Monrovia – Barely a week after Liberian government prosecutors issued a writ for his arrest, Mr. Andrew Wonplo, the former Director of Passport and Visa services, who was recently denied entry into the United States of America due to his alleged involvement with passport fraud, says passports issued under his watch were done with the approval of some senior officials in the George Weah-led government, he says were part of a syndicate granting diplomatic passports to foreign nationals.
Mr. Wonplo, released a damning audio recording Monday, reiterated his innocence, just days after US Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo announced his public designation due to his involvement in significant corruption.
The US Secretary of State noted that Mr. Wonplo, in his official capacity at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 2018 to 2019, was involved in passport fraud that undermined the rule of law, reduced the Liberian public’s faith in their government’s management of identification and travel documents, and compromised the integrity and security of immigration processes.
‘Sitting on a Time Bomb’
The public designation of Mr. Wonploe 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.”
Ironically, in July, Criminal Court “C” Judge Yarmie Quiqui Gbeisay dismissed charges against Wonplo and restored his liberty. The court’s decision followed a motion filed to by to dismiss charges against him by his lawyer due to failure of the prosecution to prosecute the matter.
The court’s action was consistent 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”. Director 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 namely economic Sabotage, theft of property, and criminal conspiracy.
In his recording released Monday, Mr. Wonplo said Liberia is sitting on a time bomb because of the syndicate he says that includes top officials in the government. “Liberian people, Liberia is on a time bomb and this is a very serious problem. People around here don’t want to come up with the truth. So, basically, that’s how these guys ganged up against me based on my refusal to be corrupt, then people there pointing hands at me today. With the kind of character I build up over the years.”
Mr. Wonplo accused associates of President Weah of trying to ruin his still-young life. “I’m still young. Politically, I’m still young – and I’m yet to make headway. I will not sit there and join a cartel that will damage my political future in this country. I will never allow this to damage my future – and that’s the reason why I’m not running from this Liberia.”
Since an arrest warrant was issued last week, Mr. Wonplo’s whereabout has been unknown. He insisted Monday that he is not running away from Monrovia but did not say where he is at the moment.
Not a Fugitive, Wonplo Says
Mr. Wonplo said Monday that contrary to perceptions and speculations, he has not fled Liberia. “They are saying, the man in Sierra Leone, the man in Guinea, the man in Ghana, the man in Gambia. I’m right here. You will not see me until I’m ready for you to see me.”
Mr. Wonplo says he has outsmarted the security sector, he says, is not sophisticated enough to find him. “I want to tell you that when it comes to security intel, we are sophisticated. You don’t have the manpower to pick me up in Liberia, no! Because I know your security. The security is not strong to get me, it’s not possible. But I want to be clear here. What I have observed is that if you are in disagreement with corrupt activities in Liberia, then you are seen as a corrupt man. If you are in line with corrupt activities in Liberia, you are the best man. Today, people are saying the man talking about thins because he wants to protect George Weah, that’s not the issue. As I said the last time, when you are in certain position in government, certain positions of trust, you listen more, talk less and not just talking less but talk at the appropriate time. This is the appropriate time.”
Mr. Wonplo averred that he has become a target because he refused to join what he describes as a corrupt cartel.
He said the ticking time bomb Liberia is currently sitting under is setting a dangerous precedent for the country’s future. “There are a lot more that we are to do as a country to liberate Liberia because these things I am saying here I’m clear of them. I’m discussing the life of my family, my own life, the life of my friends and also discussing the interest of those that believe in me and have followed me over the years.”
‘They Misinformed the Americans’
The former Passport director says he has no reason to make up stories. “If you try to make up stories, the stories will not connect, and you will fall short. I am here to say nothing but the truth because I believe that it is only the truth now that can set me free because these guys decided to bother me.”
Mr. Wonplo added: “They came on me with all the mistakes they have made and have gone and misinformed the Americans, the international community and the Liberian people on grounds that Andrew Wonplo was the one that was involved in all of these illegal activities in the Republic of Liberia which is not true.”
Mr. Wonplo went on to name top associates of President Weah of being in the know of the sale of diplomatic passports. “As I said in my press release, I was not part of the committee, but meanwhile I was receiving instructions – and these instructions came from the higher-ups, I maintain. And who are they? Instructions to issue these passports came from the office of the President, it came from through individuals, the likes of Trokon Kpui, the likes of James Emmanuel Potter ofcourse the rescue mother, Nora Finda Bundoo and the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs for Legal, Deweh Gray.”
Mr. Wonplo then threw out a challenge those named to counter what he has said. “Anything I say, anybody that want to come out, I challenge you because I know that I’m speaking with facts – and for every time I speak and you come up to challenge me, something will come out that you need to see. I am serious. I’ve said and I maintain, there was a criminal cartel, there was a team put together to start, plan and manage these activities when it comes to the issue of giving out diplomatic passport to non-Liberians.”
Wonplo Points to Revised Regulations
Mr. Wonplo says a lot of Liberians are missing the big picture and wrongly labeling him as the bad guy. “This is the argument, the people are not picking up here, fellow Liberians. If you wrote for an honorary council – and ask me to give him a passport and somebody come back and say, have you issued non-Liberian passports, and I say yes. Am I wrong? I am not wrong. I understand the applied terminology being used here. What these guys don’t want to agree here to is that those individuals that they offered the honorary consulship to they were not Liberians and so when issued them the diplomatic passports, they were non-Liberians that were receiving the diplomatic passport, this is the issue. And so, whether these people were vetted properly or they were not vetted properly, I don’t know.”
Mr. Wonplo averred that there are a lot of things that are interplay at the moment regarding the passport saga. “You people decided to come after me because of my refusal to join the cartel.”
Ironically, Article I of the 2012 Revised Regulations on Honorary Consuls in Liberia, intended to revise the regulations and procedures for the appointment and termination of Honorary Consuls issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in in 2009, “Non-Liberians Honorary Consuls shall not be entitled to Liberian Diplomatic Passports”.
The revised regulations further state: “Honorary Consuls of the Republic of Liberia Shall be granted no additional privileges and immunities other than that provided by the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. With the exception of Liberian citizens appointed as Honorary Consuls of the Republic of Liberia in other countries. An Honorary consul shall operate under the jurisdiction and/or oversight of the Liberian Ambassador accredited to a Receiving State or a Liberian Ambassador accredited to a country in geographical proximity of the Receiving State.
But Mr. Wonplo says the passport policy gives the chief executive or the President of Liberia the discretion to confer anybody carrying the Liberian passport. “So, over a period of time, what leaders did, with cautious minds, when consul generals are appointed, based on the relationship and the offer they are providing to the country, previous presidents would prefer one or two of them carrying the Liberian passports which is their right because they have the right to refer who carries the Liberian diplomatic passport but these things were done consciously. Under the CDC-led government, there was no conscience. Every honorary consul general that was appointed was entitled to the passport.”
Passports Issuance ‘Out of My Reach’
Mr. Wonplo says he had no power to unilaterally give anyone a diplomatic passport because it was out of his readch. “As passport director, who am I to come out and say the right of the president here should not be upheld? It’s not possible. Mr. President, you were sending your actors – Trokon Kpui, Fida Bundoo, Emmanuel Potter, Gbezohnga Findley, I was constrained to act. There is no way possible that any passport director in Liberia will look at diplomatic passport and issue it without being authorized, it’s not possible given the way the process goes, it’s not possible – and so, you appointed your honorary consul. I still maintain that all of the appointments were done by you people. The passport system is there and I dare you try to play with the passport system. If you play with that system you will further damage yourself because it is in that system that I was schooled. I know the system more then finger tips. Anybody play with the system, when I get in I will deal with you from the system. No one should dare go into the system because the facts are also there. Besides, we don’t need system around here my people because the facts are glaring and on the wall. So, who gave the letters of appointment and the commission letters. Can you show me someone with Liberian diplomatic passport that don’t have letter of commission? So, don’t go in the system and go play fun there because the facts are there.”
Mr. Wonplo’s latest audio recording comes in the wake of another controversy surrounding the granting of an honorary consulship to a Nigerian national, Mr. Akintunde Ojo an alleged drug criminal who reportedly bribed his way through the Weah-led government for the acquisition of a Liberian diplomatic passport and a diplomatic post, for the purpose of carrying out his drug deals under the protection of Liberia’s sovereignty.
Information Minister of Information, Lenn Eugene Nagbe, has said the Liberian government acted prudently and legally in the appointment of as the country’s Honorary Consulate General to Mexico.