Liberia: US Funds to Central Bank Frozen over Missing Banknotes
The U.S. Federal Reserve has frozen transactions with the Central Bank of Liberia as a part of an ongoing investigation into the mysterious disappearance of US$104 million earlier this year, FrontPage Africa reported.
The missing funds comprise about five percent of the small West African nation’s total GDP.
Authorities are investigating 35 officials and have barred them from leaving the country, key among them Milton Weeks, the bank’s former governor who resigned in July, and Charles Sirleaf, a deputy governor of the bank already suspected of corruption.
Sirleaf is the son of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberia’s president from 2006 to 2018 and the first elected female head of state in Africa. In January, President Sirleaf, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, was expelled from her own Unity Party for campaigning with current president George Weah against her own vice president, Joseph Boakai.
Weah, who took office in the beginning of this year, recently established a Special Presidential Committee to investigate the missing funds.
The great controversy in the case concerns the arrival and transport times of the missing container of banknotes - specifically, whether the shipment was lost at the tail end of Sirleaf’s presidency or at the very beginning of Weah’s.
Initial reporting by FrontPage Africa suggested that the container of banknotes transported from Sweden by the international shipping company Safmarine arrived or was expected to arrive on November 22, 2017. An application for a special permit was processed on December 13, but evidence obtained by investigative journalists suggests it was not unloaded until February or March, after Weah took office.
Late last month, hundreds of protesters coordinated by civil society organizations took to the streets in the capital of Monrovia to demand accountability for the missing funds. They stood outside the US Embassy chanting the slogan “Bring Our Money Back,” and asked for international assistance with the ongoing investigation.
Politicians have spoken out in criticism of the protesters, with one senator, J. Milton Teahjay, telling reporters in Monrovia on Monday that “During our days of advocacy in this country, protests were held based on facts and not hearsay.”
Weah has slammed journalists for their coverage of the story, saying that “[the media] cannot say something that will damage the country.” He challenged journalists to do the government’s legwork of tracking down the missing funds, saying “they also gonna be brought into the investigation.”
Weah has demanded a full investigation, but so far both he and Sirleaf have denied any culpability over the missing banknotes.
“I am certain whatever my administration did was in accordance with the law and the constitution and there has been no money that has been missing,” Sirleaf said.