Liberia: US ‘Developing Evidence’ to Sanction More Corrupt Gov’t Officials

Richard Nephew, US Global Coordinator for Anti-Corruption

__ “We are developing evidence for sanctions cases. Our objective [is to give] people who are engaged in corruption general warning,” Nephew added.

The US Global Coordinator for Anti-Corruption, Richard Nephew, has confirmed that the Biden administration is exploring opportunities to impose additional sanctions on public officials engaged in corruption.

“We are developing evidence for sanctions cases. Our objective [is to give] people who are engaged in corruption general warning,” Nephew added. “The US is dedicated to making sure that corruption is addressed and that anyone doing it faces sanctions.

"Corruption is a real challenge. It is undermining investments in the country. There are projects here in Liberia that could be implemented like tomorrow if the international community and certain international businesses were more confident that corruption was going to be stopped and addressed," Nephew said during a radio appearance on Okay FM in Monrovia on March 14.

Nephew noted that sanctions are meant to discourage people from involvement in corruption and punish those found guilty of the act. 

According to him, the US used sanctions to fight against corruption based on credible information. Corruption undermines investment in a country. Magnitsky sanctions are intended to change behavior and help performances, Nephew noted. 

“If there wasn’t evidence of corrupt activities we couldn’t impose sanctions. We are focused on this issue. This is not something we are taking lightly, it undermines the economy and population's ability to live their lives," Nephew noted.

“We have a vigorous evidence gathering process. We don’t preview anything about sanctions. Our plan of sanctions is going to continue.  It is not going to stop.  We are compiling corruption evidence on Liberians. It is to prevent corruption. If there was no evidence of corrupt activity, we couldn’t impose sanction and we wouldn’t”.

Corruption in Liberia is prevalent, ranging from massive looting of funds, and failure of public officials to declare their assets as required by law.  The United States government and other partners have consistently voiced out corruption while calling on the government to fight corruption and provide adequate funding to institutions responsible to fight corruption. 

Last year, the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the United States Department of Treasury sanctioned three important members of the Weah-led administration (OFAC). Nathaniel McGill, Sayma Syrenius Cephus, and Bill Twehway were sanctioned for their alleged involvement in ongoing public corruption in Liberia.

Even though the three officials willingly left their positions, the public still thinks that many more officials of the current administration need to be sanctioned because there has since been speculation of corruption ever since they took office in 2018.

The US ambassador Michael McCarthy has warned that his government will sanction anyone caught violating the sanctions against three of Weah’s former officials who were accused of alleged engagement in public corruption. 

The warning, issued by the US Ambassador, comes as two of the three sanctioned former officials appear to be vying for Senatorial seats in the upcoming legislative elections in 2023 — attracting large amounts of political followers as a result of their ability to spend disproportionate amounts of cash on campaign-related projects. 

“I think it’s important to draw our attention back to the Treasury Department’s statement, specifically its notification that persons that engage in certain transactions with these sanctioned individuals ‘may themselves be exposed to sanctions or subject to an enforcement action,” Nephew said. 

" “I think one of the things that worries me the most is when I go to a country and later back to the United States to hear  and hear that…corruption can never be won. Corruption is permanent. It’s always going to be there. That kind of apathy that suggests that nothing can be done to fix it, to me that is the worst because, one, it is not true and two, when you have apathy that is when people will do nothing to fight anymore.”

Appointed by President Biden in 2021, Nephew is visiting Liberia along with USAID Senior Advisor to the Administrator and Executive Director of the Anti-Corruption Task Force (ACTF), Shannon Green to reiterate their government’s commitment to anti-corruption and good governance through the first-ever United States Strategy on Countering Corruption

The strategy outlines the US government’s approach to elevating the fight against corruption. It places particular emphasis on better understanding and responding to the threat’s transnational dimensions, including by taking additional steps to reduce the ability of corrupt actors to use the US and international financial systems to hide assets and launder the proceeds of corrupt acts. 

To implement the strategy, the Department of State is working across the globe to prevent graft, strengthen investigation and prosecution of corruption, promote transparency, and empower civil society and independent media to expose corruption and advance reforms.  

Biden has made preventing and countering corruption and demonstrating the advantages of transparent and accountable governance a top administration priority. 

Nephew, who is spearheading the implantation of the strategy will meet with integrity institutions, civil society organizations, media, and the legislature. 

“We have a lot of different activities to prevent and respond to corruption. We have Sanctioned, we have diplomatic activities, foreign assistance programs,” he said. “One of the big parts of my job is looking at all of the different tools that we have and figuring out what’s the best way to use them in every individual country.”

The  Global Magnitsky sanctions are imposed on individuals and entities caught in corruption such as human rights across the world.  

According to the sanctions are named after Sergei Magnitsky, a tax advisor killed in a Russian prison after exposing fraud by Russian government officials. 

It freezes the perpetrators’ assets and stops them from traveling internationally. They are used by the UK, US, EU, and Canada, together representing over one-third of global GDP.

In the UK, the sanctions stop the perpetrators from accessing London, the world’s second-largest financial center and the world’s largest luxury property market.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with new quotes.