Liberia: Of Corruption, Unexplained Disappearances and Mysterious Killings

... The Case of the Missing Grand Gedeh NEC Magistrate

Recent comments by US Ambassador McCarthy expressing concern about runaway corruption and the growing level of impunity in Liberia, although condemned in official ruling circles, were nevertheless welcomed by most Liberians.

This is because the Liberian people appear to have simply lost faith and hope in the ability and commitment of this government to curb corruption, especially public sector corruption. In many cases, those individuals who have attempted to blow the whistle on corrupt deals are often dealt with, meaning they are subject to arbitrary dismissals, harassment, and, even in some cases, killed.

And much too often the perpetrators of theft and murder go with impunity. Day in and day out, the public hears of one scandal or another in this government involving some official — yet nothing is done.

Only recently it has emerged that an international fraudster/money launderer, armed with a Liberian diplomatic passport, has been hobnobbing with top government officials including Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor and President Weah.

 Strangely, it was only after the arrest of the fraudster in the US that the Financial Intelligence Unit, FIU disclosed that for some time it had fraudster Bassirou Kante a.k.a “Royal Gold” in its crosshairs. This international crook, Bassirou Kante, is alleged to have traveled abroad on official delegations with President Weah. He can be seen in a number of photos posing with several top government officials.

To date, aside from disclosures by the FIU that it had frozen his accounts, to the best of publicly available information,  no explanations have been provided to the public on how he managed to obtain a Liberian diplomatic passport. Through all this, President Weah has maintained a stony silence, which conveys a distinct impression that he is either not in the know of things or that he is feigning ignorance. 

This is because he has not taken a single step to wheel aberrant officials into line. People are mysteriously killed and nothing happens. 

A string of murders ranging from the slain employee (Innis) of the Central Bank, LRA auditors, the EPS officer who according to official reports fatally shot himself three times, the Police Commander in Grand Gedeh who was shot by an NSA officer with alleged links to Grand Gedeh Senator Zoe Pennue, no answers have been provided by the Police. 

And now come reports of the disappearance in Grand Gedeh County, of an NEC Elections Magistrate, Dunner. According to media reports, he went to a nearby area in close proximity to the county capital, Zwedru, to seek medical treatment. He has not since been found and this has prompted local women to stage vigorous protest action calling for the government to intensify the search for him. His disappearance has even provoked conflict between locals of his area (Konabo) and that of the nearby area (Niao).

According to media reports quoting official Police sources, the search for the missing NEC employee, Dunner, has been exhausting to say the least but futile.

Meanwhile, some residents of Zwedru who spoke to this newspaper have alleged that top officials of the county are linked to the disappearance of Elections Magistrate Dunner. Meanwhile, Police spokesperson Moses Carter has disclosed that four individuals have been charged with the commission of Criminal Conspiracy, Criminal Facilitation, and kidnapping and forwarded to the Zwedru Magisterial Court.

But according to a story carried in the May 12 edition of the Daily Observer, Rev. Bill Dunner, brother of the missing NEC Magistrate, the disappearance of his brother is suspicious. It is, according to him, linked to his brother’s adamant refusal, in the face of strong coercion by some prominent citizens and politicians to manipulate the results of the November 2021 by-election in Grand Gedeh County.

Although the missing NEC official did complain previously about threats to his life by those individuals and had even gone into hiding on several occasions because of his steadfast refusal to manipulate the by-elections, nothing had been done about it. 

At this point, it remains unclear just how this is going to end, especially in view of statements by Police spokesperson Carter that the search for the missing NEC official has become grueling, even exhausting. This newspaper has received reports alleging that top officials of the county (names withheld) are linked to the disappearance of the NEC official but the matter is being kept hush-hush.

According to sources, this latest incident is serving to polarize the area with one clan being pitted against another. 

Further, according to sources, the disappearance of the Elections Magistrate rings strong echoes of such disappearance during the Doe regime.  It can be recalled that during the TRC hearings in Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County, in 2009, a witness (name withheld) publicly recounted under oath, that his brother, a security officer assigned to the home of President Doe in Tuzon disappeared mysteriously from work and was never seen again.

The witness further recalled that it was later learned that his brother had been kidnapped and buried alive along with the corpse of a big shot, former Lands and Mines Minister Willie P. Nebo.

That incident, according to the witness, caused a split in the small town of Tuzon with the kith and kin of President Doe on one side — the prosperous side — pitted against the less prosperous side. This latest development, according to sources, has tended to resuscitate old cleavages and may morph into open conflict between two clans in Grand Gedeh if left unchecked.

In the final analysis, this development has roots in the culture of impunity. Despite the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the submission of its report and recommendations on accountability, no one has been held to account.

Given the current outlook considered against the background of experience, very little if anything at all will come out of this affair.  But this government has to be mindful of the potential dangers to national cohesion, peace and stability posed by this growing and deepening culture of impunity. 

President Weah is urged to take note and act with resolve, especially as we head towards elections in 2023.