Liberia: PYJ Scoffs at U.S. Sanctions

Senator Prince Johnson at a campaign rally during 2017 elections.

… “I care less…” he says in response to the U.S government sanction 

Senator Prince Johnson has exchanged bards with the Joe Biden administration after being sanctioned for “directly or indirectly engaged in corruption.”

The U.S. government sanction, which was pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13818 under the Magnitsky Act, designated Sen. Johnson for being involved in pay-for-play funding with government ministries and organizations for personal enrichment.

But for Senator Johnson, the sanction is a mere bluff by the U.S and the Biden administration and it has no repercussions on his well-being today or tomorrow. 

“I wondered what this sanction is about because I am aware that I cannot go to America; so I am staying right here to enjoy myself. I can go to Dakar (Senegal), Korea, and China,” Senator Johnson said boastfully in a phone interview with the Daily Observer

“I care less about the U.S. government sanction and am capable of traveling anywhere to enjoy myself.  I have the best University in the Republic and it is opening in February. Whenever I need fresh meat I can butcher a cow and prepare myself a ‘GB’ and feed my belly like a toad (frog). So I have nothing to do in America and I am not moved by their sanction,” Sen. Johnson added.  

He then boasted again of having a very large cattle farm, and investments that can take care of him comfortably in Liberia and needs nothing from America.

Of late, tensions between the U.S government and the Nimba County Senator have heightened and reached a breaking point when Washington condemned his election as Chairman of the Senate Committee on National Security, Defense, Intelligence, and Veteran Affairs –evoking his warlord links.

Sen. Johnson, who is a former warlord, relinquished the post without contest.  In 1990, he was responsible for the capture and killing of former Liberian President Samuel Doe and is named in Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Report as having committed atrocities during the country’s first civil war.

The Sanction

The sanction, according to a statement from the U.S Treasury Department, comes as Sen. Johnson has been involved in pay-for-play funding with government ministries and organizations for personal enrichment. 

It says that Senator Jonson and the power that is from the administration of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to President George Weah have laundered millions of U.S. dollars in the pay-for-play funding scheme.

“As a Senator, Johnson has been involved in pay-for-play funding with government ministries and organizations for personal enrichment,” the U.S Department of Treasury said in a statement. As part of the scheme, upon receiving funding from the Government of Liberia (GOL), the involved government ministries and organizations launder a portion of the funding for the return to the involved participants. “

“The pay-for-play funding scheme involves millions of U.S. dollars.  Additionally, Johnson receives an undeserved salary from the GOL as a salaried intelligence ‘source’ yet he does not provide any form of intelligence reporting to the GOL; Johnson is reportedly being paid in order to maintain domestic stability. Johnson has also offered the sale of votes in multiple Liberian elections in exchange for money,” added the Treasury.

Sen. Johnson is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13818 for being a foreign person who is a current or former government official, or a person acting for or on behalf of such an official, who is responsible for or complicit in or has directly or indirectly engaged in, corruption, including the misappropriation of state assets, the expropriation of private assets for personal gain, corruption related to government contracts or the extraction of natural resources, or bribery.

The difference view

But while the sanction is being well-received among large opposition, an emerging Liberian public policy expert, Vandalark Patricks, who is a graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School of Governance, thinks the Biden administration has not gone to catch the true perpetrators of the political polygamy.

“In this regard, I would suggest that this sanction on Senator Johnson goes beyond political targets since the very statement mentions other ministers who facilitate the act. In Liberia, it is a crime to bribe, and it is a crime to receive a bribe. So, those who the U.S. Treasury unclaimed, often provide money to Senator Johnson to carry on the operations, should also be sanctioned to reflect a collective fight against corruption in Liberia.

Patricks argued that the fact that the U.S sanction lacks specifics, looks like a political ploy to prevent the senator from supporting the candidate of his choice during the 2023 general and presidential elections as a means of creating a level playing field in vote-rich Nimba County.

He added that referees should give similar red cards to other players that committed the same infringement, especially when corruption has been entrenched in the three branches of government for decades.

“Judging from his tricks, this sanction has increased his political base, because he now has reasons to cajole his people and indict individuals wanting to go for re-election in Nimba and those running for the presidency of being responsible for the sanction against him. The people of Nimba will fall for this, and I am sorry for those running for the presidency, and going for re-election. They will have more to explain to the people of Nimba on why they should give them their votes, should Senator Johnson amplify this.”