By John H. T. Stewart
Mr. Jonathan Fonati Koffa, an ex-convict and US felon has announced his intention to contest the Speakership of the House of Representatives amid huge public controversy about the content of his character. But he appears hell-bent and focused on achieving his prized objective.
Only recently a group of belly-driven legislators converged at the Roberts International Airport to express solidarity and welcome home Jonathan Fonati Koffa who is eying the post of Speaker of the House of Representatives whose annual budget allegedly exceeds US$2m.
For Heaven’s sake, where in Africa, particularly West Africa, can one find a situation where the Speaker of Parliament, who is the third person in line of succession (under Liberia’s Constitution) has a checkered past including a criminal conviction for stealing?
Political commentators say there is nowhere in Africa one can find an ex-convict and US felon occupying such a high position of authority in government. And that this individual would become so brazen and pretentious enough to behave as though his criminal past does not at all matter in an impoverished country still struggling to come to terms with its bloody past speaks volumes about the true character he actually is.
A brief overview of this ambitious character shows that in the early 2000s, Jonathan Fonati Koffa served as Town Manager of Zebulon, a small town in North Carolina. However, a North Carolina news outlet reported that Koffa had stolen from his clients while working as a lawyer in 2004. US$200,000 was stolen from a couple looking to refinance their home.
Initially, according to sources, when he learned of the charges being brought against him, he disappeared rather surreptitiously from the US. Informed sources say he fled to Liberia but was eventually persuaded to return to the US to face four federal charges related to the embezzlement of US$500,000.
In his defense before a Zebulon Court, Jonathan Fonati Koffa claimed that the money he stole from his clients was used to build roads and bridges in war-torn Liberia. But the reality on the ground was that Fonati Koffa was actually spending the money on furthering his personal political ambition and that of his political guru, the late Counselor Charles Walker Brumskine, and his Liberty Party.
Apparently, however, the Judge was taken by Koffa’s plea, honestly believing that the scheming Jonathan Fonati was indeed telling the truth. As it turned out, Jonathan Fonati Koffa received a lenient sentence of two and one-half years despite the gravity of his crime that virtually ruined the lives of most of his victims, according to informed sources.
He was also ordered by the Court to restitute money he had stolen from his clients, but, more importantly, Jonathan Fonati Koffa was disbarred from practicing law in the United States of America forever. Following his release after serving his sentence, Jonathan Fonati returned to Liberia where he has tried with appreciable success to reinvent himself.
He started off by ingratiating himself into the good favors of former President Sirleaf, who gave him plum assignments, including a US$500,000 outlay to prosecute Senator Varney Sherman, then a strong political rival, on criminal charges of bribery.
By the time the curtains drew on the Sirleaf government, Jonathan Fonati Kofffa had wormed his way into President Weah’s inner circle according to informed sources. He is believed to have close ethnic relations with President Weah, both of whom hail from Grand Kru County.
Under the Weah administration, Fonati Koffa succeeded in getting elected to the House of Representatives where he eventually emerged as Deputy Speaker. During that period, he also established a law firm known as the International Law Group (ILG).
This ILG, according to recent media reports aired on Spoon Talk Show, represents the legal interests of several government agencies, including Ministries, under shadowy arrangements absent any competitive bidding, and earning millions in the process according to informed sources.
Slowly but surely, the truth is coming to light of Deputy Speaker Jonathan Fonati Koffa’s activities as a government official, which smacks of corruption at the highest level. Knowing the character of Weah, there is no way the Fonati Koffa International Law Group could have secured such contracts from government agencies if it did not have the blessing or enjoyed the good favor of President Weah.
More than that, Jonathan Fonati Kofffa, given his criminal history, is not a proper fit for the position of Speaker of the House of Representatives. Members of that body are urged to not elect Jonathan Fonati Koffa as Speaker of the House of Representatives because such could subject the country to international ridicule and Liberia’s Parliament could become a laughingstock and pariah in the ECOWAS and African Union Parliament.
Editor’s Note: The ideas expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Daily Observer.