with officials of the CBL to defraud the GOL, thereby ignoring the terms and conditions of the contract by printing L$18,151,000,000 in complete breach of the contract, and thereby incurring extra cost of US$835,367.72 to the GOL; is in violation of the following provisions of the Penal Law of the Republic of Liberia and should be charged and prosecuted for same.”
Following the revelations in the PIT report, the government announced that it was excluding Crane Currency from all future contracts in Liberia following the missing money scandal as the government announced plans to print new banknotes to replace all notes currently in circulation, which could include those that were allegedly fraudulently printed by Crane Currency.
Source: Charges Likely to be Dropped Against Crane
With a lot at stake for both Liberia and Crane, FrontPageAfrica has learned that the delegation from the money maker in Monrovia met with key stakeholders at the weekend, requesting intervention for CRANE to print the money. Multiple sources have confirmed to FPA that as part of the intervention, state prosecutors are poised to drop the charges against CRANE because CRANE cannot remain indicted and work for GOL.
Additionally, FPA has learned that a deal is also in the works to drop charges against the former CBL governor Milton Weeks and his Deputy, Charles Sirleaf.
For the immediate future, CRANE has become the only option for a government, whose backs are against the wall and an antsy nation looking for answers.
The key question on the minds of many, is whether Crane will print new banknotes with the same design or craft a new one. What appears certain is that the new developments and questions being raised by Crane has made it unlikely for the new banknotes to be printed before the holidays, meaning consumers and marketers will be in for a tough haul. Like De La Rue, one economic observer told FPA Sunday, time may not be on the side of redesigning a new banknote and a government in search of a temporary solution could settle for additional printing of the old banknotes in circulation, a move which could trigger a new wave of debates for a nation in a recurring state of uncertainty.