Liberia: Why Charges Were Dropped Against Charles E. Sirleaf in Ongoing L$16 B Saga – Solicitor General Sayma Cyrennius Cephus
Monrovia – All charges that were drawn against Mr. Charles Sirleaf, a son of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and others, in the ongoing L$16 saga, have now been dropped. Mr. Sirleaf is now a free man, while others, who were charged along with him were reduced to lesser charges and one still has all the original charges.
By Alaskai Moore Johnson, [email protected] 0777889870
Cllr. Sayma Cyrennius Cephus, Solicitor General of the Republic of Liberia, announced Friday, May 15, that the state prosecuting arm, which he heads at the moment, have dropped all charges against Mr. Sirleaf having found out that his only mistake in the process was that he (Sirleaf) made an “egregious abuse of administrative discretion” when he didn’t follow through with the instructions he had received earlier as it relates to the printing of the first L$5 billion. Cllr. Cephus also termed Mr. Sirleaf’s error as a “gross malfeasance” adding, “But it’s not criminal.”
He added: “So what they did, they departed from the original objective of replacing the legacy banknote or using Thomas De La Rue with the designs, specifications, texture, physical appearance they went to Crane Currency. When they went to Crane Currency, Crane Currency printed and delivered every other thing that they needed.”
According to him, Sirleaf printed an entirely “new money”, containing L$500 denomination, which he said wasn’t the original objective and it was infused into the economy. “Instead or withdrawing or replacing the legacy banknotes, they added the new money into the economy, so there was the concomitant or parallel usage of both the mutilated banknotes, which is the legacy banknotes.”
He indicated that in the mind and opinion of the Solicitor General that is an egregious abuse of administrative discretion on the part of Mr. Sirleaf.
Providing justification further, he stated, “All they did they departed from the objective of replacing the legacy banknotes to the introduction of new currency and the parallel or concomitant usage of the two currencies: of course the resultant force led to what we called the ‘hyperinflation’ that you saw. Significantly, the rate moved from L$80 to L$100 and on. So in that case, it was bridge of administrative protocol. Mr. Sirleaf was without authority by law to have done what he did but they brought the exact quantity of money that was requested, printed, delivered and accounted for.”
He further said that in the wisdom of the Solicitor General (him) and the prosecution of the Ministry of Justice, for this purpose, they saw that it was “an egregious abuse of administrative discretion,” which, according to him is not criminal.
All they did they departed from the objective of replacing the legacy banknotes to the introduction of new currency and the parallel or concomitant usage of the two currencies: of course the resultant force led to what we called the ‘hyperinflation’ that you saw. Significantly, the rate moved from L$80 to L$100 and on. So in that case, it was bridge of administrative protocol. Mr. Sirleaf was without authority by law to have done what he did but they brought the exact quantity of money that was requested, printed, delivered and accounted for.”Solicitor General Sayma Cyrennius Cephus
Solicitor General Cephus added: “So today, we entered on his behalf a motion for Nolle Prosequi with prejudice to the state.” This means that the state is no longer going to go after Mr. Sirleaf as it relates to this case. He furthered: “Meaning he’s off the hook, if there was any; meaning we are not indicting him. We have removed all the charges on him.”
He had earlier said that Mr. Sirleaf had previously entered into a contract with Thomas De La Rue, the company which had been printing the Liberian currency, to print the money.
“The clear understanding was that it would be done with Thomas De La Rue. When the authorization came, when there was a change of printer or contractor meaning that Thomas De La Rue wouldn’t have been able to deliver on time as required by the Central Bank of Liberia, and there was a need to revert to a third party in the case of Crane Currency, they didn’t revert to the Legislature to give them the information.”
According to Cllr. Cephus, this is where the problem had come from. He added: “The problem was if you went to Thomas De La Rue, the line, the texture, the design, physical appearance and every other thing will look different, it will carry different stamp. If you went to Crane Currency, it will look different.”
Mr. Sirleaf, who is a former Deputy Executive Governor for Operations at the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL), was indicted along with other former officials, including Mr. Milton A. Weeks, Executive Governor, Richard Walker, Director for Operations, Dorbor Hagba, Director for Finance Department and Mr. Joseph Dennis, Deputy Director for Internal Audit.
On March 1, 2019, while acting as head of the CBL, because Executive Governor Weeks had resigned, Sirleaf, along with Hagba was arrested by officers at the Liberian National Police (LNP) at the CBL Headquarters on Ashmun Street. Their arrest was followed by the arrests of Messrs. Weeks, Walker and Dennis.
The initial charges placed on them were economic sabotage, theft of property, criminal conspiracy and criminal solicitation. But when the present Solicitor General was appointed by President George Weah and he became involved with the case, he added money laundering to the previous charges, according to him, “after I had reviewed the file and analyzed the issues.”
In a later indictment of money laundering, Cllr. Cephus and others had argued that in April 2016 and up to and including August 2016, “The five defendants knowingly, deliberately and intentionally collude and conspired with the wicked intent to launder money and sabotage the Liberian economy by unauthorizingly printing excess Liberian Dollar banknotes amounting to L$2,645,000,000 and also unauthorizingly paid and caused to be paid and did pay the amount of U$835,367.72 to co-defendant Crane Currency of Sweden for the amount printed.”
According to the indictment, also from the investigation conducted independently by the Presidential Investigation Team (PIT) and Kroll Associates from the US, it was established that on May 17, 2016, Co-defendant Sirleaf while serving as Acting Executive Governor of CBL made a request thru former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to the Legislature to print L$5B to replace the legacy notes known as mutilated notes.
The state prosecutors further stated that both the House of Representatives and Senate through a joint resolution granted approval to the CBL and a contract was executed with co-defendant Crane Currency for the amount of US$5,210,000 for L$5B to be printed.
They didn’t get authorization, there was a blatant attempt of concealing information; they withdrew from the national treasury reserve US$10M unauthorizingly to print L$10.5B plus excess out of which L$2.6B is unaccounted for,”Cllr. S. Cyrennius Cephus
Though the state prosecutors claimed that the approval for the printing of the L$5,000,000,000 new Liberian bank notes was granted by the Legislature on May 17, 2016 but Mr. Sirleaf had earlier executed and entered into a contract with Crane Currency on May 6, 2016, 11 days before the Legislature gave him the approval to go ahead.
Judge Over Case Recused Himself and Weeks Still Charged
Further addressing newsmen and women, Cllr. Cephus said as the case commenced and they were into it, the presiding judge recused himself only with these words: “for reason best known to myself.” According to him, he is still bewildered at this moment on why the judge recused himself.
“The Government of Liberia being dissatisfied and leading the prosecution, we went on a petition for a Writ of Certiorari to review the ruling of the judge. We asked the Supreme Court to review the ruling of the judge and to compel the judge to state the basis for his withdrawal because the phrase or reason ‘best known to myself’ is not sufficient enough for withdrawal.”
He narrated further that Associate Justice Yousif Kaba, after reviewing the matter, ordered that the case should start as fresh. According to him, at this point, Mr. Weeks took an appeal to the full bench of the Supreme Court, thereby detaching himself from the rest of the accused men, while Sirleaf and others agreed to move back to the lower court to begin the case at new.
Judge Blamo Dixon had presided over the case for three weeks before surprisingly stepping aside from it on September 26, 2019.
Cllr. Cephus accused Weeks and the other members of the CBL Board of Governors, of unilaterally printing L$10.5B “plus excess” without a legislative approval and subsequently LS$2.6B of this money became unaccounted for.
“They didn’t get authorization, there was a blatant attempt of concealing information; they withdrew from the national treasury reserve US$10M unauthorizingly to print L$10.5B plus excess out of which L$2.6B is unaccounted for,” Cllr. Cephus said; adding, “That constitutes theft.”
“They conspired, they concealed, they grossly misled and sabotaged the Liberian economy,” Cephus stressed.
Dorbor Hagba, Richard Walker and Joseph Dennis
The Solicitor General also disclosed that his prosecuting team had also entered Nolle Prosequi without prejudice to the state in the three men’s behalf. However, this time he defines it as, “meaning, we removed the charges and suspended them. The reason being they served in subordinated capacities.”
“If you look at the roles that Dorbor Hagba, Richard Walker and Joseph Dennis played, they played their roles respectively based on the instructions coming from the board by and thru the Executive Governor. So, the Republic of Liberia is going after the Executive Governor and the Board,” he stated.
Cllr. Cephus, however, disclosed that all those who aided the process directly or indirectly, will be brought in. “The reason why they are going to be brought is that they aided and abetted the process.”
He said he has now placed the three men in the category of “accessories after the fact,” which he said means, “After the crime has been committed, the man who is helping the man who committed the crime to escape.”
Board Members Talking to Him
Cllr. Cephus maintained that they aren’t going to go after the three men and leave the main alleged doers of act.
“Interestingly, something that has happened is that two of the board members have started to talk to me. They wouldn’t be subjected in the same manner and forms the others would be.”
He named Madams Melissa Emmet and Elsie Dossen Badio as the two who have shown “flexibility of discussing with the Office of the Solicitor General. They have said they are going to come forward and explain the role we played.”
No Money Missing
It can easily be said that Cephus and his team might likely loss this case when it is concluded in court as senior government officials, including the Finance Minister Samuel Tweah, Central Bank Governor Nathaniel Patray and Justice Minister Frank Musah Dean are on record of saying all of the monies were printed, brought into the country and are in vaults of the CBL and that no money is missing. This is contrary to Cephus’ claims of unaccounted for L$2.6B.
Responding to the General Auditing Commission’s report on the same issue in May 2019, Justice Minister Dean said, “There is, therefore, no issue as to the L$2.6 billion, representing the value of US$17M, being brought to the vault of the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL). It can safely be concluded that no money is missing in the US$25 million mop-up exercise,” the Justice Minister said in count six of his “Response to the Auditor General’s Report on Factual Findings on the US$25 Mop-up Exercise Conducted by the Central Bank of Liberia.”
“Records from Crane Currency of Sweden, which was contracted to print the money, show that Crane delivered 15.5 billion Liberian dollars through Freeport and Roberts International Airport between 2016 and 2018,” Nathaniel Patray, the Central Bank of Liberia governor, told a press conference early October of 2019. “All these monies were logged by the CBL (Central Bank of Liberia) and delivered into the reserved vaults of the CBL.”