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Thursday, May 23, 2024

EXPOSÉ: HOW A CARTEL SIPHONED MILLIONS FROM LIBERIA’S COFFERS

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MONROVIA, LIBERIA – In the wake of our recent exposé unveiling a nefarious cartel operating within the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning during the tenure of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the evidence at hand illuminates the depths of plunder that transpired during that era. Through a trove of substantial checks and vouchers, we are afforded a clearer glimpse into the staggering scale of the scandal, wherein individuals entrenched within the Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank shamelessly drained the nation’s coffers.

The Liberian nation has a history marred by corruption. History reveals a pattern of public officials disregarding dignity, morals, and the rule of law to plunder state resources with impunity. The administration of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, despite enjoying international support and high salaries, was no exception.

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One of several cheques…

A major cartel operated by some of her senior officials, particularly those assigned to the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, schemed and successfully milked the country’s coffers until the cartel was recently exposed. Veteran Liberian investigative journalist Lyndon J. Ponnie Sr., unrivaled in his pursuit of truth, meticulously sifts through the evidence in this criminal theater to report the shocking truth.

Some of the shell companies used to siphon millions were already defunct, while others had not even renewed their business registrations when they received substantial sums of money. For instance, Sarosa Business Center, owned and registered by one Abu Konneh with TIN 433487001, had not renewed its registration since February 7, 2013.

Yet, it managed to benefit from the criminal machinations within the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning. Another entity, Red Truck Professional Packer and Swift Mover, had dissolved, with a business registration number of 051447441 and TIN 500058778. Despite its dissolution since December 3, 2014, it still received checks worth millions of United States Dollars for services it never rendered, according to our investigation. Attempts to trace the owners of other shell companies, such as AKE, Duke, Primag, Primay INC, have been futile.

                                    THE CARTEL:

For years, a clandestine network of government officials and shadowy figures has orchestrated a brazen scheme to bleed the Liberian government dry. Through meticulous investigation by veteran Liberian journalist Lyndon Ponnie Sr., the depths of their collusion have been exposed, revealing a systematic plundering of national coffers under the guise of official transactions. The modus operandi was deceptively simple yet shockingly effective: senior officials within the Ministry of Finance, allegedly in collusion with counterparts at the Central Bank of Liberia, facilitated the embezzlement of millions of United States Dollars and billions of Liberian Dollars by channeling funds through shell companies with the complicity of high-ranking government personnel.

Gbarpolu County Senator Amara Konneh served as Minister of Finance during that time. Despite his position of trust, Konneh either turned a blind eye or was shockingly unaware as the looting unfolded under his watch. The audacity of the criminal enterprise knew no bounds. In a brazen act on August 14, 2015, over half a million United States Dollars (US$620,345) was surreptitiously funneled to AKE Enterprises, with the complicity of Finance Ministry officials and the Central Bank.

This was just the beginning. Continuing their spree, in July 2015, US$420,000 was illicitly disbursed to another shell entity, SAROSA Business, further deepening the hemorrhage of public funds. Not content with their initial haul, the cartel authorized additional payments, including US$301,000 to Red Truck Professional Packers on an unspecified date, followed by another US$212,500 on October 1, 2015. The scope of the malfeasance was astounding.

On September 8, 2015, the Ministry of Finance, under the stewardship of Amara Konneh, brazenly disbursed US$582,186, perpetuating the cycle of corruption. Such was the impunity with which the scheme operated that an additional US$467,815 was squandered on Red Truck Professional Packers, further compounding the damage inflicted upon Liberia’s finances. During Amara Konneh’s tenure as Minister of Finance, Liberia encountered three budget shortfalls, earning him the derisive moniker “Amara Budget Shortfall Konneh.”

A budget shortfall arises when expenses surpass revenue in a budgetary plan, indicating insufficient funds to cover all planned expenditures. It was particularly alarming to witness millions criminally siphoned from the state coffers amidst Minister Amara Konneh’s tenure, especially during periods of budgetary shortfall. This narrative unveils a disturbing reality: a cabal of government officials and their criminal cohorts systematically pillaged the nation’s wealth, exploiting their positions of authority for personal gain.

Efforts to solicit comments from Senator Amara Konneh, who was minister at the time, were met with evasion and stonewalling. Despite multiple attempts to engage him, the former minister dodged inquiries, raising further suspicions. His evasive tactics, coupled with a string of broken promises and excuses, deepen the sense of betrayal felt by Liberian citizens. As the quest for accountability intensifies, the need for systemic reforms to safeguard Liberia’s financial integrity becomes ever more pressing. The future of the nation hinges upon the resolute pursuit of transparency, accountability, and justice for all. In the meantime, watch out for more shocking details in our next edition.

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