Liberia: Lawyers Demand Status On Sanctioned Ex-Government Officials’ Investigation Announced By President George Manneh Weah

PILAC Lead Counsel Aloysius Toe

MONROVIA – A group of Liberian lawyers is calling on the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) led government of President George Manneh Weah, through the Ministry of Justice, to provide a status report or institute independent criminal investigation and prosecution against the three former public officials who were recently sanctioned by the United States government for multiple acts of corruption.

In August this year, the US government, through its Treasury Department imposed sanctions on the former Minister of State for Presidential Affairs Nathaniel McGill, Solicitor General Cyrennius Cephus and the Director of the National Port Authority (NPA) Bill Tweahway for their involvement into barrage of criminal offenses, including corruption and bribery.

By Obediah Johnson

The sanctions fall under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.

The action of the US government prompted President George Manneh Weah to suspend the trio for time indefinite to enable them face investigation, according to an Executive Mansion release issued.

Following the suspension, the former officials resigned from the government based upon public outcries.

Despite their resignations, and the US’ government, through its Embassy near Monrovia disclosure that it has strong evidences to substantiate their involvement into the acts for which they were sanctioned, the Liberian government is yet to take actions to investigate and prosecute them

But in a letter dated November 17, and addressed to Liberia’s Minister of Justice Counselor Frank Musa Dean, under the signature of its Lead Counsel, Aloysius Toe, a copy which is in the possession of FrontPage Africa, the Liberian lawyers, under the banner: Public Interest Advocacy Center (PILAC) claimed that the government appears to be forgotten about the three men who were sanctioned for their involvement in public corruption in Liberia.

PILAC is a part of the Advocates for Community Alternatives (ACA) which seeks to promote and protect the legal interest of the public and communities against bad governance, among others. As the name depicts, the group fights for the upholding of the laws in the interest of the public.

Quoting the US government, the lawyers stated that the accused are “responsible for or complicit in, or have directly or indirectly engaged in corruption, including the  misappropriation of state assets, the expropriation of private assets for personal gain, corruption related to government contracts or the extraction of natural resources, or bribery.”

Suspension validates commission of the acts

They pointed out that the initial suspension of the three sanctioned ex-officials by President Weah creates a “reasonable doubt” that the acts alleged by the United States government were indeed committed, and the individuals named by the sanctions committed those acts.

The lawyers believed that the accusations against McGill, Tweahway and Cephus fall within the “ambit of acts violative of Liberian criminal, anti-money laundering, public procurement laws, and the Code of Conduct,” among others, and as such, the Ministry of Justice must commence investigation and subsequent prosecution in keeping with its statutory responsibility.

They maintained that the decision taken by the Liberian Chief Executive to announce an investigation on the corruption saga involving the sanctioned ex-officials “was an assurance to the Liberian people, that the Liberian government was pursuing the establishment of “probable cause” to commence prosecution.”

 “PILAC writes to inquire from the Ministry of Justice, whether or not; the Ministry of Justice has acted upon or has any intention to act on the accusations by the United States government and the public announcement by the President, announcing investigation against the sanctioned individuals.”

“In particular, PILAC wants to know, whether or not, the Ministry of Justice has instituted, or intends to institute, criminal investigations against the three individuals accused of bribery, manipulating public procurement for self-dealing, misappropriating government assets, seeking kickbacks, use of public funds for personal projects, organizing warlords to threaten political rivals, making illegal payment to senior government officials, receiving unjustified stipend from various Liberian government institutions, corruption, illegal extraction of natural resources, aiding and abetting money laundering , shielding criminal suspects, and compromising prosecutions, withholding evidence, diversion of US$1.5M in vessel storage fee funds from the NPA into a private account and unilaterally awarding public contracts for personal gains, etc.”

The lawyers maintained that these allegations support the presumption that crimes were committed or “intent-to-commit crimes was the desired outcome probably envisioned by the sanctioned individuals, likely planned and executed by them with the intent and motive to steal, and complicity to defraud the government and people of Liberia and international donors.

Threatening security

They claimed that the alleged actions of Tweahway, McGill and Cephus have the propensity to endanger the peace and stability of Liberia and its citizens.

PILAC maintained: “The actions by these individuals are tantamount to compromising the internal security of Liberia, and creating favorable conditions where global terrorists could use Liberia as a perfect transit and business destination to destabilize other parts of the world.”

Launch independent criminal probe

“To address these presumptions, all of which point to criminality, PILAC requests the Ministry of Justice to launch criminal investigation or publish the report of any investigation undertaken.”

The lawyers justified that the investigation will establish and determine, whether or not, these questionable dubious actions by the sanctioned individuals, alleged by the United States government and backed by the action of President Weah suspending them and promising investigations, were done with criminal mind and motive, with intent to commit crimes.

They further called for an independent criminal investigation to be conducted to assure public accountability in the matter.

They emphasized that the Ministry of Justice has legal and statutory obligation to launch criminal investigations to determine whether or not a crime has been committed, and as such, it cannot and must not ignore the issue and “pursue the path of business as usual.”

Cause to proceed

The Liberian lawyers believe that the US government accusations against the sanctioned individuals provide probable cause for the Ministry of Justice to proceed with immediate arrests and prosecutions against them.

“Even if, in the opinion of the Ministry of Justice, the accusations do not provide enough and compelling evidence to support arrest and prosecution, the accusations create reasonably suspicion, sufficient and necessary, to support criminal investigations-to gather and unearth additional evidence, and determine if and whether a crime has been committed or not. This is a legal obligation, which the Ministry of Justice owes taxpayers of Liberia, and the International Community.”

“If the Ministry of Justice has or intends to proceed with criminal investigation, PILAC requires to know how far the Ministry has gone in its plans, and how soon we expect results.”

They requested the ministry to also provide copies or proof if it has concluded or intends to conclude that the US government accusations have not provided sufficient basis as probable cause or reasonable suspicion to support prosecutions or commencement of criminal investigations, and on the basis of that, it has determined that a crime was likely not committed.

PILAC maintained that it would like to be afforded the opportunity to evaluate the legal sufficiency of such opinion, the evidentiary support of such conclusion, and the merits and logical basis of the reasoning used to arrive at such conclusion.

“However, if the Ministry of Justice reluctance or unwillingness to pursue prosecutions or criminal investigation is influenced by business as usual in government, then PILAC urges the Ministry of Justice to abandon this path, and institute criminal investigation or proceed with prosecution, in the interest of and for the sake of the country.”

Corruption widespread in Liberia

The lawyers, however, reminded Justice Minister Cllr. Dean that “it is a common knowledge that corruption and outright theft of public resources are pervasive and widespread in Liberia.”

But how and why the Ministry of Justice is unable and unwilling to commence, prosecute, and win and corruption case, the lawyers said, defy common sense, insults public intelligence, discourages international goodwill, and sets Liberia on a path to future conflict.

They pointed out that corruption drains the national coffers like some “demonic suction tube, and cannot and must always be ignored by the Ministry of Justice, as it does not matter, while the government jumps at every opportunity to manipulate and stage manage the shielding of corrupt officials.”

Important roles of US reports

They pointed out that in criminal investigations of corruption, reports and findings from the United States Department of Treasury play an important role.

According to the Liberian lawyers, those reports provide a logical inference and reasonable presumption that the accused individuals committed crimes, aided or abetted crimes or solicited the commission of crimes.

In the event where the findings and reports of the US Department of  Treasury do not provide such conclusive evidence that a crime has been committed, the layers pointed out that, the criminal investigations, if and when instituted, will determine existence or non-existence of crimes.

They maintained that such investigation will discover whether or not the sanctioned individuals acted with wrongful intent and disguised purpose (concealment or misrepresentation of actors’ goal or purpose in the transaction.)

“Mr. Minister, needless to remind you that the government’s leniency and carelessness to punish corruption, has contributed to the increase of corruption in Liberia. It builds the knowledge and belief by offenders that the government will be lenient or careless about it, thus creating an endless spiral of grand corruption in government.”

Meanwhile, PILAC has vowed to compel the Ministry of Justice to perform its statutory responsibility to uphold the law, serve the public trust, and punish the guilty if it fails to respond to its inquiries within 10 days.

The Ministry of Justice has not responded to the group of Liberian lawyers.

Minister mute

When contacted via Whatsapp, Justice Minister Counselor Frank Musa Dean refused to respond to FrontPage Africa’s inquiry on the status of the pronounced investigation of the sanctioned individuals and the position of the ministry on the communication from PILAC.

Though notification showed that the messages were read, Counselor Dean refused to reply up to press time.

PILAC may likely invoke the Freedom of Information Law if the government, through the Ministry of Justice fails to respond.

It has been a little over three months since the government promised to launch an investigation into the accusations raised against the sanctioned individuals by the US government.

The combat against corruption, especially in the public sector, has been an aged old problem in Liberia.

Presently, many public officials, including President George Manneh Weah, continue to accumulate ill-gotten wealth.

The questionable manner and form in which these officials acquire wealth in a short period of time remains a misery.

The aiding and abetting of corrupt practices and the culture of impunity make the fight against corruption, which remains a menace eating every fabric of the Liberian society, almost impossible.

Since his ascendancy to the presidency in 2018, President Weah has been consistently accused by his critics of not doing enough to prosecute public officials accused of corruption as evidenced by his persistent habit of shielding and justifying why corruption cannot be tackled under his administration thoroughly.

The Liberian leader is on record for pointing out to the interconnectivity of Liberians as one of the main reasons why stringent measures are not most often taken against corrupt public officials.

Like him, scores of his officials have not declared or made public their assets in keeping with the National Code of Conduct Law for public officials.

Outcomes and findings of investigative reports on acts of corruption involving his close associates and others have not been made public. In some instances, no actions are taken to serve as deterrence to others.

His political opponents think he lacks the political will to defeat corruption in a country where the vast majority of its citizens go to bed on empty stomach.