Liberia: ‘This Has Created Trauma for my Family’: Passport Director Blacklisted by US, Threatens Lawsuit
Monrovia – Hours after the US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo designated him blacklisted from traveling to the United States of America, Mr. Andrew Wonplo, who until his arrest and detention last year, served as Director of Passport at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, says he is pursuing legal action against the US for creating trauma for he and his family.
Speaking exclusively to FrontPageAfrica late Thursday evening; Mr. Wonplo said: “My plan right now is to pursue legal action because this has created trauma for my family and I think the US government was misinformed and they did not apply the due diligence and so I have to pursue legal means to be able to reach out to them. Definitely I’m going to sue them.”
Mr. Wonplo, was arrested in August 2019, along with a Nigerian national identified as Adedoyin E. Atiro, and accused of selling Liberian Passports to foreign nationals.
On Thursday, US State Department of State designated Wonplo and his entire family blacklisted from entering the US.
According to the US Secretary of State, the designation is 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.”
Mr. Wonplo says he was taken aback by the US for labeling him as corrupt and blacklisting him due to his involvement in significant corruption. “In his official capacity at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 2018 to 2019, Mr. Wonplo 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,” the Secretary of State said.
”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 push me against the wall, I’m going to open up.”Mr. Andrew Wonplo
But Mr. Wonplo says the State Department was misinformed. “The first thing is that Liberia is a sovereign nation and I think the government of the United States of America cannot dictate to the Liberian government, this is wrong. The second thing is, as I speak with you right now, I went to court, I was exonerated, I have my clearance from the court – and so, if an individual be writing from the US State Department or where ever they think they are – and informing the world that I am corrupt and so because of that, I must not go to America, determining me as former passport director, then I think they was misinformed.”
Mr. Wonplo added: “For them to reach that point, according to the release, they communicated with Minister Fahnbulleh – and I doubt whether Mr. Fahnbulleh is also informed of the happenings around here because it is clear I was exonerated, and the court ordered them to reinstate me. So, there is no way anyone can call me former passport director. And by the way I have a letter of suspension that reads that I am suspended pending the court outcome and so these are few things that made me to believe that they were misinformed.”
Asked what would be his next course of action, Mr. Wonplo said he believes in the rule of law. ”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 push me against the wall, I’m going to open up.”
Conflicting reports late Thursday suggested that the government was contemplating re-arresting Mr. Wonplo due to mounting pressure from the US State Department, unhappy that the case regarding alleged passport fraud did not undergo a comprehensive exploration of the facts in a trial, leaving open questions as to the integrity and security of the travel identity documents issued by Liberia and the immigration system.
Also uncertain is the fate of Criminal Court ‘C’ Judge Yarmie Quiqui, who presided over the case and dismissed charges against Mr. Wonplo.
More importantly, the fate of prosecutors who failed to go ahead with the case, as they have done so many in recent months, going AWOL in the middle of trials and allowing suspects to go free.
The US stance on Mr. Wonplo follows a recent wave of concerns over major lapses in Liberia’s judicial system. The State Department has cited in its annual Human Rights Report that judicial officials and prosecutors appeared subject to pressure, and the outcomes of some trials appeared to be predetermined.
The 2019 report in particular noted that while the Supreme Court has made provision through the establishment of the Grievance and Ethics Committee for the review of unethical conduct of lawyers and has suspended some lawyers from legal practice for up to five years, the public has brought few cases. “Complaints of corruption and malpractice involving judges’ conduct may be brought to the Judicial Inquiry Commission. Both the Grievance and Ethics Committee and the Judicial Inquiry Commission lacked appropriate guidelines to deliver their mandates effectively and were perceived as nontransparent and subject to influence.”