Monday, April 12, 2010

What About Urey? Impunity Questions Cloud Ex Maritime Commish, Others

What About Urey? Impunity Questions Cloud Ex Maritime Commish, Others

By Rodney D. Sieh,

Justice Minister Frances Johnson-Morris says Liberia lacks laws to move on those on UN assets freeze list.

Benoni Urey, former Maritime Commissioner of the Charles Taylor era is considered to be a key buster of UN assets freeze sanctions.

Associate Justice Kabineh Janeh sought to enforce UN sanctions against Urey and Shaw but the decision was reversed by the Supreme Court.

Audits after audits have pointed to one conclusion – millions of dollars misused, or misappropriated from the coffers of Liberia. While the past regimes of William V.S. Tubman, William R. Tolbert, Samuel K. Doe and interim period of Amos Sawyer endured their share of scrutiny, it is the most recent administrations of Charles Taylor and Charles Gyude Bryant that is generating heat and attention from Liberians and the West African nation’s international partners.

Today, Bryant and senior officials from his National Transitional Government - Edwin Snowe, Sam Wlue, Tugbeh Doe, Lusinee Kamara, Sen. Richard Devine and Tapple Doe have all been mentioned in charges or questioned over allegations cited in audits conducted by the European Union, ECOWAS and UN Panel of Experts Findings.

Corruption, Impunity Reigns, US Report Finds

Justice Minister Frances Johnson-Morris says Liberia lacks laws to move on those on UN assets freeze list.

This week, the issue of impunity came to light, in yet another report - the US State Department Human Rights Report, reported that corruption and impunity is continuing in many levels of the government.”

One particular interest to Liberians has been the refusal of the Managing Director of the Liberian Petroleum Refinery Corporation, Harry Greaves to unveil the details of an oil deal signed with the Nigerian government. The U.N. report said in June 2006, LPRC entered into a one-year contract with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation to buy 10,000 barrels of crude oil a day. The report stated, despite its name, LPRC is not in position to refine the crude oil. “Thus, in August 2006, LPRC sold the contract to Addax Ltd, the largest independent oil producer in Nigeria, at the rate of 14 cents a barrel.”

UN Panel showed displeasure, as most Liberians have, over the manner in which Greaves’ LPRC handled the oil deal. The Panel maintained, “The contract, worth $0.5 million, was awarded without any competitive bidding. When the Panel sought clarification as to how the firm and price were determined in the absence of competitive bidding, Greaves has insisted that it was not possible to call for bids in such situations because of the lack of time.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, has admitted on a couple of occasions that fighting corruption remains a daunting task for her administration. While Sirleaf has dismissed or suspended a number of former government officials, holding current officials responsible has also been a challenge.

Sanctions imposed, reversed

Benoni Urey, former Maritime Commissioner of the Charles Taylor era is considered to be a key buster of UN assets freeze sanctions.

Flashback to the Taylor era, Benoni Urey, Emmanuel Shaw, Grace Minor and others tied to handling millions of dollars for the former dictator remain on the loose despite continuous presence on the UN travel ban and assets freeze list.

What seemed at a first shot at justice emerged in 2004, when NTGL’s Justice Minister Kabineh Janeh led the charge as the government imposed economic sanctions on both Urey and Shaw.

At the time, Janneh said the government now had in its possession, enough evidence to proceed with the resolution of the U.N. According to Janeh, the assets of Shaw, a former finance minister in the 1980s and the former commissioner of Liberia's maritime affairs bureau, Benoni Urey, would remain frozen until further instructions from the UN Security Council. The pair is both top officials at a mobile phone company, Lone Star Communication.

Not too long after Janeh’s actions, the Supreme Court reversed the decision and ordered the suspension of economic sanctions imposed on Shaw and Urey.

Lawyers for the pair argued Janeh acted unconstitutionally as only judges have the power to issue such instructions. In rendering its decision, the court also ordered the removal of security officials from the company's premises, where they had been posted following the move to freeze the assets.

With very little to move on, Janeh and the NTGL abandoned its quest.

Preparation flaws hampered efforts, UN says

Associate Justice Kabineh Janeh sought to enforce UN sanctions against Urey and Shaw but the decision was reversed by the Supreme Court.


A look at officials from the NTGL period who have been questioned, jailed or accused so far.

Gyude Bryant: Facing charges of failing to account for US$1,397,255 spent during his two year tenure.

Edwin Snowe: The former Speaker of the House of Representatives Edwin Snowe faced the Special Investigation Team of Liberian National Police Force to answer questions on allegations of corruption during his tenure as Managing Director of the Liberia Petroleum Refining Company (LPRC).

Lusinee Kamara, reportedly worked along with co-defendants connived and conspired and disbursed directly in cash from government accounts.

Sam Wlue: State prosecutors claim that the former Minister of Commerce and Industry in the erstwhile National Transitional Government of Liberia (NTGL) had escaped the country to avoid prosecution on alleged “Theft of Property” charges. Wlue arrived back in the country Monday evening.

Tugbeh Doe, former Deputy Finance Minister for Administration, reportedly used a scheme to “disburse directly in cash” from the Central Bank of Liberia accounts.

Tugbeh Doe reportedly withdrew US$212,400 and paid the amount to co-defendant, Roberta Francis. No reason for the payment was given. Francis was special assistant to Doe.

Albert Quaye, head of the Fraud Division at the Finance Ministry, named in charges against Tugbeh Doe.

Roberta Francis, Special Assistant to Deputy Finance Minister, named in charges against Tugbeh Doe.

Wesley Johnson, the former Vice Chairman, Wesley Johnson who was also implicated in the report was acquitted.

It was a great effort from Janeh, but according to the UN panel, the NTGL simply did not prepare its case properly. “The National Transitional Government took considerable time to initiate action to freeze the assets of the persons designated by the Security Council. When the Government finally acted, it did so only against 2 of the 26 persons on the list, and that too without proper preparation,” said the panel.

According to the panel, the lack of preparations led the high court to intervene to stay the administrative order when the affected persons challenged the orders.

At the time of the court’s findings, the panel reported that several of those on the assets freeze list were frantically making efforts to dispose of their properties.

“The Panel contacted a number of countries - Burkina Faso, Canada, Côte d’Ivoire, Germany, Ghana, Guinea, Israel, Lebanon, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States of America - to obtain information about the assets frozen by them in pursuance of Security Council resolution 1532 (2004). The Panel has learned that, as at the time of writing, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States have identified and frozen the assets of three listed individuals, namely, Leonid Minin, Agnes Reeves-Taylor and Benoni Urey, respectively.”

Allegations against Urey

For much of the Taylor era, Urey’s name resonated as the key figure on whose shoulders much of Taylor’s inner workings relied. For example, the UN Panel of Experts reported in 2001 that it was on the orders from Urey that the Liberian International Ship and Corporate Registry (LISCR) transferred $525,000 to San Air General Trading's account at Standard Chartered Bank in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, "for arms and transportation in violation of Security Council resolutions."

The panel described Urey as "little more than a cash extraction operation and cover from which to fund and organize opaque off-budget expenditures, including for sanctions-busting".

As Urey roams free in Monrovia, many of those cited for probe have been crying foul. “Why have they waited all this time until now to come up with this? They’re only doing it because I was very vocal about the manner in which they carried out the arrest of Tugbeh Doe, his brother Abraham and other members of the NTGL,” says Sen. Richard Devine, who heads the powerful Ways and Means Committee and one of those mention in misappropriation of funds at the Liberian Petroleum Refinery Corporation (LPRC).

In a recent interview with FPA, Devine took swipe at the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf administration’s continued attempt to shift attention from the realities on the ground and ignoring the day-to-day plight of ordinary Liberians.“People are struggling to survive here everyday and they’re carrying out this witch hunt."

Second to the Forestry Development Authority, the BMA was a key source of revenues for the Taylor government. Regrettably, much of the monies generated went toward the purchase of arms and ammunition –with Urey serving as Taylor’s right hand.

‘Paradoxical and confusing’, says auditor general

The bureau generated millions in the first six months of 1999 as strong tonnage gains established the Liberian register as one of the world's largest, with nineteen vessels of 402,540 gt joining the flag in February alone. Coupled with twenty-seven vessels of 816,265 gt in March, and fifteen vessels of 379,059 gt in April, the register now stands at 1,960 ships totaling 64, 270,512 gt.

By the end of Taylor’s era, the dictator reportedly stole some $100 million and left behind scores of former child soldiers, still coping with the after effects of their war years. Aides to Taylor say, as the former dictator languishes in jail, the man behind all of his many evil deeds remains free.

In the latest findings by the UN panel, the experts took current Justice Johnson-Morris to task for not doing much to bring Urey, Shaw and others from the Taylor era to justice or implement the assets freeze. Morris has reportedly suggested that there are not enough laws on the books to bring charges against Urey and other members accused of misappropriating funds from the Taylor era. However, the newly-confirmed Auditor General of Liberia, John Morlu told FrontPageAfrica Thursday, “only in Liberia can the justice minister say they need special laws from the national legislature to enforce U.N. Security Council sanctions. But then that same justice minister does not call for a special law to enforce ECOWAS report.”Morlu added, he finds these two positions to be rather paradoxical and confusing.

Besides owning one of the biggest farms in Liberia, Urey is considered one of the key U.N. sanctions busters as he continues to profit from business interests in Monrovia. Both Urey and Shaw continue to receive monthly salaries from the cellular telephone company Lonestar. In addition, their company, PLC receives 4 per cent of the monthly revenue of Lonestar. Ecobank has furnished information relating to nine bank accounts of seven designated persons, according to a previous U.N. report. Urey is strongly regarded as one notable violator of the ban. A report by the Coalition for International Justice in 2005, suggested that after Urey was placed on the Treasury Department's list of designated individuals; he attempted to sell a house he owns in Maryland for about $1million but the deal was halted after the Treasury Department became aware of the deal. The report says Urey, acting on Taylor's orders, requested one of Taylor's former wives to cash in nearly US$2million in Inmarsat shares in London. The transaction was blocked by British authorities because of suspicions that the money was going to Taylor.

In 2001 for example, the shipping registry generated $44 million with $18 million for the government but millions of those funds, described as illegal by the panel was requested by Urey, for the San Air General Trading through a bank in the United Arab Emirates. The airline is connected to Victor Bout, known for operating an intricate gun-running operation between Eastern Europe and a host of African countries, including Liberia.

According to the panel, all the transfers were made at the request of Urey through LISCR's New York office in violation of an arms embargo against Liberia. Urey, according to the panel, maintains a number of other business interests, including diamonds. One of his deputies was Sanjivan Ruprah, a close business partner of Bout. FrontPageAfrica gathered late last year that Urey, fearing a deeper look at his finances by UN experts sought to dispose some of his assets into a holding firm.

Maritime Profits used to buy arms

According to a UN Panel of Experts report, Urey was behind the transfer of funds used to purchase arms and ammunitions which were used by child soldiers during the fourteen-year civil war.

At the time, the LISCR CEO, Yoram Cohen, said the registry made the payments at the request of the Liberian government and had no idea where the money was going. "We did not pay anyone knowingly to buy arms. We made hundreds of wire transfers to Liberia. They asked us to make four to non-governmental accounts. We notified them in the summer of 2000 that payments will be made only to governmental accounts. It will never happen again," Cohen said.

In effect, the panel concluded without doubt that the revenues from the Liberian cargo and cruise ship registry was used to buy weapons for the West African country's ruling militia in violation of a United Nations arms embargo, according to a U.N. report dated Oct. 22.

According to the report, the LISCR made four payments to non-government accounts in June 2000 and July 2000 on the instructions of Urey's agency. The payments included the separate transfers of $525,000 and $400,000 to an account in a bank in the United Arab Emirates. "These two payments were for arms and transport in violation of the sanctions," the report said.

According to the panel, LISCR later refused to make payments other than to the Liberian government. But, the report said, Urey "changed strategy," moving the money from Liberian accounts to the bank in the UAE through the personal account of Sanjivan Ruprah, identified by the U.N. as an arms dealer known to have held a Liberian diplomatic passport as deputy commissioner of maritime affairs. Urey has denied knowing Ruprah.

In the wake of the allegations against Urey, observers say one of the biggest challenges facing Liberia is the issue of money laundering as they point to how or why Urey is getting away with sanctions busting. Because there is no effective system of control in place to prevent money laundering, various reports have indicated a high level of money laundering from Liberia to various countries by the likes of Urey and Snowe over the years.

For now, Bryant and his former officials continue to raise a red flag over what they view as a ‘Witch Hunt’. Amid repeated concerns by Liberians, observers say the key to eliminating the culture of impunity lies in how the government strategizes its plan to include members of the Taylor administration, in particular Urey who has been credited as the brain behind Taylor’s arms and ammunitions which inflicted irreparable wounds on child soldiers and victims of war, carnage and destruction.

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Inside Liberia with Bernard Gbayee Goah

Everyone is a genius

Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid. – A Einstein

Drawing the line in Liberia

Crimes sponsored, committed, or masterminded by handful of individuals cannot be blamed upon an entire nationality. In this case, Liberians! The need for post-war justice is a step toward lasting peace, stability and prosperity for Liberia. Liberia needs a war crimes tribunal or some credible legal forum that is capable of dealing with atrocities perpetrated against defenseless men, women and children during the country's brutal war. Without justice, peace shall remain elusive and investment in Liberia will not produce the intended results. - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Men with unhealthy characters should not champion any noble cause

They pretend to advocate the cause of the people when their deeds in the dark mirror nothing else but EVIL!!
When evil and corrupt men try to champion a cause that is so noble … such cause, how noble it may be, becomes meaningless in the eyes of the people - Bernard Gbayee Goah.

If Liberia must move forward ...

If Liberia must move forward in order to claim its place as a civilized nation amongst world community of nations, come 2017 elections, Liberians must critically review the events of the past with honesty and objectivity. They must make a new commitment to seek lasting solutions. The track records of those who are presenting themselves as candidates for the position of "President of the Republic of Liberia" must be well examined. Liberians must be fair to themselves because results from the 2011 elections will determine the future of Liberia’s unborn generations to come - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Liberia's greatest problem!

While it is true that an individual may be held responsible for corruption and mismanagement of funds in government, the lack of proper system to work with may as well impede the process of ethical, managerial, and financial accountability - Bernard Gbayee Goah

What do I think should be done?

The situation in Liberia is Compound Complex and cannot be fixed unless the entire system of government is reinvented.
Liberia needs a workable but uncompromising system that will make the country an asylum free from abuse, and other forms of corruption.
Any attempt to institute the system mentioned above in the absence of rule of law is meaningless, and more detrimental to Liberia as a whole - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Liberia's Natural Resources
Besides land water and few other resources, most of Liberia’s dependable natural resources are not infinite, they are finite and therefore can be depleted.
Liberia’s gold, diamond, and other natural resources will not always be an available source of revenue generation for its people and its government. The need to invent a system in government that focuses on an alternative income generation method cannot be over emphasized at this point - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Liberia needs a proper system
If Liberians refuse to erect a proper system in place that promotes the minimization of corruption and mismanagement of public funds by government institutions, and individuals, there will come a time when the value of the entire country will be seen as a large valueless land suited on the west coast of Africa with some polluted bodies of waters and nothing else. To have no system in place in any country is to have no respect for rule of law. To have no respect for rule of law is to believe in lawlessness. And where there is lawlessness, there is always corruption - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Solving problems in the absence of war talks

As political instability continues to increase in Africa, it has become abundantly clear that military intervention as a primary remedy to peace is not a durable solution. Such intervention only increases insecurity and massive economic hardship. An existing example which could be a valuable lesson for Liberia is Great Britain, and the US war on terror for the purpose of global security. The use of arms whether in peace keeping, occupation, or invasion as a primary means of solving problem has yield only little results. Military intervention by any country as the only solution to problem solving will result into massive military spending, economic hardship, more fear, and animosity as well as increase insecurity. The alternative is learning how to solve problems in the absence of war talks. The objective of such alternative must be to provide real sustainable human security which cannot be achieved through military arm intervention, or aggression. In order to achieve results that will make the peaceful coexistence of all mankind possible, there must be a common ground for the stories of all sides to be heard. I believe there are always three sides to every story: Their side of the story, Our side of the story, and The truthBernard Gbayee Goah


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