Liberia: Corruption in Housing Investment Turns to be an Embarrassing Family Matter for President Weah
Monrovia – Feeling shortchanged over an investment he claims he took to Liberia, Augustine Weah, a cousin of Liberian President George Weah says he was illegally incarcerated for 11 days and his United Nations passport taken away.
Mr. Weah says he was taken aback by the Weah-led government and the way he was treated.
Now, he’s taking his fight to the media.
Speaking to the Voice of America this week, Mr. Weah alleges that he took officials of a Burkina Faso-based company (GELPAZ IMMO – SA to Liberia in 2018 to invest in constructing 50,000 modern, durable and affordable low-cost housing units for the people Liberia. But to his surprise, he says the managing director of the Liberian National Housing Authority, Mr. Duana Siryon demanded a bribe of $80.000 before a Memorandum of Understanding could be signed.
Mr. Weah also alleges that minister of state for presidential affairs, Nathaniel McGill also demanded a $500,000 bribe.
Even after he says he complained to his cousin, the President, no action was taken. Instead, he says he became a target. “At that time, I was still with the United Nations. They refused to even respect the note from the United Nations that our staff should be released. And the Liberian government refused to respond to the request of the United Nations.”
Investment Opportunity Goes Wrong
Even when the UN got involved, he says, the matter deteriorated. “They were informed by wife; fortunately for me under pressure from the United Nations I was released but then my United Nations passport was taken away from me. They refused to hand it back to the United Nations. Up till now, the case is ongoing in Liberia in Liberian civil court, but again my life was threatened so I had to leave the country.”
Weah worked for the UN but took a year off he says to explore investment opportunities as CEO for GUS Group of company based in Liberia.
He says a friend of his came when he was stationed in Mali, where he was stationed with the United Nations office. “When they came, they asked me whether I wanted to go Liberia to invest in the real estate market, and I was impressed because I knew that I was going to create jobs for our people. So, this is how I took to them Liberia. They wanted to build 50,000 homes which worth closed to a billion dollars. But then when went to Liberia, we had the first meeting with the government officials concerned. The minister of state for presidential affairs, Mr. Nathaniel McGill and I informed the President of the Republic of Liberia.”
Weah says the President was informed about his arrival to Liberia with his team.
“When we had an MOU signed; we met the managing director for the National Housing Authority, Mr. Duanah Siryon. But to my surprise, they went behind me and tried to extort money from the people, and the people were afraid, the president of the company had sent his emissary to give them $80,000 and when I got to know about that I got very upset and I confronted them and said that if this did not desist I’m going to have the president of the Republic informed; and I did informed the president of the republic who George Manneh Weah, who happens to be a cousin of mine. But unfortunately for me, there was no action taken. So, I was very, very upset and I have informed a couple of friends and family members of the situation.”
Weah further explained that Minister McGill again requested $500,000 from the investors, his partners.
“For the record, I am the second highest shareholder in the company, which GELPAZ IMMO-SA, with headquarters in Burkina Faso. So, I presented all my documents to the President of the Republic of Liberia to call these guys, Nathaniel McGill who is the minister of state for presidential affairs, and then the managing director, Duana Siryon to book. And we went to the Executive Mansion.”
Weah further explained that the company told them exactly what happened that he had nothing to do with it.
Weah says he was even upset that $80,000 was given to the managing director without his consent because he was the national representative for the company in Liberia and the vice president for administration for the company, GELPAZ. So, again, the president did not take no action. When I was about to leave my telephone was confiscated from me, was taken from me without court order because there exchanges of communication between them and myself.”
Weah says he informed them that if they did not stop whatever was going on, he was going to take action against them. “To my surprise, at the morning hour officers came with armed men and they took away to the police station and they let my partners leave. And I was illegally incarcerated for 11 days, and it was later the United Nations got involved; they were informed by wife; fortunately for me under pressure from the United Nations I was released but then my United Nations passport was taken away from me. They refused to hand it back to the United Nations. Up till now, the case is ongoing in Liberia in Liberian civil court, but again my life was threatened so I had to leave the country.”
Extortion Allegations Against McGill
Mr. Weah says Minister McGill, the president’s most senior and trusted aide, twice extorted money from his company. “The first one that was given to him was $80,000 and they requested additional $500,000 in order for them to sign the contact with the Burkinabe’s, but again, I told the president of the Republic of Liberia that this is not going to happen and I have to speak out. Later, what they did, Nathaniel McGill told my company to change the company name. He went back to the investors and the company name was changed to Estate International. He brought them back to Liberia and I was excluded from the company and now they are currently in Liberia doing the construction work that they came to do to create over 5,000 jobs.”
Mr. Weah says he has in his possession texts, Whatsapp messages between the he and his cousin, President Weah detailing what had transpired.
Weah says in the end, the company he took to Liberia threw him under the bus. “They were instructed by the Liberian government and mainly the minister of state and his people that I should be excluded in order for them to sign the deal with them with a new name. The partners reached out to me that they had spent a lot of money with the Liberian government already. So, they had no choice but to proceed with the deal. And so, they went ahead and removed me from the new contract that they signed with AXHIS INTERNATIONAL. And I told them that I have to take a legal action against them, and they told me you are 100 percent right, but again they refused that we bring you on board because you will expose them of what they did. Again, I told the president of the Republic of Liberia. I communicated that to him because this is illegal and this is wrong. You recently went to the United Nations and you spoke about people coming to Liberia to help and I’m here to help.”
As a result, he says, he lost his shares. “My share was not given to me. The new company that they opened, AXHIS INTERNATIONAL, I was not informed about the current shareholders of the company. I was left in the dark as a person that brought them to Liberia. They even asked me to leave my job for one year at the United Nations to come and help them without pay. I took a leave without pay from the United Nations. And my leave ends in October of this year. So, I told my organization that I will resign in order to pursue this case.”
Mr. Weah says what angered him most was that they went to the court, had a news conference, turned the tables on him by accusing him of being the person that took money from the company which is very appalling because he never handled company money. “I’m just the vice president for administration and this is my company. It’s not possible that I am going to take money from myself. So, this is what got me upset and I said I have to speak out and I have to take the legal issue and sue them.”
Weah says the way he has been treated is a deterrent to potential investors. “I just want to warn our people to be very careful. It’s just sad that we have reach to a point that we have to defend ourselves because I left my work; I volunteered my services to my country of birth, Liberia, just to create jobs for my people. I’m a patriot; I just came to help. I didn’t want a government job. I was just helping the Liberian people to create jobs. So, it’s very unfortunate what happened, but I just want people to draw the conclusion to this that if you invest in Liberia you just have to be mindful who you are dealing with.”
Govt Spokesman: ‘Matter Before the Court’
The government’s chief spokesman, Information Minister Lenn Eugene Nagbe said he is aware that there is a judicial matter ongoing before the courts where Mr. Weah (Augustine) has been indicted by the prosecution in Liberia along with other co-defendants are undergoing court trial. But said, if Augustine has made specific allegations against the government, he is not aware.
The minister countered: “ Based on the evidence that has been made available to the courts, all of these allegations against both Minister McGill and other members of the government have not been proven to be true. In fact, because of the total lack of any evidence against the minister, the matter is before the courts of Liberia.”
Minister Nagbe said once the allegations were made public the president dismissed two officials of government. “That is the former managing director of the National Housing Authority, Mr. Duana Siryon and also his deputy, they are currently before the courts in Liberia. And I would urge Mr. Weah to also submit himself to the court process because there is an ongoing judicial process where those who have been accused, including the former managing director have submitted himself to the court and he testified; he made his presentation to the courts.”