Liberia: Benoni Urey Lacks Integrity and Political Standing to Disrupt Post-war Democracy
SANCTIONED BY THE the United Nations for his alleged role in arms procurement, starting in summer of 2002, and also for his alleged ties with former dictator Charles Taylor”, businessman Benoni Urey is once again at the helm of what appears to be the unraveling of yet another attempt by the opposition to form a coalition against the ruling establishment.
LAST WEEK, Mr. Urey, a supporter of former Vice President Joseph Boakai, one of two candidates vying to lead the opposition Collaborating Political Parties, backed by the Solicitor General of the Republic of Liberia, Cllr. Cyrennius Cephus, issued a writ of arrest for Mr. Alexander Cummings, political leader of the Alternative National Congress (ANC) and former Chairman of the Collaborating Political Parties-CPP to be arrested.
THE WRIT ISSUED by Judge Jomah Jallah of the Monrovia City court said: “You are hereby commanded to arrest the living bodies of Alexander B. Cummings and others to be identified, defendants and forthwith bring them before the Monrovia City Magisterial Court Temple of Justice to answer to the crime of Forgery and Criminal Conspiracy based upon the oath and complaint of the Republic of Liberia by and thru All Liberian Party by and thru its National Chairman, Theodore Momo, plaintiff in which it is substantially alleged as follows wit”.
MR. UREY’S ACTION came just hours after he announced his exit from the opposition collaboration.
THE ACTION BY MR. UREY is reminiscent of a similar controversy which contributed to the demise of an effort in 2016 to unite the opposition against the ruling Unity Party in the buildup to the 2017 presidential elections.
BACK THEN, MR. Urey initiated a fight with the late leader of the opposition Liberty Party, Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine. The feud was triggered by an argument between both opposition leaders, setting off a heated exchange regarding the structure of what was drafted as the Ganta Declaration when four political parties considered forming a collaboration.
AT THE TIME, MR. UREY raised an issue regarding the legal structuring of the Ganta Declaration, which it said was prepared by Cllr. Charles Brumskine. Mr. Urey also accused Cllr. Brumskine of being a regime collaborator with the then-ruling Unity Party.
CLLR. BRUMSKINE took offense with Mr. Urey’s comment and then stated in a boastful tone that he is the most learned and most read lawyer in Liberia. Mr. Urey came back at him saying that he won’t allow Cllr. Brumskine to talk down to him as he is known for doing to others.”
IN RESPONSE, CLLR. BRUMSKINE suggested that there was a long period in Liberia’s history when Liberia was a one-party state. But Mr. Urey and others reportedly rejected the claim, stating that there had always been an opposition, only that they were not strong. Things got so heated, according to the source that Cllr. Brumskine asked Urey: “What do you know about law?”
AS THE FEUD lingered, the Liberty Party issued a statement taking Mr. Urey to task. “Mr. Urey and his party are engaged in a one-way feud. Liberty Party is committed to the Ganta Declaration and is not interested in useless banter. If running against Liberty Party suits the All Liberia Party then by all means let them suit their fancy. Of course if one does not have credible plans to lift Liberia up then feud is a preferred distraction. This is beginning to look like an empty drum situation”.
THE PARTY’S STATEMENT was followed by one from Mr. Abraham Darius Dillon, now a Senator for Montserrado County, who was then a stalwart of the LP.
MR. DILLON STATED: “We are just from Ganta and committed ourselves to the declaration – Less than 24hrs. Urey is breaching the spirit and intent, thereof. I have posted in here several social media postings of folks from Urey’s camping clearly undermining the objective of these talks. Again, this morning, Urey has his surrogate Costa attacking our Political Leader and our Party on his radio station Shaita FM 102.5.
I am not gonna say a word; I do not want to be the alibi people will use to blame us, but this cannot be allowed to continue”
AT THE TIME of the commotion, Cllr. Brumskine said he had always been skeptical that parties were going to stick to the terms and conditions of the joint communiqué signed at the weekend. “In my political career I have had the benefit of experiencing a lot. I remember I was called unpatriotic,” Brumskine told the merger meeting. Today my party and I are referred to as ‘regime collaborators’ because we will not insult a lady who happens to be President of Liberia. My upbringing it’s different,” the late LP leader said at the time.
CLLR. BRUMSKINE ADDED: “I will not denigrate the office of the presidency to which I aspire. The Liberty Party and myself have criticized the policy of the Sirleaf-Boakai administration longer and more than another opposition political party.”
MR. UREY, on the other hand remained firm on this firebrand rhetoric of blast of criticism against President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and the rest of her administration. “It’s time to get serious, our people are dying, and they are hungry. This country is basically running itself and we are not afraid as we care about no favor. We will say what it is in black and white because we believe we owe it to the Liberian people”, he said.
THE ALL LIBERIAN PARTY political leader also said: “I believe you all have seen what I have seen—the increased death rate, the arrest of people, even journalists for something that happen [far] in another country. The cracking down on press freedom, corruption, nepotism, favouritism these are the ills that continue to kill our people”.
MR. UREY ADDED: “We must speak against corruption; speak against the excessive use of force by this government. We must talk about the interference in one branch of the government by the other. We must talk about the plight of our people that is what true opposition is.”
IRONICALLY, WHAT MR. UREY says often runs contrary to his actions.
MR. UREY WAS IN 2000, sanctioned by the United Nations for his alleged role in arms procurement for Charles Taylor’s rebels and his relationship to Taylor. He denies any role in arms procurement, saying the U.N. investigated the matter for 15 years and “found no magnitude”.
WHEN FORMER PRESIDENT BARACK Obama’s administration finally lifted the travel ban, due to advances to promote democracy, while hailing the orderly development of its political, administrative, and economic institutions, resulting in two consecutive democratic elections (2005 and 2011), the conviction of former president Charles Taylor and what he called the diminished ability of those connected to Taylor to undermine Liberia’s progress, Mr. Urey boasted in an interview with the Voice of America: “Why would Benoni Urey, a peace-loving citizen of Liberia who has never really been involved in war, who doesn’t know what arms and ammunition is, why would I get involved in purchasing arms and ammunition?”.
MR. UREY CLAIMS HE HAD simply carried an order given him by Charles Taylor’s finance minister to pay out a certain amount of money.
MR. UREY WAS part of a group of Liberians sanctioned by the international community in a bid to prevent non-governmental forces from obtaining arms. From 2009 arms transfers the Government no longer required approval from the UN committee, it only had to be notified in advance of such supplies. The embargo was lifted in May 2016.
MR. UREY’s continued attempt to sow seeds of dishord in Liberia’s post-war democracy spells danger.
IT IS THE VERY REASON some experts raised concerns when the international community began to ease sanctions on close associates of Mr. Taylor.
IN FACT, A U.N. expert panel recommended that the Security Council retain some sanctions against Liberia, although it acknowledges Monrovia was no longer fueling a civil war in neighboring Sierra Leone.
AT THE TIME OF the recommendation, the main concern of the panel was the continued presence in Liberia of hard-core elements of the RUF, known as Independent RUF and strong Taylor allies such as Mr. Urey, raising concerns about the possible repercussions for the West African subregion.
WHILE MR. UREY, who was head of the Maritime Bureau during the Taylor era has repeatedly denied the bureau involvement in arms, the panel said it had evidence that a noted arms dealer, Sanjivan Ruprah had signed letters as the deputy commissioner and “maintained a close relationship with Urey.” Ruprah was arrested in Brussels in February and charged with association with a criminal organization and possession of false passports.
RUPRAH, A KENYAN national of Indian extraction, was arrested in 2002 charged in Brussels with criminal association and travelling on a false British passport; other more serious charges are expected to follow.
MR RUPRAH WAS NAMED as one of four men who sold arms to the now defunct Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in Sierra Leone in clear breach of international sanctions, fuelling a bloody decade-long civil war against the government that claimed at least 50,000 lives.
FOR MORE THAN a decade Liberians lost mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and loved ones. Scores of others were forced to flee into exile because of the exploits of Mr. Urey and close associates of Mr. Taylor.
THE ADMINISTRATION of President George Weah owes this much to victims of the civil war to not allow Mr. Urey and his likes to railroad the judicial system and threaten Liberia’s bourgeoning post-war democracy.
ALL THIS when the US State Department annual report often points to judges and magistrates being subjected to influence and engaged in corruption. “Judges sometimes solicited bribes to try cases, grant bail to detainees, award damages in civil cases, or acquit defendants in criminal cases. Defense attorneys and prosecutors sometimes suggested defendants pay bribes to secure favorable decisions from judges, prosecutors, and jurors, or to have court staff place cases on the docket for trial.”
THE WEAH ADMINISTRATION must be mindful of a recent decision which led to sanctions being placed on Senator H. Varney G. Sherman.
CLLR. SHERMAN, who heads the Senate Judiciary Committee, was hired by a British mining company in an effort to obtain one of Liberia’s last remaining mining assets, the Wologizi iron ore concession.
SHERMAN ADVISED the company that, in order to obtain the contract, they first had to get Liberia’s concessions law changed by bribing senior officials.
IN 2016, SHERMAN was indicted by the Liberian government, along with several other government officials, for their involvement in the USD 950,000 bribery scheme. In 2019, the presiding judge acquitted all individuals accused of being involved in the bribery scheme.
THE US SANCTIONS SAID Sherman offered bribes to multiple judges associated with his trial and had an undisclosed conflict of interest with the judge who ultimately returned a not guilty verdict in July 2019. Sherman has routinely paid judges to decide cases in his favor, and he has allegedly facilitated payments to Liberian politicians to support impeachment of a judge who has ruled against him. Sherman’s acts of bribery demonstrate a larger pattern of behavior to exercise influence over the judiciary and the Ministry of Justice.
THE SANCTIONS designated for being a foreign person who is a current or former government official responsible for or complicit in, or directly or indirectly engaged in, corruption, including the misappropriation of state assets, the expropriation of private assets for personal gain, corruption related to government contracts or the extraction of natural resources, or bribery.
WITH SO MUCH RIDING ON Liberia’s post-war democratic resurgence, its is important that the Weah administration and the Judiciary branch of government be mindful of the road they are now embarking, with the help of what many believe to be a bogus case being proffered by Mr. Urey, likely to bring yet another embarrassment to the judicial branch of government.
THE SAD REALITY IS that Mr. Urey remains a potent threat to Liberia’s peace and stability as any breach of the justice system could spell trouble for the foreseeable future.
A HINT TO THE VERY WISE!!!