MONROVIA – Liberia’s Passport Director, Andrew D. Wonploe, Sr., has been arrested and undergoing investigation at the National Security Agency (NSA) for his alleged involvement with multiple illegal sales of Liberian passports to foreign nationals, FrontPageAfrica has gathered.
Report by Lennart Dodoo, [email protected]
FrontPageAfrica gathered from an impeccable source at the NSA that Wonploe was picked up from his residence on Sunday, August 11, by NSA agents on the order of President George Weah.
Though the NSA source declined to give further details on the arrest and ongoing investigation, he confided to FPA that “It was the President who ordered his arrest. He was caught red-handed. This guy has been selling hundreds of Liberian passports to foreigners including Nigerians, Koreans and others.”
Details on his alleged crime remains scanty, however, FPA was informed that President Weah ordered his arrest after receiving multiple complaints and hard pieces of evidence showing the illegal acts his Passport Director had been allegedly involved with.
FrontPageAfrica was further informed that a huge number of passport booklets illegally purchased from Wonploe were presented to President Weah as evidence of his continued illegal transactions with foreigners at the detriments of Liberians seeking passports.
Wonploe allegedly designed a plan to hoard passport booklets for his lucrative illegal venture.
On Monday, several applicants whose passports are overdue despite paying US$100 for expedited service were at the Passport Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressing their disenchantment over the manner in which their travels were being delayed.
The regular fee for a Liberian passport is US$50 and the applicant is supposed to receive the booklet within five working days after the verification process while US$100 is charged for an expedited service (one day).
According to reports from the Passport Division, Foreign Minister Gbehzongar Findley with a worried look on his face on Monday, pleaded with angry applicants to remain patient, saying “I am Minister Gbehzongar Findley and I am your new Passport Director. Do not worry; you all will get your passport.”
Applicants whose booklets had been pending for several weeks, some for months began receiving their passports on Tuesday, FPA gathered.
FrontPageAfrica witnessed tension at the Passport Division on Tuesday with several applicants raining invective, openly, on the government for its failure to ensure that its citizens receive their passports on time.
Taking Advantage of Loophole
A contract war ongoing between Buck Press, the Ghanaian printing press contracted to print Liberian passports and OeSD, the Austrian Company with which it has a 5-year B.O.T contract to provide safety standard Supplemental Access Control for electronic passports and electronic access chips and encryption for Liberian passports, is believed to have led to an artificial shortage of passport booklets in Liberia by withholding release of passport booklets Ordered by Buck Press, a FrontPageAfrica investigation in July revealed.
Responding to a FrontPageAfrica inquiry in July, a representative for Buck Press Limited, explained that OeSD, as a means to take the contract behind Buck Press, created artificial shortage of passport booklets in Liberia by withholding release of Passport Booklets Ordered by Buck Press. “Contractually, the Austrian Company has also initiated talks behind Buck Press with some members of the Government of Liberia to undermine the contract between Buck Press and GOL,” the statement to FrontPageAfrica said.
Buck Press, Government of Liberia (GOL) and OeSD (an Austrian Company) signed a 5-year B.O.T Contract on 16th September, 2005. But Buck explains that OeSD, not long after the contract was signed, backed out of the Contract, insisted on a sovereign guarantee issued by GOL.
At the time, Buck said, OeSD stated that the European Union had declined Insurance Cover for Liberia as a result they could not continue the project without a sovereign guarantee.
Some applicants who on Tuesday were tipped that Mr. Wonploe was picked up by the NSA for his alleged involvement in the illegal sale of Liberian passports, found it inhumane for him to have engaged in such act, being fully aware of the prevailing shortage of booklets in the country.
A female applicant, who only identified herself to FrontPageAfrica as Hawa said, “It is people like him that is spoiling the reputation of this country out there. Nobody knows what these foreigners use our passports for. Whatever crime they commit out there would reflect on Liberia. But he’s giving it to foreigners while we, the real Liberians, are suffering to get it.”
The shortage of passport booklets became noticeable in early July this year. At the time, Foreign Minister who acknowledged the shortage informed FrontPageAfrica that “We had a small problem but it is being worked on and passports will be in the country this week (at the time of interview in early July). The producers and the contractors have been having some issues and we were forced to take some steps to address those issues. We have some passports available now and the rest will be here this week. All the backlogs we will start working on tomorrow (Thursday).”
However, while indeed passport producers and the contractors were having some issues with supply, the situation was allegedly compounded by the hoarding of the available booklets by Passport Director Wonploe for his special clients.
FrontPageAfrica gathered that President Weah is bent on ensuring that Mr. Wonploe is prosecuted in a latest move to ensure that all officials undermining his government are weeded out.
Mae Azango of FrontPageAfrica contributed to this story.