Liberia: HPX Jittery over Status of Railway Negotiations amid Sanctions on McGill and Twehway


MONROVIA – Amid the sanctions imposed on three of the Weah-government top officials, HPX which is seeking a multi-user agreement with the Government of Liberia on the railway infrastructure is nervy over the status of the negotiations as the two top officials involved with the negotiations have been sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department.

FrontPageAfrica has obtained a communication written by the president and CEO of HPX, Eric Finlayson, addressed to the Minister of Justice seeking clarity on who they should continue communicating with as it relates to the negotiations on the multi-user agreement between the Government of Liberia and ArcelorMittal Liberia.

He wrote:

To enable us to continue to advance discussions with the Liberian Government, HPX seeks clarification on who is authorised to discuss these matters further from the Government in light of recent news of three Liberian Government Officials being sanctioned on 15 August 2022 by the US Government. Specifically:

· Where HPX previously dealt with Nathaniel McGill, Minister of State for Presidential Affairs and Chief of Staff to President George Weah, who should HPX communicate with going forward?

· Where HPX had previously dealt with Bill Twehway in his capacity as Managing Director of the National Port Authority (NPA), or more generally on matters related to the NPA, who should HPX communicate with going forward?

HPX is a privately-owned, U.S.-domiciled mineral exploration and development company while SMFG is a Guinean-incorporated mining company. SMFG is an 85% owned subsidiary of High Power Exploration (HPX).

The company is opting to export its iron ore from Guinea through Liberia using the railway infrastructure from Nimba to the Port of Buchanan.

It can be recalled the U.S. Treasury Department recently sanctioned Mr. McGill and Mr. Twehway for their alleged involvement in public corruption.

McGill is said to have received kickbacks for steering contract.

However, in his own defense, Mr. McGill in a communication to President Weah stated:

I do not preside over contract negotiations, nor do I sign contracts, and so where will the kickbacks come from?

Those who may have provided wrong information to the members of the Treasury Department investigators who were seeking to gather accurate and genuine allegations of corruption, abuse, waste, and mismanagement of public funds in the fight against corruption, unfortunately, provided the wrong and false information. For full disclosure, Mr. President, my only involvement with contract discussions is the current ongoing impasse between and amongst AML, HPX, and the SOLWAY issue.

For Twehway, he is said to be orchestrated the diversion of US$1.5 million in vessel storage fee funds from the NPA into a private account. Twehway secretly formed a private company to which, through his position at the NPA, he later unilaterally awarded a contract for loading and unloading cargo at the Port of Buchanan. The contract was awarded to the company less than a month after its founding. Twehway and others used family members to obfuscate their own involvement in the company while still benefitting financially from the company.

About the Nimba Iron Ore Project

The project is located in the Guinean Nimba Mountains, in south-eastern Guinea, adjacent to the Liberian and Ivoirian borders. It is a Tier 1 deposit containing extremely high grade, low impurity, direct shipping ore and is considered one of the best-undeveloped iron ore resources in the world. The use of such high-grade ore is an essential component of the fight to reduce energy consumption and global warming emissions during the steel-making process.

However, the project will depend hugely on Liberia’s Port of Buchanan for export.

The pre-feasibility study estimated total project development costs at $2.77 billion and direct capital costs for rail and port development in Liberia at more than $600 million.

According to the feasibility study, the operating cost estimate assumes, among other things, that access fees will be paid to the Government of Liberia, as the owner of the existing rail line (which is currently operated by ArcelorMittal Liberia), in line with established international principles.

ArcelorMittal owns an iron ore project on the Liberian side of the border with Guinea and operates the railroad. 

This has been a major point of contention for which the Legislature has held back its approval of the new MDA with ArcelorMittal.

The Senate, during their deliberation of the MDA, called for third parties to have unhindered access to the rail and port. It called on the Executive Branch to ensure that AML will cooperate with, give access to and will receive no transit or any other fees from the government and Government-designated third parties who may want to construct a rail or build other infrastructures.

The company has reportedly promised to give the Liberian government US$30 million for the project.