Foreign Forensic Investigators Reportedly Contemplating Lawsuit against Liberia for Breach of Contract
MONROVIA – A team of forensic investigators from Grant Thornton, a professional forensic investigation firm, contracted by the Government of Liberia to help the Asset Investigation Recovery and Restitution Team (AIRReT) are reportedly contemplating filing a lawsuit against the government of Liberia for being heavily indebted to them and doing little to settle their arrears.
FrontPageAfrica has gathered that the AIRReT arrangement was done outside the Ministry of Justice’s budget and was expected to be funded covertly by the security sector.
According to information gathered by FrontPageAfrica, the arrangement that brought the international experts onboard was reached between Solicitor General Cllr. Sayma Cyrenius Cehpus, Minister of State Nathaniel McGill and Finance Minister Samuel Tweah.
AIRReT which comprised a team of investigators was formed by Cllr. Cephus with the mandate of investigating and recovering stolen assets from government both at home and abroad.
In August 2019, the foreign forensic investigators met with President Weah who informed them of his government’s Asset Investigation, Restitution and Recovery Team set up to catalyze the fight against corruption.
In a meeting Thursday, August 1, 2019, with officials of the internationally acclaimed Grant Thornton, a professional forensic investigation firm, which is particularly specialized in asset-tracing and recovery, President Weah reaffirmed his burning desire to uncompromisingly fight corruption and those who practice it.
“I want to make sure that money stolen, laundered and smuggled out of this country is recovered and brought back to Liberia,” he averred, adding that Liberia has so much resources to improve the living standard of all its people but this is hampered by corruption.
“I made a promise and will keep it,” he said further. “My fight against corruption is not a witch hunt but a commitment to develop Liberia with its own resources and monies that were stolen from the Country.”
President Weah assured the delegation from Grant Thornton of his Government’s unbending commitment to partner with all anti-graft agencies for the recovery and restitution of millions of U.S. Dollars stolen from Liberia.
Grant Thronton and the Government were at the time expected to sign a partnership deal through the Asset Investigation, Restitution and Recovery Team under the supervision of Solicitor General Cephus.
Mr. Kevin Hellard, the group’s Head of Insolvency and Asset Recovery, expressed delight in helping Liberia to recover its stolen money.
Neither Cllrs. Cephus nor Arthur could be reached for comments on the matter.
AIRReT Head Resigns
Cllr. Arthur Johnson who headed AIRReT on Tuesday tendered in his resignation citing the lack of political will on the part of the government to fight corruption.
“I am so constrained to tender in my resignation from the position of Chairman of the Assets Investigation Restitution and Recovery Team (AIRReT) due to the fact that my anticipation and perception about the fight against corruption is not achieving its objectives. I expected that there will be a “WILL” in the fight against corruption but this belief of mine had proven to be an illusion, and therefore, I cannot continue to risk my career and reputation,” he stated in his resignation letter, a copy of which FrontPageAfrica has obtained.
Cllr. Johnson further disclosed in his resignation letter that he is withdrawing from all government cases to include the Republic of Liberia versus Brownie J. Samukai, Joseph Johnson, and Nyuma Dorkor which is presently before the Criminal Court “C’” for Montserrado County.
“I am willing to serve my country at any time but in my private capacity as a lawyer,” he added.
He told FrontPageAfrica on Tuesday that over the period of nine months, he has not been paid and more embarrassingly, his foreign partners are not being paid as per the contract signed with AIRReT.
According to him, his team has not been receiving the cordial cooperation from ministries, agencies and officials of the government in gathering evidence that would lead to either prosecution or recovery of assets.
FrontPageAfrica gathered that the team of foreign investigators is particularly blocked from accessing files at the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL) and the Central Bank of Liberia – a move that is making their mandate almost impossible to execute.
Was there The Need for AIRReT?
In August last year, the Center for Transparency and Accountability (CENTAL) lauded the government for making efforts to retrieve millions lost to corruption and bad governance.
The accountability group, however, expressed concerns over the legality of such efforts and establishment of multiple and parallel structures, when existing institutions with such mandates and functions can be strengthened and fully supported, financially and logistically, to perform such tasks.
CENTAL: “The government of Liberia, through the Ministry of Justice, has established an Asset Recovery and Restitution Team (AIRReT), when Section 5.1 (e) of the Liberian Anti-corruption Commission Act of 2008 gives it such function and mandate. The Commission is mandated to, among other functions, “develop/adopt appropriate measures, consistent with law, to identify, trace and recover any assets/proceeds of corruption and ensure the confiscation, in the court of law, of said assets and proceeds therefrom”. Why are we setting up a parallel structure to play such role, when lawyers and investigators are already paid at the Commission to do so?”
CENTAL at the time noted that AIRReT would be circumventing the law in attempting to usurp the function of LACC.
CENTAL added, “Also, hiring private local lawyers as heads of ARRET represents a conflict of interest, as these very lawyers represent individuals who may have to appear before it. Several questions linger: Have those overseeing the asset recovery process declared their assets since they are expected to receive public resources to perform? Will they work in close collaboration with the LACC and other public integrity institutions? And will the process be in line with international best practices around assets recovery?”