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Liberia: Suspicious deaths and missing cash challenge Weah’s agenda

By Morris Kiruga

Posted on June 17, 2019 09:16

 © People march during a protest to voice discontent towards the presidency of George Weah, whose policies they see as having failed to curb economic decline and mitigate corruption, in Monrovia June 7, 2019. REUTERS/James Giahyue
People march during a protest to voice discontent towards the presidency of George Weah, whose policies they see as having failed to curb economic decline and mitigate corruption, in Monrovia June 7, 2019. REUTERS/James Giahyue

Liberia’s currency debacle and suspicious deaths are the subjects of a new investigation.

Liberian President George Weah is facing protests over high food prices and runaway inflation.

The economic downturn escalated last year when the government botched a plan to infuse $25minto the economy and mop up excess Liberian dollars that flooded the country in the lead-up and aftermath of the 2017 elections.

  • An estimated two-thirds of the new Liberian banknotes had been printed and delivered without parliamentary approval.
  • The CBL failed to withdraw legacy banknotes while injecting the new banknotes into the economy, which triggered a rapid depreciation of the Liberian dollar.

A group calling itself the Council of Patriots (COP) staged a protest on June 7th in the capital Monrovia, demanding Weah fix the economy and curb corruption. In its petition, COP demanded, among other things, that Weah’s government “immediately present a clear fiscal and monetary strategy intended to resuscitate the Liberian economy”.

  • The attempt to mop up the excess currency had achieved the opposite result and has been the subject of several investigations, including one by Kroll Associates Inc., which stated that the CBL had not used the entire amount and could not properly account for it.

The Kroll investigation estimated that “combined with the new banknotes totalling LRD 3.759-billion from the first contract injected by the CBL into the Liberian economy, it is possible that new banknotes totalling LRD 10.146-billion were injected into the Liberian economy in total”.

Liberia’s currency scandal, which started during the previous government of Ellen Sirleaf Johnson, poses the biggest challenge Weah has faced in his 18 months in power.

Added to the economic mess are the questions surrounding the suspicious deaths this year of at least three people, two of whom were employees of the Central Bank of Liberia.

  • One was a regular employee but the second was the deputy-director of micro-finance at the CBL, Mathew Innis.
  • The third man was opposition parliamentarian Adolph Lawrence.

On 11th February, an employee of the CBL died in an apparent car accident. The family told journalists that he had made numerous trips “carrying Central Bank money to different destinations”. The Kroll investigation report was released two weeks later.

  • On 2nd March Innis was found dead in his car the day after the former governor and deputy governor of the CBL, Milton Weeks and Charles Sirleaf, had been arrested. A few days earlier, Innis had told colleagues that two of Weah’s ministers, should be charged.
  • On 25th March opposition parliamentarian Adolph Lawrence, who had demanded an investigation into the death of Mathew Innis, was found dead.

Weah and his closest political allies are also facing allegations that the new money funded his successful campaign, and subsequent personal spending.

  • Several legislators told a local newspaper that they received batches of new money “to fund election campaigns” in late 2017.
  • A former George Weah-confidante, George Solo, claimed, “It [Weah’s 2017 campaign] was awash with money” that had come from unexplained sources.
  • Just months after the elections, President Weah began several personal construction projects, while his scandal-ridden Minister of State, Nathaniel McGill, moved into a $200 000 mansion.

Over allegations that they masterminded the death of Innis, McGill responded, “Do I look like someone that is capable of killing even a fly? Does anyone see President Weah as someone fit to stand the slaughtering of even a chicken?”

Liberia’s currency debacle and suspicious deaths, however, are the subjects of a new investigation by the African Investigative Publishing Collective (AIPC) in partnership with Africa Uncensored, titled “The Associates”. The transnational collaboration followed trails of moneymen across seven African countries.

  • Nigeria: the investigation has focused on the corruption scandals surrounding the Ajaokuta steel manufacturing plant.
  • Zambia: journalists have investigated a controversial public-private partnership between Chinese companies and the Zambia Air Force to build housing development in a forest outside Lusaka.
  • Mozambique: journalist Estacio Valoi followed a network comprising ruling party leaders and Chinese businesses that are involved in extensive fishing operations without proper licenses and in contravention of several laws.
  • Mali: investigations are continuing into Panama-linked mogul Cyril Achcar’s companies and its distributors accused of making money from inflated government contracts and tax avoidance.
  • Kenya: the trail followed a serial company secretary, Stella Nyamu, whose name has been linked to multiple companies involved in on-going corruption scandals.

Bottom line: Under new scrutiny, with better collaborative journalism and citizens more easily federated by social media, corrupt leaders have less space for manoeuvre.

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