Liberia Rocked with Another Diplomatic Passport Abuse Scandal

Liberia stopped issuing diplomatic passports after one was found in the home of a prominent businessman who was arrested in the United States for wire fraud and money laundering.

Liberian PassportAfter a diplomatic passport was discovered in the residence of a renowned businessman jailed in the U.S. for wire fraud and money laundering, Liberia stopped issuing them. (Photo: Council of the EU, License)President George Weah has asked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to investigate why Sheik Bassirou Kante was issued a diplomatic passport although he wasn’t a diplomat and in general how the ministry was deciding who should have one.

When in April U.S. authorities arrested Kante and searched his home in Maryland, they, according to the Maryland District Court, found the diplomatic passport as well as “multiple passports from various countries as well as fraudulent identification documents.”

Kante is known to have been close to the president, Liberian media reported. U.S. investigators said they discovered emails he had exchanged with Liberia’s Vice-President Jewel Taylor.

Liberia stipulates that diplomatic passports are reserved for “diplomats accredited abroad and their eligible dependents.”

That said, past revelations suggest that the government was quite flexible when issuing diplomatic passports.

In 2012, in a widely publicized case, Mads Johan Brugger Cortzen, a Danish documentarist, secured a Liberian diplomatic passport through an online network that sold it to him for US$150,000.

Three years ago, the then-director of the Passport and Visas Department Andrew Wonplo was suspended from office for being unable to account for several diplomatic passport booklets.

Media cited unconfirmed reports saying that during Wonplo’s term, several thousand diplomatic passports were handed out to ineligible individuals, including criminals.

Nevertheless, there are indications that the passport abuse is not limited to the Passport and Visas Department and that it involves the presidential office directly, raising doubts about to what extent was Weah’s action a genuine attempt to resolve the issue.

Indeed, in February 2021, the President’s son, who was found heavily intoxicated in an Airbnb in Paris and subsequently arrested over the breach of COVID-19 curfew rules, reportedly presented a Liberian diplomatic passport and tried to claim diplomatic immunity.

After the Kante passport scandal, Smart News Liberia said it found that Weah personally gave a diplomatic passport to Ousmane Bamba, an Ivorian businessman and his long-time friend.

Naymote Partners for Democratic Development, an independent governance think tank based in Monrovia, has expressed skepticism about Weah’s response to the scandal, emphasizing that the past cases of passport fraud have not been investigated adequately. It has called for revoking all previously issued diplomatic passports and launching a rigorous issuance process.