U.S. Embassy in Monrovia Distances Itself from Congressman Chris Smith’s Comments on Pres. Weah; Says He Does Not Speak for the Biden Administration
Monrovia – The United States embassy in Monrovia is drawing a line of demarcation from damning comments against the George Weah-led administration by Congressman Chris Smith, a high-ranking member of the US Congress.
Congressman Smith is also the proponent of the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, which was enacted in 2012 by the US Congress and signed into law by ex-President Barrack Obama in 2016, to among other things, allow the U.S. government to sanction foreign government officials implicated in human rights abuses anywhere in the world.
The Magnitsky Factor
Formally known as the Russia and Moldova Jackson–Vanik Repeal and Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012, the Act is a bipartisan bill, initially ntending to punish Russian officials responsible for the death of Russian tax lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in a Moscow prison in 2009 and also to grant permanent normal trade relations status to Russia.
In a virtual broadcast marking the first hearing of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission on the implementation of the Act via cisco on March 24, Congressman Smith claimed that President Weah has been allegedly depleting the country’s coffers since his ascendancy to the Liberian presidency.
The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission is a bi-partisan commission which was established with the unanimous consent of the United States House of Representatives in 2008.
The Commission is charged with promoting, defending and advocating for international human rights as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other relevant human rights instruments. The Commission undertakes public education activities, provides expert human rights advice and encourages members of Congress to actively engage in human rights matters.
The Commission is chaired by two members of the House of Representatives who are appointed by the Speaker of the House and the Minority Leader. For the 117th Congress, Rep. James P. McGovern (MA-02) is the Democratic Co-Chair, and Rep. Christopher H. Smith (NJ-04) is the Republican Co-Chair.
This year, the act currently runs out as an executive order and Congressman’s Smith is leading the charge to expand it to make it a permanent law not requiring reauthorization every four years.
Trumpeting the Act last week, Rep Smith who serves on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and a ranking member of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations, blamed President Weah for the high rate of poverty in the country by using his political power to appropriate the wealth of the county through embezzling or misappropriating government funds at the expense of the wider population.
Said Rep. Smith: “In Africa, we have a special relationship with Liberia which was founded by freed American slaves. Unfortunately, President George Weah leads a Kleptocratic government that is engaged in political corruption from the day he assumed office by depleting the government’s coffers for personal use while the people of Liberia suffer.”
Does Not Speak for Biden, US Embassy
The Congressman’s comments come amid murmurs in Monrovia last week that the US government through Congress was on the verge of placing sanctions on a number of officials in the Weah-led government.
Contacted in the aftermath of Rep. Smith’s comments, the US embassy in Monrovia through Public Affairs Officer Michael Ardaiolo, said the lawmaker’s comments does not represent the Joe Biden administration or the US embassy.
Mr. Ardaiolo stated: “Representative Smith is a member of the House of Representatives. He represents one of the many diverse viewpoints of our elected officials, which is a strength of our democracy. He does not, however, speak directly on behalf of the Biden-Harris Administration or the U.S. Embassy. The U.S. Embassy has consistently raised concerns over corruption in our private conversations with the government and in our publicly available reports, including on investment climate and human rights.
Liberians in government have recently been designated as corrupt actors by the U.S. State Department and U.S. Treasury Department. We have long worked with government and civil society actors in anti-corruption efforts in Liberia and share the belief of many Liberians that corruption is a primary barrier to development of the country.”
The Weah administration has in recent months been battling perceptions of corruption. This is not the first time issues regarding perception of corruption has been heard from the corridors of the US government.
Last year, during the confirmation of Mr. Michael A. McCarthy, the current US Ambassador accredited to Liberia, Senator Bob Menendez(Democrat, New Jersey) had queried the nominee on reports fo corruption under the Weah-led administration and asked what he would do to change the damaging perception of corruption that has been dogging the government, now in its fourth year.
Pressed by Senator Menendez, a ranking member of the committee, on his assessment of the government’s willingness and capacity to address corruption and what would he do if confirmed, to press the government to adequately address the corruption issue, Mr. McCarthy said he would devise a three-pronged approach toward making the case.
Last week, Ambassador McCarthy in a response to a complaint of corruption from Rep. Yekeh Kolubah(ANC, District No. 10) regarding corruption, in possession of FrontPageAfrica, offered the following response: “Like many other Liberians and those who care about the future of this country, I share you concern. This is why the US mission to Liberia has invested heavily to implement increased transparency in Liberia’s budget tracking systems, professionalize criminal justice operations, and build the capacity of the Liberia anti-corruption Commissions. It is my hope and expectation that these institutions and the good people of Liberia will continue the noble and necessary fight against corruption.”
Source: Weah Govt. Pursuing Diplomatic Channels
The Liberian government is yet to officially respond to the latest comments made by Congressman Smith. However, FrontPageAfrica has learned that the administration is currently engaging diplomatic channels in a bid to counter the Congressman’s assault on the administration.
To date, the Global Magnitsky sanctions have been imposed on more than 240 individuals and entities identified as responsible for serious human rights abuses or corruption from more than 30 countries.
During the hearing, Congressman Smith recounted the long standing relationship between the US and Liberia, but pointed out that, “political corruption” has been the order of the day under the Weah led-government.
Last week, Congressman Smith made specific reference to Grand Cape Mount County Senator Varney Sherman, who is one of the victims of the implementation of the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.
Senator Sheriff, who is also a Counselor and Chairman of the Senate Committee on Judiciary was slapped with economic sanctions last December by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) for his alleged involvement in a series of bribery and corruption related cases.
According to the OFAC, Senator Sherman “has routinely paid judges to decide cases in his favor, and he has allegedly facilitated payments to Liberian politicians to support impeachment of a judge who has ruled against him.”
Senator Sherman, according to the U.S. Government, also allegedly offered bribes to be set free from a bribery case he and some other top government officials in Liberia, including former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Alex J. Tyler, were connected to.
Global Witness, a British corruption watchdog, in 2015, alleged that Sable Mining Company, through Cllr. Varney Sherman, the company’s legal representative, and his colleagues conspired to circumvent the law in order for the company to get a concession to mine the Wologisi Mountain in Lofa without going through a competitive bidding process.
“Varney Sherman, now a prominent lawyer, Liberian Senator, and chair of the Liberian Senate Judiciary Committee, offered bribes to multiple judges associated with his trial for 2010 bribery scheme, and he had an undisclosed conflict of interest with judge who ultimately returned a not guilty verdict in July 2019,” the release said.
“In the 2010 scheme that led to his trial, Sherman was hired by a British Mining company in an effort to obtain one of Liberia’s last mining assets, the Wologisi iron ore concession. Sherman advised the company that, in order to obtain the contract, they first had to get Liberia’s procurement and concession law changed by bribing senior officials,” the U.S. Government further noted.
“In 2016, Sherman was indicted by the Liberian government, along to several government officials, for their involvement in the US$950,000 bribery scheme.”
“As a result of today’s action, all property and interests in property of the persons above that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons are blocked and must be reported to OFAC. In addition, any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by one or more blocked persons are also blocked. Unless authorized by a general or specific license issued by OFAC, or otherwise exempt, OFAC’s regulations generally prohibit all transactions by U.S. persons or within (or transiting) the United States that involve any property or interests in property of designated or otherwise blocked persons”.
“The prohibitions include the making of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services by, to, or for the benefit of any blocked person or the receipt of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services from any such person”.
But Congressman Smith maintained that despite the multiple sanctions against Senator Sherman, more need to be done in combating against corruption and human right abuses in Liberia by imposing sanctions on other officials.
Legislation modeled on Global Magnitsky has been approved in several places including Canada, the United Kingdom, and the European Union, and is under consideration in others, including Australia and Japan. Designed to be an agile “smart” sanctions tool, Global Magnitsky sanctions are often referred to as a means to hold perpetrators and corrupt persons accountable for their actions.
The latest hearing conducted by the commission was intended to examine the implementation of the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.