Liberia suspends senior officials accused of corruption by US

·3 min read
© Darlington Porkpa

At least three high-ranking Liberian officials have been suspended from office after being sanctioned for "acts of corruption" by the United States government.

Washington targeted the trio over what it said was their ongoing involvement in public corruption.

They are Liberian President George Weah's Chief of Staff, Nathaniel McGill, Chief Prosecutor, Sayma Syrenius Cephus, and the managing director of Liberia's National Port Authority, Bill Twehway.

All have been put on a sanctions list for bribery and corruption under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, otherwise known as GloMag.

In a statement issued by the Liberian presidency, Weah reacted to the news with “serious concern ... [and] suspended the named officials with immediate effect to enable them to face investigation".

The officials' properties and assets have been frozen, and the US has threatened to reprimand anyone doing business with them directly or indirectly.

Endemic corruption 'robbing' Liberians

According to the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), the officials have undermined democracy in Liberia for their own personal benefit.

At a news conference, US ambassador to Liberia Michael McCarthy said the US Treasury's designation of Liberian government officials was in line with the US strategy on countering corruption – a core US national security interest.

“The worsening corruption situation has resulted in a greater number of US officials publicly calling out Liberia,” McCarthy said.

"In recent years, corruption has worsened, to the point that it’s now the dominant issue in a bilateral relationship that would otherwise show far more promise.”

McCarthy said GloMag targeted perpetrators of serious human rights abuses and those responsible for significant corruption around the world.

According to the US report, corruption has robbed the Liberian people "of funds for public services, empowering illicit actors, degrading the business environment, and damaging the rule of law and effective governance in the country".

George Weah's cronies

The report indicates that Chief of Staff McGill bribed business owners, received bribes from potential investors, and accepted kickbacks for steering contracts to companies in which he has an interest.

He’s accused of manipulating public procurement processes in order to award multimillion dollar contracts to companies in which he has ownership interests, including by abusing emergency procurement processes to rig contract bids.

According to the report, Chief Prosecutor Cephus developed close relationships with suspects under criminal investigation and received bribes from individuals in exchange for having their cases dropped.

Cephus has been accused of tampering with and purposefully withholding evidence in cases involving members of opposition political parties to ensure conviction.

Meawnhile Free Port of Monrovia boss Twehway was sanctioned for orchestrating the diversion of $1.5 million in funds from the National Port Authority into a private account.

Twehway is accused of secretly forming 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.

Opposition demands resignation

Liberia's former ruling Unity Party, now the major opposition, has called on the sanctioned officials to resign immediately or be fired from their positions.

Sheikh Al-moustapha Kouyateh, a supporter of Weah’s 2017 presidential bid, now heads the Liberia First Movement pressure group.

He says the sanctions did not come as a surprise as the officials have proven to be inherently corrupt.

"Weah should dismiss these people to build good relationships with the US and support [Liberia's] Anti-Corruption Commission in prosecuting corrupt officials," he said in an interview with RFI in Monrovia.

Kouyateh threatens to hold a nationwide protest on 24 August – Liberia’s Flag Day – if Weah refuses to heed public calls for the dismissal of the three officials.