Liberia: Supreme Court Halts Boakai’s Assets Recovery Task Force Operations

The Supreme Court has halted the operations of the Assets Recovery and Property Retrieval Team set up by President Joseph Nyuma Boakai to recover and retrieve public resources and properties that were illegally acquired or converted to private use by officials of past governments.

The temporary suspension of the task force is a result of a prohibition filed against the government by Francis. T Blama, manager of Gracious Ride, prayed for the High Court to call the task force to order by stopping its vehicle seizure operations.

The taxi company, according to members of the task force, is owned by former President George Weah's Chief of Protocol, Finda Bundo.

Blama, through his legal team, told the court that the vehicles were illegally seized by the task force on grounds that they were acquired through fraudulent means by a top government official, whom the task force is mistaking to be the owner — though he owns the vehicles.

It is based on the defense team's request that the Supreme Court’s Chamber Justice, Yussif Kaba, on Thursday, March 28, placed the temporary stay order on the operations of the assets recovery task force. 

Justice Kaba, while issuing notice to the Ministry of Justice to halt the team’s operations, requested the task force and the ministry to be personally present on Monday, April 1, 2024.

The mandate reads, “By directive of His Honor Yussif D Kaba, Associate Justice presiding in Chambers, you are hereby cited to a conference with his honor on Monday, April 1, 2024, at the hour of 11:am, in connection with the above-captioned case.”

Meanwhile, it adds, “You are ordered to release all vehicles seized and stay all seizures pending the outcome of the conference.”

Fighting corruption and recovering stolen state assets and property were some of Boakai’s key 2023 campaign promises. On 5 March, he issued an executive order establishing the Office of Assets Recovery. This was followed by the announcement of a task force to crack down on corruption and try to retrieve stolen funds.

The Assets Recovery and Property Retrieval Core Team is mandated to ensure processes leading to the location, recovery, and retrieval – through criminal prosecutions and civil litigations – of public resources and properties that have been illegally acquired or converted to private use by officials of past administrations.

In the executive order, Boakai said: “It is paramount that public assets that were illegally obtained and converted to private use are retrieved and returned to the Liberian people and the perpetrators are brought to justice in accordance with appropriate laws that provide for confiscation through criminal investigation and legal prosecution.”

Meanwhile, the Taskforce on Wednesday began recovering several vehicles, including several taxis reportedly owned by Madam Bundoo, who they accused of illegally using state resources to purchase the vehicles.

Emmanuel Gonquoi, a member of the Asset Recovery Team, told reporters that the team is carrying out investigations on some properties that were bought or acquired using stolen money from the government.

“We have some intelligence and we are investigating how the yellow cars that are plying the streets were acquired. We’re not jumping to conclusions, but these vehicles are plying the streets without proper documents. We’re now beginning to see that something might have happened,” Gonquoi said.

Another vehicle impounded by the team was a Toyota Land Cruiser which the former Inspector General of Police, Col. Sudue claimed to have purchased from the General Services Agency in line with its policy on depreciated vehicles.

Gracious Ride has denied reports that the cars are owned by Madam Bundoo and that the cars are in no way operating without proper documents. The company is therefore seeking the prohibition against the Government and the Taskforce.