Liberia: US State Department Bans Entry of Passport Director Involved in ‘Significant Corruption’
Monrovia – Mr. Andrew Wonplo, the disgraced former Passport Director of Liberia who was arrested in August 2019 and accused of selling Liberian Passports to foreign nationals, has been banned from entry into the United States of America despite recently being set free by the judicial branch of Liberia.
US Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo, in a statement Thursday announced the public designation due to Wonplo’s 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.
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.”Michael R. Pompeo, US Secretary of State
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.”
Wonplo was arrested in August 2019 and sent to the Monrovia City Court at the Temple of Justice where he was detained for his failure to secure a criminal appearance bond after officers of the Liberian National
Police had forwarded him to the Magisterial Court for prosecution.
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 Criminal Court ‘C’ presided over by Judge Yarmie Quiqui Gbeisay dismissed charges against Wonplo and restored his liberty.
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 by 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.
At his release, Mr. Wonplo insisted he did nothing wrong, declaring: “Liberia is a country of laws.” Even though the case was between him and the Republic of Liberia, Wonplo said at the time that he had no intention of taking issue with the government for tarnishing his character because he is a strong CDCIAN – and that “these are things that happen in life for which one must expect.”
Mr. Wonplo was appointed by President George Weah on February 13.
The decision by the US State Department deals a major slap in the face of the Liberia justice system often criticized for corruption and bribery.
The 2019 US State Department Human Rights Report noted that judicial officials and prosecutors appeared subject to pressure, and the outcomes of some trials appeared to be predetermined.
The report noted for example, on July 5, in the midst of a widely publicized corruption and bribery trial, Supreme Court justice Joseph Nagbe visited Criminal Court C during the testimony of the defendant, Senator Varney Sherman, causing Judge Peter Gbeneweleh to pause proceedings while Nagbe and Gbeneweleh held a private meeting in chambers. Justice Nagbe, a former senator, had previously cochaired the Senate Judiciary Committee with defendant Sherman before being confirmed as a Supreme Court justice by the same committee. Many observers saw Nagbe’s visit as an attempt to influence the decision.
The report furthered: “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.”