Liberia: Who’s Behind US$180K Opposition Lobbying in Washington?

Monrovia – FrontPageAfrica has learned that a US$180,000 lobbying and public relations campaign aiming to gain US support  for the opposition in Liberia was registered in the name of Alan White and Jeffrey Birrell under the banner of the Liberian Renaissance Office Inc.(LIROI).

The Foreign Lobby Report which provides comprehensive coverage of the latest foreign lobbying in Washington first reported the opposition lobbying on its website Friday.

A copy of the Foreign Agents Registration Act document detailing the report in possession of FrontPageAfrica, states that both White and Birrell are signatories to the document.

The Lobbying Report stated Friday that LIROI’s office in Monrovia is being run by Mr. Sylvester Grigsby, a Minister of State for Presidential Affairs under former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. 

According to a new Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) filing with the US Department of Justice, in possession of FrontPageAfrica, BW partners, represented by Jeffrey Birrell, who lobbied for the Liberia government back in the early 1990s during the reign of former President Charles Taylor, and Alan White, a former Department of Defense employee and chief investigator for former President Charles Taylor.

Ironically, in 2010, Birrell was entangled in a US Senate report detailing how foreign officials from Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Nigeria and Angola who were under investigation in the US – allegedly took advantage of legal gaps, poor due diligence and inadequate controls to move funds from shell companies and bank accounts in London and elsewhere into the US.

One of those involved the late Omar Bongo, who was president of Gabon. Bongo reportedly wired more than $18 million to “The Grace Group LLC, a U.S. corporation formed by Mr. [Jeffrey] Birrell,” the report states. Birrell used the money to buy Bongo six armored vehicles and six C-130 military cargo aircraft from Saudi Arabia, the report says.

Ian Pitz, an attorney for Birrell at the time said with respect to the allegations raised by the report and activities undertaken by The Grace Group, “we are unaware of any wrongdoing by any party. All of the ‘export’ and ‘re-export’ activities undertaken by The Grace Group LLC, were done with complete transparency.”

Birrell has since moved on from Grace to BW Partners.

According to the FARA document, BW’s goal is to “promote good governance and rule of law in Liberia,” according to the contract with Grigsby, in particular through the US promotion of whichever candidate the Liberia Renaissance Office ends up endorsing for the 2023 presidential election. 

Grigsby’s group supports the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP), a coalition of four political parties that have agreed to get behind a single candidate to be selected in December. 

As part of the deal, LIROI may try to arrange Washington visits for their leaders ahead of the December selection of a united opposition ticket to take on President George Weah and the ruling Coaltion for Democratic Change.

The opposition alliance includes the former ruling Unity Party, headed by former Vice President Joseph Boakai; The Alternative National Congress, led by former Coca-Cola executive and fellow 2017 presidential candidate Alexander Cummings; The All Liberian Party of Wilfred Benoni Urey, a former Commissioner of Maritime Affairs under Charles Taylor who was under US sanctions for his alleged role in the 1999-2003 civil war until President Barack Obama lifted them; and The Liberty Party led by Senator Nyonblee Karngar-Lawrence, the only woman in the CPP leadership.

Birrell is quoted by the Foreign Lobby Report that the Liberia Renaissance Office has a US presence and is expected to host Cummings, who resides in the United States, for a visit to Washington next month. 

According to the report, BW will also be lobbying for the US to get behind the establishment of a War Crimes and Economic Crimes Court to hold accountable those responsible for the civil wars of 1989-1997 and 1999-2003, as recommended by Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission back in 2010. 

Recently, the congressional Tom Lantos Commission held a hearing in support of the court in June (the State Department did not immediately respond to a query about where the Joe Biden administration stands on the issue). 

What is unclear for now is the fate of the ongoing effort by the Lantos Commission and the major role Dr. White played when he testified before the Lantos Commission, supposedly as an “unbias” expert criticizing the Weah administration and highlighting the push for war crimes in Liberia without fully disclosing what his interests were.

Under FARA, certain agents of foreign principals who are engaged in political activities or other activities specified under the statute, are required to make periodic public disclosure of their relationship with the foreign principal, as well as activities, receipts and disbursements in support of those activities.

“Disclosure of the required information facilitates evaluation by the government and the American people of the activities of such persons in light of their function as foreign agents. The FARA Unit of the Counterintelligence and Export Control Section (CES) in the National Security Division (NSD) is responsible for the administration and enforcement of FARA.”

In June, Liberia’s Ambassador to the United States of America, in a stinging letter to the U.S. Congressional Committee on Foreign Affairs alleged that White and others who testified before the Lantos committee to make a case for the establishment of war crimes court in Liberia, could have been on the payroll of some Liberian politicians in the opposition bloc.

Amb. Patten lamented that the Committee denied his request to also present the Liberian government’s position on the establishment of war and economic crimes court said the three witnesses at the public hearing are all open critics of the George Weah-led administration.

In his letter, Ambassador Patten was particular about Dr. White whose business partner in the BW Global Group, Mr. Jeffery Birrel, was a registered foreign agent for former presidential candidate Benoni Urey.

Amb. Patten stated in the communication: “I share with you in this testimony that when Dr. White and his partner Mr. Birrell visited the Liberian Embassy in April at my invitation, where I requested an opportunity to provide them a government perspective, they did not disclose to me their Liberia paymasters, past or present, and positioned themselves as caretakers of U.S.-Liberia policy, suggesting that if the government did not align, they would be shut-out of Congressional support. It is incumbent upon the Commission to ascertain if funding is on-going from Liberia political leaders, directly or indirectly to witnesses that it selects.”

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