Liberia: Sanctions Officials Forced to Resign?

President Weah says McGill, Twehway, and Cephus have been suspended with immediate effect to enable them to face investigation.

.... The accused, according to sources, had to resign as their out-of-sight support among public officials was dwindling, while a  band of adversaries was growing — eyeing their positions, especially the post of Minister of State. 

President George Weah has announced the acceptance of the resignation of three senior officials of his government who were slapped with US sanctions nearly a month ago.

The resignations of Nathaniel McGill, Sayma Syrenius Cephus, and Bill Twehway, come as their political authority was demolished due to penalties brought on by the US government sanctions, with impacts extending beyond the normal freezes of all their assets in the US, or in possession or control of a US citizen and the normal visa restriction.

The President's office announcing the resignation said the President had accepted McGill, Cephus, and Twehway resignations with immediate effect.

McGill is now a former minister of state for presidential affairs and chief of staff to President George Weah; while Cephus is out of his position as solicitor general and chief prosecutor of Liberia; and Twehway is no longer managing director of the National Port Authority (NPA).

They were already suspended by the President, following the US Department of the Treasury sanctions against them for their involvement in ongoing public corruption in Liberia. The suspension impacted the trio's political authority, which then led to internal and external pressure on them to resign, which they resisted by launching a vigorous defense against the US government sanction.

The defense campaign, which was led by McGill and Cephus — two of the few officials of the Weah government then deemed ‘untouchable’, focused on discrediting the US claim that they were involved in ongoing public corruption in Liberia by demanding proof. 

Together, they accused the US of violating their rights to due process, saying the sanctions claimed against them were untrue and that they were innocent until proven guilty.  

Their argument was bought into by the President and some other government officials who argued that it was necessary for McGill, Cephus, and Twehway to be given the legal opportunity to be heard — indirectly questioning the US sanctions information and its claims.

But as internal pressure grows, so does external — signaling that there was a growing consensus that no matter what McGill and his co-accused defense would be, the curtain was falling on their time in the Weah government after nearly six years of service.

McGill's resignation makes him the most significant of the three sanctioned officials to leave the Weah government.  His power as the President's Chief of Staff earned him the title of ‘de facto Prime Minister.  However, he is leaving the Weah government in disgrace and it is unclear what role he will play in Weah reelection bid.

The former Minister of State chaired the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change campaign in 2017, leading to Weah’s election as President.  

Saving the President's Image

The accused, according to sources, had to resign as their out-of-sight support among public officials was dwindling, while a  band of adversaries was growing — eyeing their positions, especially the post of Minister of State. 

The post is so powerful that the occupant has the authority to direct, manage and oversee all policy development, daily operations, and staff activities for the President, as well as coordinate and communicate with all departments and agencies of the administration.

So key allies of the President, while welcoming the US sanction in public, had been mounting internal rebellion in private to have McGill, Cephus, and Twehway leave the government to save the international image of Weah. This was fueled by the belief that the continued presence of McGill and the co-accused, who have a close relationship with the President, would vindicate the President against critics' claims that he may have benefitted from the spoil.

And given the speed with which sanctions had dented the President's anti-corruption image, many within his inner circle believe that sacking the sanctioned officials is needed quickly to mitigate the damage to the presidency.

The sanctioned 

McGill, Cephus, and Twehway have been designated by the US Department of Treasury as being foreign people who is a current government officials engaged in corruption, the misappropriation of state assets, the expropriation of private assets for personal gain, and corruption related to the extraction of natural resources.

The designation was made on August 15.  The sanction also prohibited other individuals from engaging in certain transactions with the designated individuals' risk also being exposed to sanctions or subject to enforcement action, the Treasury said.

It is also hard to serve in such a high-profile position and not interact or do business with US entities operating anywhere around the world, especially when there is a significant investment in the country from US investors.

The Treasury Department said that during his tenure in government, McGill “bribed business owners, received bribes from potential investors and accepted kickbacks for steering contracts to companies in which he has an interest.”

McGill “manipulated public procurement processes to award multi-million dollar contracts to companies in which he has ownership” and used government funds allocated to other Liberian government institutions to run his own projects. 

The Treasury said he also made off-the-books payments in cash to senior government leaders and organized warlords to threaten political rivals.

Cephus, according to the Treasury Department received bribes from people in exchange for having their court cases dropped and has also shielded money launderers and helped clear them through the court system.

He intimidated prosecutors in an attempt to quash probes and has been accused of tampering with evidence in cases that involved members of opposition political parties, the Treasury’s said in its statement.

Twehway orchestrated the diversion of $1.5m in vessel storage fee funds from the NPA into a private account and formed a private company to which he later unilaterally awarded a contract for loading and unloading cargo at the Port of Buchanan, the Treasury Department said. Twehway and others used family members to obfuscate their own involvement in the company while still benefiting financially from the company, it added.

Plan political future

But while McGill and co reputation in some eyes has been damaged as the result of the sanctions, it is nevertheless an end to their political careers. 

They can return to public office via elected position as there is no law on the books that could force the country's electoral body to reject them.  The way out is if they are convicted of the crime however any possibility of their prosecution remains slim.   

Returning to public office would restore lost political authority and still give them the power to engage in public corruption for which they have been sanctioned. And they have not ruled out such. 

Twehway is eyeing a legislative seat in his native RiverCess County, while McGill has been asked by some citizens of Bong County to contest one of the legislative seats in 2023.  Both former officials are eyeing the respective county Senatorial seat.

Government officials who resigned amid public pressure

Meanwhile, the resignations of McGill,  Cephus, and Twehway bring to four officials of government who had resigned due to pressure.  The first was the former Chairperson of Liberia’s Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC), Ndubusi Nwabudike.

Nwabudike, an un-naturalized individual, was appointed in 2019 by  Weah to head the National Elections Commission but resigned amid allegations that he obtained his Liberian citizenship illegally.