Liberia: Key Figure in Central Bank of Liberia’s US$25M Probe Takes Flight; Bank Demanding Return

Massah M. Sonie

Monrovia – Massah M. Sonie, one of the key figures associated with the investigation into the controversy surrounding what happened to the infusion by the Central Bank of Twenty-Five Million United States Dollars into the economy to mop up the excess liquidity of Liberian dollars, has notified the bank of her resignation. But the CBL, in a communication to Ms. Sonie, who was the Assistant Director/Banking Department when the money was infused, is demanding that she turns herself over to the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission(LACC) for investigation.

Health Reason Cited for Quit

Ms. Sonie, FrontPageAfrica has learned informed the bank of her resignation on July 19, 2019, citing her poor health in a letter to the Human Resource Department, as a reason for stepping down from her post.

According to multiple sources at the bank, Ms. Sonie, prior to her registration, requested for an annual leave which was rejected by her supervisor. However, according to a bank communication to Ms. Sonie, seen by FPA, she still proceeded to take an unexcused absence. “It was on the 11th day of your absence, July 1, 2019, when you were notified by the Human Resource Department of your conspicuous absence from office and that you should report to work on July 2, 2019,” the bank informed Ms. Sonie.

Additionally, the CBL informed Ms. Sonie that a communication also written by the Legal Counsel, dated July 4, 2019 was sent to a previously-used email informing her of her presence for a criminal investigation by the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission(LACC) on the US$25 million mop-up exercise in which you played a key role. “The LACC has informed the Central Bank that you have not appeared for your scheduled investigation of July 3, 2019. As a key personnel and senior staff of the Bank, you were to appear on July 3, 2019 as informed in said communication. Ms. Sonie, since this investigation is of a grave nature and the need of your active participation  as it relates to the position of the Central Bank cannot be overemphasized. The Bank finds it very disheartening that you remain resolute on this issue. The Bank also does not accept the fact that turn over notes have not been provided prior to your resignation.”

In an application to the Court, the CBL informed Ms. Sonie that she has been placed in a petition for a writ of NE Exeat Republica to avail yourself for further investigation.

In law, NE Exeat is an equitable writ restraining a person from leaving the jurisdiction of the court or the state. The writ may be issued to ensure the compliance by the defendant with a court order.

Whereabouts Unknown

Ms. Sonie’s whereabout remains unknown and the CBL informed her that she has breached her duty. “Please let this claim  your attention as your action or inaction involves a serious breach of duty as enshrined in the job description and employee for your position as Assistant Director of the Banking Department of the CBL. Based on the above, the CBL rejects your letter of resignation sent and wishes to inform you to avail yourself immediately,” the bank said in the communication to Ms. Sonie.

Announcing the infusion of the US$25 million in July 2018, President George Manneh Weah mandated the Central Bank to provide more effective supervision and regulation of money-changers or foreign exchange bureau, provide more robust oversight of banks under its supervision and conduct a comprehensive review of regulations on the hoarding of both Liberian dollars and U.S. dollars outside the banking system, and provide incentives and safeguards to encourage the utilization of the banking system, including financial instruments.

In the wake of the controversy surrounding the expenditure of the money, President Weah gave the General Auditing Commission (GAC) a two-week mandate to report its findings into ‘further understanding’ of how the exercise of the US$25 million earmarked for the mopping of exercise of excess Liberian dollars in the economy was done by the Technical Economic Management Team (TEMT). TEMT is headed by Finance and Development Planning Minister Samuel Tweah.

This mandate from the President through the Ministry of Justice to GAC, grew out of the Presidential Investigative Team’s report, which called for a ‘forensic investigation’ of the entire mop-up exercise carried out by the Central Bank of Liberia, and the report done by Kroll – an institution of international repute which was commissioned by the U.S. Government.

The report by Kroll, the firm hired by USAID concluded that while its analysis of delivery documentation provided by the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) confirmed that new banknotes totaling L$15.506 billion were received into the CBL’s reserve vaults and that Kroll found no information to support allegations that a container of banknotes went missing, there were a number of discrepancies.

The report also raised concerns regarding the overall accuracy and completeness of the CBL’s internal records and identifies systemic and procedural weaknesses at the CBL, and identifies shortcomings in Liberia’s fiscal and monetary management processes that are longstanding and continue to the present day.

A second report by the special task force set up by President Weah also raised some issues with the CBL’s handling of the saga.

The Presidential Investigation Team, in its report, also penned that officials of the bank acted criminally by conspiring to doctor and fix reports, which were contrary to the actual amounts printed and received by the CBL. 

Ms. Sonie, in an explanation to FrontPageAfrica recently explained she was only an Assistant Director who did not attend TEMT, Board and Senior staff meetings, dismissing suggestions that she had anything to do with the money while declining request to reveal her whereabouts. “I was informed by an insider of the Government that I am targeted to be used to quite the public since in fact it has been made clear that no money lost and the public keep asking for people to be held accountable, they are thinking on using Massah M. Sonie and others that were not name but mine name was mentioned. And since they cannot get Charles Sirleaf, Former Deputy Governor, Dorbor M. Hagba, former Director of Banking and others, they are after me and other,” Sonie said.

‘I’m a Target’, Sonie Says

Besides Sonie, several mid-level staff at CBL including Edwina Edet, a Cash Officer, Florence Crayton, Head Teller, Jackson Wolobah, Deputy Director/Research, Department,  Amaso Barnes, Director/ Financial Market Department, Flex Musa, Head/Auction Unit and others are also said to be eyed in the investigation.

The mop up exercise started July 17, 2018 and ended October 26, 2018. The USD fifteen million that was sold  amounted to LD2,303,363,898 which was reportedly logged in the vault of the CBL.

According to Sonie, both Kroll and the PIT investigators saw said cash. “The GAC did not see the proceeds from the mop up because authorization was given by the Executive Governor for that amount to be paid to Commercial Banks and also be used to pay Ministries and Agencies salaries. The detailed report was prepared and submitted to the TEMT and there was no issue raised. From the beginning of the exercise, we were just call to submit names of tellers to go on the Streets to sell USD for LRD which we did as was instructed by our bosses. Staff at my level were never part of the planning but instead, we were just instructed and which we did and during the implementation of our functions there was an hourly reporting system coupled with a daily detailed report.”

Now, Sonie says she has become a target. “They are trying to accuse me and others instead of those that mandated us to do what we did and one colleague of ours in person of Matthew Innis died mysteriously from the beginning of this mop up exercise investigation and been one of the key players I am afraid of my life because they could even decide to silence me. In April,  I was falsely accused and suspended that I give President Weah dirty money. I can send you my photo but don’t want my location disclose because I am afraid for my life.” The probe into the US$25 million has become a major whodunnit of immense interest to both Liberians and international stakeholders, complicated by the uncertainty surrounding the investigation into the matter. Whilst both Kroll Scoping and the Presidential Investigative Team Reports point to discrepancies, it fell short of establishing culpability but the PFM Regulations of 2009 explains squarely what the delegation of responsibilities entails by heads of entities. 

Section C.9. of the Public Finance Management Regulations of 2009 expressly quotes that for  “ Delegation of Duties by Head of Agency or Spending Unit “Unless a delegation is expressly prohibited or restricted by an enactment or in instructions, a Head of Agency or Spending Unit may, in writing, delegate authority for the performance of any of his or her functions to a subordinate officer who, having regard to the requirements of the assigned functions, is competent and capable. A head of government agency or spending unit may provide for the delegation of his duties in the government agency’s accounting manual. Delegation of authority to perform functions or duties under these regulations does not diminish the accountability of the head of Government Agency or relieve him or her of responsibilities provided in these regulations.”