Liberia: Former Foreign Minister Findley Responds to Accusation of Involvement with Passport Fraud; Says Diplomatic Passports Were Legally Issued
MONROVIA – Until the United States government denied Mr. Andrew Wonplo, Liberia’s former Passport Director, his wife, and children entry into the United States early September, the Liberian public did not know how deep a syndicate the passport fraud he was alleged of committing was. Now, Wonplo, claiming to have been left in the cold by his superiors is fighting back with chilling revelations.
Report By Lennart Dodoo, [email protected]
In a press statement and series of audio circulating on social media, Wonplo disclosed that the then Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Gbehzohngar M. Findley and some of his principal deputies to include Cllr. Deweh Gray, Deputy Minister for Legal Affairs and other officials of government manipulated the system for their personal gains.
He also indicated that Mr. Findley was acted on behalf of President George Weah.
Both the Executive Mansion and Findley have refuted his assertions.
Following his denial into the United States, there have been series of unconfirmed reports that thousands of Liberian diplomatic passports illegally landed in the hands of several undeserving individuals, some of whom are suspected of being terrorist and drug pushers.
It can be recalled that Wonplo was suspended from his last year for allegedly being unable to account for several diplomatic passport booklets.
Mr. Wonplo and a Nigerian national identified as Adedoyin E. Atiro were indicted by the state during the August term of court in 2019 on three crimes–economic Sabotage, theft of property and criminal conspiracy.
The Police charge sheet indicated that while serving as Passport Director in July 2019 and before his arrest in August 2019 4, 250 pieces of blank Liberian Passports were entrusted to the Passport and Visas Bureau under his supervision as Director of Passport at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Despite the wave of evidence against Wonplo the Judicial branch set him free.
The dismissal of charges against the Defendant Wonplo by court was done on Tuesday, July 14, 2020 in the Liberian capital, following a motion filed to dismiss charges against him by his lawyer due to failure by the prosecution team at the Justice Ministry to prosecute the matter. The dismissal of charges against the former passport direction by court was in line with Chapter 18 section 18.2 of the Criminal procedure law which states that dismissal by court or failure to proceed with prosecution after two successive terms of court.
“My fellow Liberians, CDCains and foot soldiers of the cause, please be informed that the passport scarcity was planned illegally and executed by the Government of Liberia represented by Gbehzohngar Milton Findley (Minister of Foreign Affairs at the time) and Cllr. Deweh Gray, Deputy Minister for Legal Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, R.L. for personal gain by blocking Buck Press, the original provided of the Liberian Passports.”– Andrew Wonplo, Former Passport Director
The Americans Not Convinced
Locally, Wonplo was off the hook but not for the Americans who took the gravity of the alleged crime very seriously and kept a watchful eye on Wonplo and his family.
Everything went wrong for him when he, his wife and two children were refused entry into the United States in early this month.
The move, according to the U.S. Secretary of State was made under Section 7031(c) of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2020 (Div. G, P.L. 116-94). “Under Section 7031(c), once the Secretary of State designates officials of foreign governments for their involvement, directly or indirectly, in significant corruption, those individuals and their immediate family members are ineligible for entry into the United States. The law also requires the Secretary of State to either publicly or privately designate such officials and their immediate family members. In addition to Mr. Wonplo, I am announcing the public designation of his spouse, Dennice Wonplo, and their minor children. This designation reaffirms U.S. commitment to standing with the people and government of Liberia in their fight against corruption. The Department will continue to use these authorities to promote accountability for corrupt actors in this region and globally.”
With his hopes still of getting the support of the government and clinging onto the court’s ruling which dismissed the case, Wonplo at the time said he would seek redress to the matter via the governmental channel as he perceived that the American government had been misinformed.
He told FrontPageAfrica early this month: “I think everything will have to be channeled through the legal means. No one in government has spoken to me since. They are big boys – so, they’re doing their thing and I’m here but I know that I’m free – and I will always be free because I know I did nothing but when everybody pushes me against the wall, I’m going to open up.”
No Backing, Left Alone
To his surprise, the government instead issued another writ of arrest and a new indictment on him for alleged fraud – a move that renewed the previous indictment on him and his alleged cohorts.
The new writ of arrest issued by Criminal Court “C” Judge Blamo Dixon on September 16, enlisted Wonplo and 12 others in connection to the passport fraud that allegedly deprived Government of US$30,000.
The new indictment revealed that from 2018-2019, Wonplo received 4,250 blank passports for signatures and legitimate issuance.
While in possession of the blank passports, Wonplo allegedly connived with Adedoyin Atiroko, Worjloh David Nippy, James Fallah, Johnson Anderson, Nmegatin Konneh and others to sell those passports.
The new indictment says there was email exchanges between Wonplo and others for the alleged sale of passports.
Acting on Orders
According to Wonplo, the U.S. Department of State was willfully misinformed by the Liberian Government through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the sole purpose of covering up corrupt practices and ties to potential terrorists and drugs dealers alike.
He alleged in the press statement, “And now, because of this announcement by the U.S. State Department, the Liberian Government led by President Weah will go at any length to silence me. And killing me is an option for them. It was made cleared last week in a meeting according to my source, that I must be captured before the U.S. Government gets to me. To the United States Government through the U.S.”
“I am bewildered by the unprovoked outburst from Mr. Wonplo wherein he’s making claims that he smartly designed as a retaliation to his re-indictment, as well as his designation by the Government of the United States of America.”– Gbehzohngar M. Findley, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs
He stated, The Minister of Foreign Affairs (Gbehzohngar Milton Findley at the time) often acts in the place of President Weah when it comes to the issuance of diplomatic passports. For special cases, the President will work directly with the Director of Passport via communication instructions always emanating from the Office of the Chief of Protocol of the Executive Mansion (Nora Finda Bundoo), Minister of State (MOS) for Presidential Affairs Without Portfolio (Trokon Kpui) or the Assistant Minister of Logistics, MOS (James Emmanuel Potter).
For the issuance of diplomatic passport:
1)a special committee comprising of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Justice, the National Security Agency (NSA), etc. vets all applicants for Honorary Counsels’ positions and later forwards the “approved” names of individuals to the Director of Passport through a status letter of communication directing the Passport Director to issue passports to these Honorary Counsels.
2) The Director of Passport at the time (i.e. Andrew D. Wonplo), receives the status letter of communications of vetted and “approved” individuals from the Special Committee and process the applications.
3) These non-Liberians who were issued diplomatic passports will later go to serve as Honorary Counsels on behalf of the Liberian Government at various locations around the world as they were vetted. Although it was part of my job as Director of Passports to issue diplomatic passports by law.
Wonplo: “Although it was part of my job as Director of Passports to issue diplomatic passports by law, it has been my concern that the vetting of the Honorary Counsels was done without my input. It was imperative that I (like any other Passport Director) was compelled to issue said Honorary Counsels diplomatic passports once the communication came from the top. This process give rise to the issuance of diplomatic to numerous Non-Liberians across the world.”
He called for the reviewing of the vetting process for the issuance of diplomatic passport now that the United States State Department is questioning the integrity or character of non-Liberians carrying privileged passport.
He added: “My fellow Liberians, CDCains and foot soldiers of the cause, please be informed that the passport scarcity was planned illegally and executed by the Government of Liberia represented by Gbehzohngar Milton Findley (Minister of Foreign Affairs at the time) and Cllr. Deweh Gray, Deputy Minister for Legal Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, R.L. for personal gain by blocking Buck Press, the original provided of the Liberian Passports. Gbehzohngar is currently using proceeds from said illegal transactions to fund his campaign.”
Wonplo also threatened to expose Findley’s alleged corrupt involvement to the people of Grand Bassa County where he is seeking election as Senator.
The former Minister of Foreign Affairs stated that his service at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Republic of Liberia was marked by service to country, commitment to duty, strengthening bilateral and multilateral relationships, upholding the rule of law, and dedication to delivering the statutory mandate of the Ministry and in conformity with law.
He said, Liberia has had, and continues to have, Honorary Consuls representing its relations in varied countries and states, to include: Liberia’s Honorary Consul to Florida, Mr. David Straz who contributed US$1Million for the construction of a US$2Million Polytechnic Project in Sinje (named after him in 2016) but died on November 18, 2019, Italy, Spain, Saudi Arabia, among others, who by law are entitled to Diplomatic Passports.
He said, Mr. Wonplo provided contradicting information when he alleged that the Liberian diplomatic passports were given to non-Liberians. According to him, holders of diplomatic passports do not necessarily have to be Liberians.
Findley added that the bearer of a Liberian diplomatic passport must show proof the requirements for the possession of such passport have been approved by the Minister of Foreign Affairs or a dispensation given by the President of the Republic of Liberia.
According to him, said dispensation was at no time abused, but legally utilized under the discharge of his statutory functions.
Findley: “As such, I am bewildered by the unprovoked outburst from Mr. Wonplo wherein he’s making claims that he smartly designed as a retaliation to his re-indictment, as well as his designation by the Government of the United States of America.”