Liberia: Ministry of Public Works Allegedly Involved in Scheme to Defraud Government
Monrovia – Mr. Jefferson Chesson, an assistant minister at the Ministry of Public Works, is at the center of an ongoing investigation of a criminal scheme to defraud the government of revenue through doctoring of documents to grant duty-free privileges to undeserving companies while pocketing very huge sums of money.
Report by Lennart Dodoo, [email protected]
The Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) recently intercepted two containers destined for the Ministry of Pubic Works intended for use at the Ministerial Complex site but was diverted to the West Africa Telecommunications compound which is now being used by Orange Liberia.
Being suspicious of the containers, the LRA Security Consultant, Abraham Sinayoko, followed the container to its diverted destination, West African Telecommunications, where he was informed by the security that the container belonged to CAMUSAT (a company contracted by Orange Liberia).
Sinayoko told FrontPageAfrica while inquiring how the container got to the site, the security put him on the phone with his (security) boss, who insisted that the container belonged to the Ministry of Public Works.
“A gentleman got on the phone purporting to be the deputy minister of Public Works, which I found out that he wasn’t the deputy minister of public works. The actual person I spoke to on the phone was the assistant minister for administration, Jefferson Chesson, so I demanded to see the shipping documents,” Sinayoko explained to FrontPageAfrica.
Chesson, according to reports, was initially hesitant on providing the shipping documents, insisting that the container was inspected overseas.
But Sinayoko maintained he needed to see the documents, noting that the containers were not inspected abroad since they belonged to the government of Liberia.
Several calls placed to Chesson for comments did not materialize.
The two 40ft containers contained telecommunications equipment and cables with a Cost Insurance Flight (CIF) value of almost US$300,000 instead of blackboard panels as declared on the Single Administrative Document (SAD) (the document that discloses the content of the container).
The Liberia Revenue Authority could have earned approximately US$50,000 in revenue from duty charges.
In March this year, the Ministry of Public Works received on duty-free a container of blackboard panels the government had requested from the Government of China to mount large screens in some street corners in Monrovia.
The duty-free for the delivery of the blackboard panels was applied for by the Ministry of Public Works in February this year; said was granted for one 40ft and one 20ft container.
The black board panels were shipped from China from Jiangsu Provincial Consortium Group.
Interestingly, the same documents used by the Ministry of Public Works for the importation of the blackboard panels on duty-free were criminally re-dated and recycled to clear CAMUSAT containers on duty-free.
“They doctored it in such a way that the bill of lading is such that the shipper is from Romania – CAMUSAT in Romania – but the packing list that is supposed to show the things are supposed to be on that container is from China. The reason being is that they used that packing list with the original duty-free request that came in for the original items that came from China; maybe they thought nobody would have caught it,” Sinayoko disclosed.
The container numbers on the manifest were different from the numbers on the containers intercepted.
FrontPageAfrica was informed that CAMUSAT had paid its broker, CIABRE Logistic Services, a check of US$52,000 to clear containers, but it is not clear how the containers got linked to the Ministry of Public Works.
Public Works Under Probe
The Liberia Revenue Authority has launched an investigation into all containers imported by the Ministry of Public to ascertain the circumstances under which they were brought into the country.
“We have increased surveillance because of the constant abuse of duty-free. The abuse of duty-free has contributed to significant loss of revenue to the government so we have decided to tighten up on our duty-free procedures. We also noticed that most of the owner entities and everybody who has access to duty-free, including legislators, business, government ministries; so we are clamping down on it in order to be able to raise revenue,” Sinayoko said.
The LRA says the country has been losing millions of dollars to the fraud, abuse of duty-free privileges and under-declaration.