Liberia: Conflict of Interest – Lebanese Businessman, Pro-Temp on Turkey Delegation Sparks Concern
Monrovia – Eyebrows are being raised about the inclusion on a Liberian government delegation to Turkey of Mr. Ghassan Bassma, an influential Lebanese businessman during the Charles Taylor era and the head of the Senate Albert Chie as the George Weah-led government intensifies its quest to secure advance taxes from a number of concessionaires operating in Liberia.
Report by Rodney D. Sieh, [email protected]
FrontPageAfrica has obtained a photograph of some members of the delegation that also includes Mr. Serham Umurhan, a Turkish national who is the General Manager of the Turkish firm, MNG, Finance Minister Samuel Tweah, Minister of State Nathaniel McGill and Minister of Justice Cllr. Frank Musah Dean, standing in front of a chopper reportedly in Istanbul, the Turkish capital shortly after the negotiations with the Turkish firm, MNG Gold.
FrontPageAfrica reported Monday that a delegation left Monrovia last week for Turkey in a bid to secure advance taxes from the Turkish firm MNG Gold currently exploration mining operations at the Kokoya Mine located northeast of Monrovia.
Sime Darby, Mittal Also Eyed for Cash
The government is also said to be in negotiations with Sime Darby, ArcelorMittal, Golden Veroleum and a host of other companies in a bid for an advance on taxes to salvage the struggling economy.
The delegation to Turkey was reportedly seeking a ten-year advance from MNG Gold. It is unclear how those discussions ended but FrontPageAfrica has been receiving mixed messages regarding the discussions.
One source said the delegation was informed that MNG would consult its American partners and report back to the delegation. Another source said MNG is exploring a US$25 million advance although the number of years attached is unknown.
FrontPageAfrica has not been able to verify whether MNG has been able to consult with its investors on the Liberian proposal.
The delegation departed Liberia unknowingly to the public and it is unclear whether members of the national legislature are aware. The presence of the Senate Pro Temp on the trip is raising eyebrows with many questioning the head of the body tasked with providing oversight to the Executive branch is forming part of a delegation on a mission for tax advance which requires legislative approval.
It is still unclear why Basma was taken on the trip or what role he played.
Basma is head of Africa Motors and is related to Jamal Basma, who was previously on the United Nations Travel ban as well as the U.S. Treasury ban.
At the height of the Taylor era, Africa Motors had exclusive rights to import luxury European cars.
In 2005, the Coalition for International Justice pinned Basma as maintaining close contact with former Taylor and provided luxury vehicles for Taylor during his exile stay in Nigeria.
Basma was also connected to the controversial Gazprom deal during the reign of former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. Gazprom, a Russian company was in a heavy battle to obtain rights to Oil Block 13.
The report named Basma as one of Taylor’s closest contacts who reportedly supplied a fleet of luxury vehicles, mostly BMWs and Mercedes Benzes, for Taylor’s use during his exile in Calabar, Nigeria and for Taylor to give as gifts to senior Nigerian state and local officials.
Basma’s Strong Ties To Taylor
Basma also involved in a major scandal during the Taylor era regarding fuel importation. A United Nations report documented: “The main reason why Liberians have paid an exorbitant $3 per gallon for fuel is an agreement between Charles Taylor, Belle Dunbar and a private entity controlled by Ghassan Basma and Jamal Basma, which guaranteed Taylor a number of financial benefits. Nominally, LPRC set the price of fuel and collected some gains, designated as taxes. Each month, Kadiyatu Dara collected additional taxes that amounted to between $300,000 and $600,000 in cash directly from the Basma operation.”
The report added: “On direction from Taylor, she(Dara) distributed those funds to ATU, SSS and other paramilitary services as salaries. The Basma family had secured the exclusive five-year supply agreement in September 1998 against a $10 million loan payment in goods, such as cars and earth-moving equipment, to Taylor. The payment was entered into the government accounts as a prepaid tax. One stipulation of the exclusive agreement ensured automatic renewal as long as the loan including interest was not repaid by the Government. Currently, the outstanding debt is approximately $2 million. In other words, the $10 million “loan” to Taylor, which secured the Basma family the lucrative fuel import contract, was allowed to be recorded as an expenditure against taxes due to the Government.”
The report concluded that on August 30, 2003, the total fuel reserves of Liberia had dwindled to 800,000 gallons. On that date, the first shipment of 2,500 tons of gasoline, 1,800 tons of diesel and 1,342 tons of A-1 jet fuel was offloaded at the free port of Monrovia. Two weeks later, 5,500 more tons of gasoline were imported. These fuel deliveries, totaling 2.94 million gallons, went immediately on to the market at a price of $2.90 per gallon for diesel and $3 per gallon for gasoline. As explained in table 9 of the Panel’s previous report (S/2003/498), these retail prices contain, after deducting “taxes”, gains to importers of at least one-third of the wholesale price. But the aforementioned deliveries of 2.94 million gallons of fuel went on the market at a time when government agencies such as LPRC, Customs and the Ministry of Finance were not fully operational. Consequently, there is a strong suspicion that the importers or others may have pocketed all taxes and gains totaling several million dollars just from those two most recent deliveries.”
MNG commenced operations in 2016 in Liberia with a capacity of 650,000 tonnes per year, is one of several concessionaires reportedly being approached by the George Weah-led government for advances on taxes in a bid to bolster the ailing economy.
MNG has a 25-year Mineral development Agreement/Contract (MDA/MDC) with the Government of Liberia which was signed four years ago leading to the establishment of the Kokoya Goldfield.
MNG Liberia, owned by Turkish Billionaire, Mehmet Nazif Günal, operates the Liberty Gold Mines that operates the Avesoro Resources in Western Liberia (Bea Mountain) and the MNG-Gold, two of the largest gold mining operations in the country.
The company recently benefited from a contract between Bea Mountain Mining Corporation (BMMC), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Aureus Mining and MonuRent. As a result of the deal, MonuRent supplier contracts was novated to MNG Gold-owned Liberian company Atmaca Services – which owns 55% of Aureus.
‘Total Nonsense’: Taylor Denied Basma Deal
During his trial at The Hague, former President Taylor was specifically asked about Bassma.
“Mr Taylor, it is true that you had this agreement with you, Belle Dunbar and the entity controlled by Ghassan Basma and Jamal Basma during your presidency. That is correct, isn’t it, Mr Taylor?
The former President responded: “That is totally, totally irresponsible of the panel of experts and normally if the panel of exerts had an agreement they would have attached it here as an annex. This is total, total nonsense for experts. This is some of the problems that we had with them. Total nonsense. This is just hearsay or maybe gossip around. If there is an agreement, of course it would be attached.”
The former President was then asked whether it was true that “Each month, Kadiatu Diarra collected additional taxes that amounted to between $300,000 and $600,000 in cash directly from the Basma operation.”
To which Mr. Taylor replied: “This was US dollars, was it not? I don’t know what they are talking about. So I say this is irresponsible, that’s why my government – most of the governments always criticise some of these so-called experts. You get into a place and you get – this is totally, totally irresponsible.”