Monrovia – President George Manneh Weah has mandated Justice Minister Frank Musa Dean to investigate recent Global Witness report linking some ex-officials of government to an alleged bribery scheme that led to the awarding of Oil Block 13 to Exxon Mobil.
The investigation comes at the heels of a general concession review, including concessions in the oil sector.
It can be recalled that similar investigation and prosecution were commissioned by former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf when Global Witness uncovered how some ex and current officials (at the time) were involved in conflict of interest and solicitation of bribes to effect changes in public procurement concessions laws, mainly affecting the mining sector, to create free ride for the awarding of Wologozi concession to Sable Mining Limited.
Current Justice Minister Dean served as lawyer for Senator Varney Sherman who was heavily indicted in the alleged bribery scandal.
In its report, Global Witness urged the Liberian government to investigate Exxon’s US$120 million oil deal and ensure independence of the Liberia Industries Transparency Initiative.
Those likely to be investigated by the Justices Minister include former NOCAL CEO Randolph McClain, former National Investment Commission Chairman Natty Davis, former Finance Minister Amara Konneh, former Lands and Mines Minister Patrick Sendolo, former NOCAL Board Chair, Robert A. Sirleaf and former Justice Minister Christiana Tah.
According to the report, these ex-officials received US$35,000 to sign off on Block 13 to Exxon Mobil.
Block 13 was originally awarded by NOCAL in 2005 to Liberian-Anglo company Broadway Consolidated/Peppercoast (BCP). In 2007, the block was ratified by the Liberian legislature through bribery.
But Global Witness’ evidence shows that the company was likely part-owned by former Mining Minister Jonathan Mason and former Deputy Minister Mulbah Willie.
Mason and Willie are suspected of granting the oil block to a company in which they held interests while they were also ministers in 2005, which was illegal under Liberian law.
Exxon knew that Block 13 was originally awarded through bribery and that its purchase of the oil block could enrich former officials who might have been behind BCP.
In a PowerPoint presentation obtained by Global Witness, Exxon wrote that it was interested in purchasing the oil block despite its “concern over issues regarding US anti-corruption laws.”
Undeterred by the corruption red flags, Exxon went ahead with the deal anyway. Global Witness’ evidence shows that it structured the transaction in a way to skirt US anti-corruption laws by using a Canadian company – Canadian Overseas Petroleum Limited (COPL) – as a go-between to buy the block.
“It’s appalling that an oil giant like Exxon would buy up an oil block they knew was tainted by corruption,” said Jonathan Gant, Senior Campaigner at Global Witness.
“This kind of morally dubious corporate behavior is particularly shocking in a country like Liberia where endemic corruption continues to rob people of opportunities.”
If Mason did own BCP shares when Exxon bought Block 13, he would have received a share of the US$68.5 million Exxon paid BCP. Willie died in 2012, so any money he was owned would likely have gone to his estate.
There is also evidence that Adolph Lawrence, who became a Representative in 2012, held a BCP ownership interest in 2011.
If Lawrence continued to hold this interest when Exxon bought 2013, he also would have broken the law and may have received part of the money Exxon paid BCP.
Exxon has not responded to Global Witness’ request for comment. COPL has, saying its due diligence showed that there were no legal problems with the deal, that Mason did not hold shares in BCP, shareholders certified they held no interest for others, and that it received legal advice on its anti-corruption and anti-money laundering obligations.