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Monday, June 17, 2024

LIBERIA: AIRRET KEY WITNESS IN US$500 MILLION AGAINST AMARA KONNEH LINKED TO FRAUD

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MONROVIA – Documents obtained by Smart News Liberia have uncovered that the key whistleblower in the US$500 million double payment allegations against former Finance Minister Amara Konneh is also alleged to have criminally tampered with paper trails and electronic files of the Ministry which she had access to.

A 2015 investigation commissioned by the Integrity and Professional Responsibility Unit (IPR) of the Finance Ministry on 11th July 2015, and completed on August 31, 2016, pointed to acts of deliberate and willful attempts by Madam Dixon to impugn the reputation of staffers of the Debt Management Unit (DMU) for reasons which remain a mystery to date.

Madam Patricia P. Dixon who is a key whistleblower aiding the Assets Investigation, Retrieval, Reimbursement Team (AIRReT) was accused by Investigators of fraud and evidence tampering.

The investigation arose from a complaint from the CEO New World Printing Press, Madam Sonnie M. Tealeh to Minister Konneh that the Government of Liberia was indebted to her in the amount of US$1,287,542.00 and LD$1,079,967.80. Madam Tealeh alleged that the amounts due her were diverted to some employees for their personal use.

The Ministry under Konneh’s administration upon review of the complaint concluded that there were sufficient grounds for an administrative internal investigation to be conducted.

Key persons of interest during the investigation included Mr. Abubarkar M. S. Kiawu, Director, Debt Management Unit and Mr. Madison C. Kegbeh, Senior Desk Analyst/Debt Management.

The IPR United investigation heavily relied on paper trails and documents provided by Patricia P. Dixon who served as a primary witness in the investigation. However, those she accused also alleged that she had manipulated the documents to suit her intent of damaging their reputation and having them fired.

All parties in the investigation questioned the crashing of the Debt Management Unit’s server but the handler of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Unit who was identified as Abu refused to cooperate with the investigation.

However, the ICT Unit was asked by the investigation team to do an analysis of the records of the DMU that was uploaded to the Ministry’s server. The ICT Unit was also asked to determine whether or not the uploaded documents from the DMU system was tampered with or modified, when it was modified, to what extent such modification was done and to identify the individual(s) responsible for the modifications.

The documents in possession of Smart News show that the ICT Unit identified Ms. Dixon as the individual who last modified critical documents on the DMU server on April 14, 2015, when the matter was being reviewed by the Ministry. The ICT Unit was, however, unable to identify what was modified or if there were other individuals who modified the documents before Ms. Dixon.

Ms. Dixon, according to the investigative report, told the investigators that her sole intent was to expose ills and corruption in the ministry and that she had no malice against the subjects of investigation.

Why Focus on Konneh?

The Investigative team dismissed the allegations made by Ms. Dixon against the pair, noting that the allegations could not be substantiated. However, Cllr. Arthur Johnson’s Asset Recovery Team continue to name former Minister Konneh as a person of interest and has therefore called on him to submit to an investigation.

Meanwhile, observers are concerned why the investigation team has decided to place much emphasis on former Finance Minister Amara Konneh, instead of being holistic in their approach.

Konneh became Minister of Finance and Development Planning Minister in February 2012 until April 30, 2016. This means the investigation by the asset recovery team covers periods before Konneh became a minister and periods after he left the office.

Cllr. Arthur Johnson

Some argue that it would be good to invite all the former finance ministers because no single person served those entire 10 years: Antoinette Sayeh (2006 – 2008); Augustine K. Ngafuan (2008 – 2012); Amara Konneh (2012 – 2016) and Boima S. Kamara (2016 – 2018), and the members of the Debt Management Committee that include the Central Bank of Liberia, Ministry of Justice and Ministry of State for Presidential Affairs.

“Government prosecutors often lose cases or waste money on cases because they do not conduct proper investigation or research before making a decision to go to court. Some of the cases they take to court are often not investigated, others purely have ill-intents,” a finance expert said.

The allegations of double payments by the Ministry of Finance was first brought to the limelight in 2006 in a KPMG audit report. During that period, Konneh was not Finance Minister.

Impeccable sources at the General Auditing Commission hinted the Smart News that the Commission has conducted an audit for the period Konneh served as Finance Minister but did not observe the allegation being made the Solicitor General’s team.

“If the GAC did miss such and AIRReT can present to Liberia an irrefutable evidence to back up their claims, then it was a big miss because for US$500 million, the equivalent an entire fiscal year budget, and L$1 billion to leave the Consolidated Account without being detected by auditors would be a massive failure of the system,” a GAC source said

In April 2010, former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf set up a Debt Management Committee to regulate public finance transactions, in keeping with Section 28 (4) of the Public Finance Management Act of 2009.

The Committee is chaired by the Minister of Finance. Its members included the Governor of the Central Bank of Liberia; the Ministers of State for Presidential Affairs, Justice, and Planning & Economic Affairs. Except for Government securities which are handled by the Central Bank of Liberia, the Committee was responsible for approving all central government loan agreements in keeping with the Public Finance Management Act of 2009.

Domestic Debt Resolution The Ellen Government inherited approximately US$1 billion in domestic debts. To resolve this as part of the HIPC program for debt waiver, her government developed the Domestic Debt

Resolution Strategy (DDRS) and hired KPMG Ghana to audit this huge domestic debt burden. KPMG carried out its audits between 2006 and 2008 and major repayment to debtors were made between 2008 and 2011 when Konneh was nowhere near the Ministry of Finance.

smartnews
Smart News Liberia is an online news outlet and a product of Smart Media Group Inc. Our website, smartnewsliberia.com, covers a broad spectrum of news content. For inquiries or information, you can reach us at 0777425285 or 0886946925, or email us at smartnewsliberia@gmail.com or info@smartnewsliberia.com.

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