Liberia: Housing Authority Signs Contract with Burkinabè Firm after Bribery Scandal

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MONROVIA – A somewhat redux of the infamous Sable Mining exposé, the GELPAZ-National Housing Authority corruption saga that saw the former Managing Director, Duanah Siryon, his principal deputies and officials of GELPAZ land in jail for alleged bribery and solicitation of bribes, is taking another trend. The Government of Liberia has now sealed a deal with GELPAZ despite being in court for alleged bribery.

GELPAZ and the National Housing Authority (NHA) signed a Memorandum of Understanding in October 2018 for the construction of 50,000 low-cost housing units throughout the 15 counties of Liberia. However, things went amiss between the NHA and the Burkina Faso-based real estate developer after a leaked secret recording alleging some big shots in government requested bribes as compensation for the consummation of the contract was exposed by FrontPageAfrica.

Pictures of the contract signing were posted to Facebook on July 10, 2019 by Madam Celia Cuffy-Brown who was appointed as Managing Director of the NHA in two weeks ago by President Weah.

Sources closed to the developments at the NHA informed FrontPageAfrica that Ms. Cuffy-Brown who is currently out of the country would be issuing a press statement to announce the signing of the contract which she regards as a big achievement for the short period of time she has headed the Housing Authority.

FrontPageAfrica was informed that the consummation of the contract was pushed by Minister of State, Nathaniel McGill. Several attempts to verify this information with the Minister did not materialize up to press time Monday evening.

It can be recalled that Min. McGill was mentioned in the leaked audio to have made financial demands to the company for the signing of the contract. 

Source: “I cannot speak to the issue, but well… hmmm, the case is in court, the company was said to be corrupt and allegedly bribed some officials of the NHA, including the former MD, so, we don’t get it how the government would now sign a contract with the same company.” 

The source added, “If this company has a record for bribery, why do business with them? It means they do not have credibility. But all these seem to be overlooked by the government.”

FPA gathered from sources close to GELPAZ when the bribery allegation first came to light that top officials of government were demanding a cumulative amount of US$500,000 for the signing of the contract.

As part of the contract, the Government of Liberia would provide land for the company to carry out the construction of the structures. 

The government is entitled to percentage on each home sold and would at the same time claim the cost of the land on each home sold. 

Corruption Exposed by Audio

But until quite recently, everything pertaining to GELPAZ in Liberia came to a halt after the publication of the leaked audio which led to the ousting and brief incarceration of the former Managing Director of the NHA and his principal deputies. 

In the audio which was published by FPA in November 2018, the former the representative of GELPAZ in Liberia, Augustine Weah who is also the vice president of the company, alleged that NHA Managing Director Mr. Duanah Siryon had requested kickback in the tone of US$160,000 for NHA, US$100,000 for Justice Minister, US$100,000 for Nathaniel McGill and US$100,000 for Finance Minister before the contract can be consummated.

According to Weah, he negotiated with Siryon that they (GELPAZ) did not have that amount of money on hand but had made some transfer via LBDI Bank and could produce US$80,000 to be split between Minister McGill, his team and the NHA.

“After that the US$80,000 was presented to Duanah Siryon, and he told me ‘I’ll give you US$20,000 to keep and I’ll take the US$60,000 to McGill to disburse.’,” Weah was heard saying the leaked audio.

Weah further alleged that the NHA Managing Director requested and was offered a percentage in the construction, but pleaded that such would be kept secret from his principal deputies.

Weah was explaining to some employees of NHA after he received information that Siryon had accused him of receiving US$400,000 for President Weah (his cousin) and other members of the Executive branch for the consummation of the MOU in order for GELPAZ to start construction works. Weah had said he was confronted about the money by the President via a WhatsApp message when he was in Paris, France in September.

However, in another recording, Siryon is heard denying ever accusing Augustus Weah of receiving money for the President and challenged him to show proof of said accusation.

Siryon: “There has been no point in time that Gus (Augustus) gave me money to bring to y’all. Gus has the recordings, he has the videos if he brings it it’ll be good. There has been no point in time that I told the President that Gus received four hundred and some more thousand… There has been no point in time that Gus gave me money to give to y’all and I didn’t, besides the money that was given right here.”

However, in another recording, Siryon is heard denying ever accusing Augustine Weah of receiving money for the President and challenged him to show proof of said accusation.

Siryon: “There has been no point in time that Gus (Augustus) gave me money to bring to y’all. Gus has the recordings, he has the videos if he brings it it’ll be good. There has been no point in time that I told the President that Gus received four hundred and some more thousand… There has been no point in time that Gus gave me money to give to y’all and I didn’t, besides the money that was given right here.”

However, Siryon is further heard in the recording saying he asked his source whether there was anything in the ‘excepted package’ for the “VIP”. “He said the package entails US$160,000 – so NHA, US$100,000; Justice, US$20,000 and two others, US$ 40,000. I said, did you send that amount? What about VIP?”

Siryon further said that he was informed by his source Augustine Weah had alleged that Min. McGill gave him (Siryon) money for his team but he failed to do so.

However, Siryon is further heard in the recording saying he asked his source whether there was anything in the ‘excepted package’ for the “VIP”. “He said the package entails US$160,000 – so NHA, US$100,000; Justice, US$20,000 and two others, US$ 40,000. I said, did you send that amount? What about VIP?”

Siryon further said that he was informed by his source Augustine Weah had alleged that Min. McGill gave him (Siryon) money for his team but he failed to do so.

Siryon then said in the exchange of messages between he and his source, he told his source to ask Augustus Weah how much was given to McGill, adding that he had called McGill who told him he did not receive any money.

He quoted his source as replying, “What I know is NHA – U$100,000; Justice – US$20,000, McGill – US$20,000 and Finance – US$20,000.”

Siryon: “So I went to McGill that evening, very angry and I said McGill what’s going on, did you receive money and you didn’t give it to me? Because someone is claiming that you have me money and I didn’t receive it. McGill said, ‘from where?’ I said ‘From Gus’, then he said, ‘Who’s Gus’, I said Augustus Weah, the cousin of the President. He said, no.”

The NHA MD further stated in the audio that Min. McGill right away called President Weah to inform him that Augustus Weah had been spreading information that they have received money.

Multiple attempts to attempt to get comments from get comments from Justice Minister Frank Musa Dean and Minister McGill proved futile.

However, the NHA Managing Director, Siryon, denied the recording and described it as doctored.

“I just got the doctored recording. That doesn’t represent me. Dime I have not taken from any Investor to sign a contract. I will be having a press conference tomorrow morning along with the company (Gelpaz) president. Clarity will be made by him,” he told FrontPage Africa.

Top NHA Officials Arrested

In January, the First Judicial Circuit, Criminal Court “C”, at the Temple of Justice, issued a Writ of Arrest for Siryon for their alleged involvement with the bribery scandal.

According to the Writ, Duannah Siryon (NHA), Tugbeh C. Tugbeh (NHA), Isaac Roberts (NHA), Augustine Weah (Executive Director of Guss Group of Companies) and Emmanuel Tapsoda (Gelpaz-Immo Representative) were indicted for the crimes of Economic Sabotage, Theft of Property, Bribery, Misapplication of Entrusted Property and Criminal Conspiracy.

“The Grand Jury for Montserrado County, Republic of Liberia, upon their oath do hereby find, more probably than not, that the defendants, Duannah Siryon, Tugbeh C. Tugbeh, Isaac Roberts and Augustine Weah, to be identified, committed the crime of Economic Sabotage, a felony of the First Degree,” excerpt of the indictment read.

Augustine Weah: I’m Just A Whistle Blower

Augustine Weah took a year off from his job at the United Nations in hopes of feeling the waters of the still-infant government headed by George Manneh Weah, he had no idea it would lead to his arrest and subsequent short stint in jail.

Weah, a representative of the Burkinabe company, GELPAZ Construction in Liberia, was one of three persons picked up after the Civil Law Court in Monrovia issued a Writ of Ne Exeat Republica on NHA and GELPAZ officials.

Mr. Weah, insists it was his blowing of the whistle on the saga that led to the exposure of what was taking place at the NHA.  “I ‘m the patriot and whistleblower, but was illegally detained to give the story importance and to also confuse the people,” he told FPA while decline to provide more details of the case which is currently in court.

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