Foreign Ministry Denies US$4M ‘Clandestine’ Passports Saga

Deputy Foreign Minister for Legal Affairs Deweh Gray.

Deputy Foreign Minister for Legal Affairs, Deweh Gray, has denied claims of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs ordering passports clandestinely as speculated in the media in recent days.

At a news conference held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Monrovia on Thursday September 16, 2021, Minister Gray described the rumors as “false and misleading.”

It can be recalled that in early September 2021, the online platform, Knewsonline, reported that almost US$4 million worth of Liberian passports were discovered at the National Port Authority and the government was covering it up. The online news outlet in its article linked several current and past employees of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, including acting Foreign Minister, Cllr. Deweh Gray.

It is being alleged that Minister Gray and others are in the know of the reported 134 boxes (250 blank passports booklets per box) containing a total of 33,500 blank Liberian ECOWAS passport booklets that were discovered by a COVID-19 Team at the National Port Authority (NPA).

According to her, she was surprised to receive 29,000 passports at the Free Port of Monrovia from the OSD despite making any request, describing it as “a shock for the Ministry and officials.”

Madam Gray said upon receiving the information, the ministry immediately informed the Ministry of Justice that the passports are being stored and may be destroyed as the serial numbers printed have been given to Bob Press and printing is underway.

Knews alleged that, “there were 23 boxes of privileged passports (i.e., Official, Diplomatic & Service), which amounted to 5,750 blank privileged passports (23×250 passports per box). For the ordinary blank passports, there were 111 boxes, which amounted to 27,750. The total of 27,750 Ordinary Liberian ECOWAS blank passports were calculated as such: 111 × 250 = 27,750.”

But in reaction to the allegation, Minister Gray announced that the Ministry in July of 2021, took a decision to request, on an emergency basis, passports from OSD, a Security printing Company based in Austria and that the Ministry does not have any intention to get involved in clandestine activities.

Madam Gray said due to some internal conflict between the original supplier of Liberian Passports, Bob Press and OSD, the government decided to deal with Bob Press directly and it was discussed with the relevant government authorities and got the necessary approval.

“Under the emergency supply of passports in July of 2019 to January of 2020, which was the last time the Ministry of Foreign Affairs procured passports under the emergency arrangement ordered passports, the ministry wrote the supplier informing them that the ministry will deal with the original supplier on a need basis,” she said.

And a few months ago, two persons were dismissed from the Ministry and House of Representatives over a diplomatic passport scandal. One of those dismissed worked in the office of the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Henry Fahnbulleh.

About three years ago, the former Director of Passports and Visas, Andrew D. Wonplo, was arrested by the Criminal Court "C" based on their indictment for alleged illegal sales of Liberian Passports to non-Liberians, depriving the government of thousands of US Dollars in lost revenue.

The government claimed that Wonplo and his co-conspirators caused the government to lose over US$30,000 through illegal sales of Liberian passports to non-Liberians, as well as people looking for space to travel to the United States and Canada who were willing to pay as much as US$2,000 each for a Liberian Passport. 

However, Wonploe accused some high-profile officials of government for running the syndicate at the Ministry including the then Minister Gbehzohngar Milton Findley, and was only be scapegoat since passports issued under his watch were done with the approval.

Ironically, in July, Criminal Court "C" Judge Yarmie Quiqui Gbeisay dismissed charges against Wonplo and restored his liberty. The court's decision followed a motion filed to dismiss charges against him by his lawyer due to the failure of the prosecution to prosecute the matter.

The court's action was consistent with Chapter 18 section 18.2 of the Criminal procedure law which states that "dismissal by court or failure to proceed with prosecution after two successive terms of the court". Director Wonplo and a Nigerian national identified as Adedoyin E. Atiro were indicted by the state during the August term of court in 2019 on three crimes namely economic Sabotage, theft of property, and criminal conspiracy.

The government has since then not picked up the cases.

Meanwhile, madam Gray explained that the ministry, doing the emergency period with all parties involved, placed orders to the supplier for a total of 49,250 passports of various categories. She said the request was made based on the need and the supplier acknowledged and sent the ministry invoices, delivery notes, and information about when the passports would arrive in Liberia. “All passports come via the Roberts International Airport,” she said.

Madam Gray said the last consignment of 20,000 passports that came into the country on January 24, 2020, was received on January 25, 2020 and was taken to the place the passports are usually stored. According to her, the government paid over US$1 million as each passport costs US$25.00. She said by March, the government had set up COVID-19 restrictions and had shut down the passport center and was only issuing emergency passports.

“Even with our work here, we have received communication to continue with Bob Press for passports. We did as instructed. Again, the 20,000 [booklets] were the last passports that came to Liberia and we have not ordered any passports as speculated in the media again,” Madam, Gray said.