Fate of Sanctioned Officials “Up to Liberia”

Flashback: United States Ambassador to Liberia, Michael McCarthy speaks at press conference at the US Embassy in Liberia


.... “We feel very confident that if anyone did a real investigation, they would find the evidence," US Ambassador says, defending Treasury sanctions.

US Ambassador Michael McCarthy has voiced deep dissatisfaction with the government of Liberia for failing to investigate and prosecute past and current officials sanctioned for “corruption.”

McCarthy's criticism comes as three of President Geoge Weah’s former officials, who were sanctioned by the US for alleged “public corruption”, are yet to be investigated as promised by the President in August.  

“It’s true that the sanctioned officials never had their day in court but it's very important for them to be held accountable,” McCarthy said at a press conference in the presence of the visiting US Acting Assistant Secretary for Global Affairs, Elizabeth Trudeau on November 14. “I am disappointed that nothing is going to happen? That’s really up to the Liberian people to decide. We feel very confident that if anyone did a real investigation, they will find the evidence.”

“Look at what the Treasury Department said about them. There were specifics about some of the allegations. [So] we don’t want them in America spending stolen money, and if it’s there, we’re going to freeze it.  But it is up to processes in Liberia.” 

The US has sanctioned Bill Twehway, the former Managing Director of the National Port Authority (NPA), and two other high-profile senators — Prince Y. Johnson and Varney Sherman (of Nimba and Grand Cape Mount Counties, respectively) under the Global Magnitsky Act — which authorizes the US to sanction those it sees as human rights offenders, freeze their assets, and ban them from entering the US. 

Sayma Syrenius Cephus, the country’s former solicitor general, and lead prosecutor, as well as Nathaniel McGill, the former Minister of State for Presidential Affairs and Chief of Staff to the President then, — completed the list of those sanctioned by the US in Liberia for corruption — bringing the total to five.

According to reports, McGill and Twehway are interested in running for political office in Margibi and Rivercess counties, respectively. McGill is accused of "manipulating public procurement processes to award multi-million dollar contracts to companies in which he has ownership," and Twehway is accused of orchestrating the theft of $1.5 million in vessel storage fee funds from the National Port Authority into a private account.

The likes of Senators Johnson and Sherman — close allies of the President — are eying reelections in 2023  and might win their counties.  This situation has then forced the ambassador to warn that the United States government may sanction anyone caught violating the sanctions against three of President Geoge Weah’s former officials who were accused of public corruption.

Johnson was accused by the US government of engaging in large-scale corruption — a pay-for-play scheme with government ministries and organizations for personal enrichment; while his colleague Sherman,  was sanctioned in 2019 for allegedly paying judges to decide cases in his favor, as well as facilitating payments to Liberian politicians to support the impeachment of a judge who has ruled against him.  

The accused has however denied the US government allegation — with some engaging demanding proof from the US government regarding the allegation, while also accusing  them of violating their rights to due process, saying the sanctions claimed against them were untrue and  “innocent until proven guilty.” 

But McCarthy maintained that the US government believes that these ex and current-sanctioned officials have reached a level of corruption and disruption to the democratic process even though the voters have the right to elect the leaders of their choice.

McCarthy, on the other hand, emphasized that while it is the right of the Liberian electorate to decide whether to elect these sanction officials, the US however had to act because the level of corruption by the accused had disrupted Liberia’s democratic process.

The US Ambassador added that the US has to take the decision to stop people from abusing Liberia's democracy, saying the  US has strong evidence showing that the sanctioned officials committed the acts that they were accused of, but it is up to the government and people of Liberia to follow processes to prosecute them.

“The US government believes that these ex- and current sanctioned officials have reached a level of corruption and disruption to the democratic process, despite the fact that voters have the right to choose their leaders.”

The issue of corruption has been a major flashpoint in the US-Liberia bilateral relationship, with McCarthy and other high-profile US government officials calling for action. 

The likes of Dana Banks, a Special Assistant to Biden and Senior Director for Africa at the National Security Council Dana Banks and Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the United Nations and former Ambassador to Liberia have all joined the call for an end to pervasive corruption in the country.

“Too many of Liberia’s leaders have chosen their own personal short-term gain over the long-term benefit of their country. The expectation, sometimes, is that the United States and the rest of the international community will step in to solve Liberia’s long-term problems,” Banks said in a remark at the bicentennial celebration in Monrovia on February 14.

“So let me be clear, the United States is a proud and dedicated partner and friend of Liberia. But ultimately, only the Liberian Government and the Liberian people can tackle corruption, fight for accountability and transparency, and move this country forward.”

However, McCarthy at the time of announcing the sanction in August, said despite the plea from two of Biden’s high-profile officials, corruption has worsened to the point that it is now the dominant issue in a bilateral relationship that would otherwise show far more promise.

The US, he said, was then forced to act to sanction McGill, Twehway, and Cephus and the others as they were at the forefront in consistently advancing corruption within this government, “to the detriment of Liberia and all Liberians.”

The US diplomat, who has been vocal on the issue of corruption, has in time passed also warned of the impact of the menace on Liberia’s future.

Just last year, he warned that the US government was getting tired of corruption and instead wants to see results, and improvements in education, health, and better quality of life for citizens.

McCarthy went on to note that his government was very discouraged to see that Liberia was not making any serious progress relating to the fight against corruption. 

He noted that corruption has seriously impeded the country's social-economic growth. 

McCarthy's latest position was shared by the visiting US Acting Assistant Secretary of Global Public Affairs, Elizabeth Trudeau,  who noted that the future of Liberia  remains in the hands of the citizens.

"Liberia’s future is up to Liberians, especially as they gear up for another crucial election in 2023," Trudeau said. "Because in the effort of pursuing the government’s accountability and combating disinformation, it is upon all Liberians, including you journalists, to tell the truth, and present the facts as a means of maintaining this peace in Liberia.

"I think as we take a look and move forward on what society, Liberia, is, I think the people of this country can look up to a positive future; they can look at unity and overcome an obstacle, and the United States is proud to be part of this great endeavor," Trudeau added.