4 CBL Ex-Board Members Indicted

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Former CBL board members on trial (from left): Melisa Emeh, Kollie Tamba, Elsie Dossen Badio, David M. Farhat and former Executive Governor, Milton A. Weeks

— Massive arrest pending for Monday; re-indictment of former defendants Walker, Hagba and Dennis  

Amid allegations that the authorities at the Central Bank of Liberia (CB) between 2016 and 2017 without the approval of the legislature printed excess Liberian dollar banknotes amounting to L$2.645 billion and also paid US$835,367.72 to their former co-defendant, Crane Currency, the Government of Liberia, in addition to having dismissed criminal charges against suspended deputy executive governor for operations, Charles Sirleaf, has proceeded to indict the CBL’s four former members of the Board of Governors.

Those indicted were former chairman of the board of governors, David M. Farhat, Melisa Emeh, Kollie Tamba and Elsie Dossen Badio, all of whom were members.

Others include former executive governor and secretary of the board of governors Milton A. Weeks; Director for Operations, Richard Walker; Director for Finance Department, Dorbor Hagba; and Deputy Director for Internal Audit, Mr. Joseph Dennis.

An arrest of the defendants is expected o begin on Monday, June 8, a court officer confided with the Daily Observer.

The indictment was on Friday, June 5, turned over to the Criminal Court ‘C’ at the Tempe of Justice that is clothed with the legal authority to hear and determine theft related cases.

The charges of economic sabotage, theft of property, criminal conspiracy and criminal solicitation were drawn against the defendants by the Grand Jury for Montserrado County, stationed, at Criminal Court ‘A’ at the Temple of Justice.

Surprisingly, the government had dropped those criminal charges against Sirleaf and Crane Currency, a Swedish currency printing company said to have facilitated the printing of the excess money.

Initially, the government dropped similar charges against Hagba, Dennis and Walker, but the government somersaulted on that decision to include the trio (Hagba, Dennis and Walker) bringing the defendants now to eight (8) in number.

Involvement of  Board of Governors

Apparently, the inclusion of the board of governors may have been necessitated by an early testimony of Weeks, when Weeks, on November 8, 2018 appeared before the plenary of the House of Representatives admitted that the printing of the additional L$10.5 billion new banknotes were not authorized by the Legislature.

Weeks told the House of Representatives that the board of governors decided on the printing of the additional banknotes based on past discussions with the Legislature.

“The Board of Governors also understood that the communication, signed by the Clerk of the House granting authorization to completely replace the remaining mutilated banknotes on the market, was an authority to go ahead and print the additional L$10.5 billion,” Weeks then told the extraordinary session on the matter.

The former CBL Executive Governor by then said, the printing of the additional banknotes was approved by the national Legislature. But members of the 53rd legislature, during whose tenure the printing of the additional banknotes was reportedly authorized, have continuously denied giving the bank a go-ahead for additional printing of money after earlier authorizing L$5 billion to be printed in April 2016 to replace mutilated banknotes on the market.

It can be recalled that in her testimony before the plenary on Monday, November 12, 2018, Madam Meliseh Emeh, a former member of the CBL Board, by then informed the lawmakers that in order to get more clarity on the alleged missing billions in banknotes, they should ask Mr. Sirleaf because, according to her, as Deputy Executive Governor of the CBL at the time of the printing of the new currency, he was mostly at the center of the operations of the bank.

Another member of the CBL Board of Governors, Madam Elsie Dossen Badio, during her appearance, informed the House of Representatives that the money was printed, brought into the country and infused into the economy; adding: “It was done in the best interest of the country’s economy.”

“To the best of my knowledge, we did the resolution based on a request made by the Governor to the Legislature to print additional notes to put into the economy. The 15 billion came into the country and was infused into the economy. We acted in the interest of the country in replacing mutilated notes,” she stated.

Like other witnesses, Mr. Kollie Tamba, another board member, insisted that the Bank got its authority to print additional money from the Legislature.

“Our resolution addressed the mandate from the Legislature. We were specific about the amount,” he added.

By then, the lawmakers said, the action of the bank and its Board of Governors brought past and current lawmakers to disrepute, and caused unwanted protests that impeded legislative functions, especially on September 24, when group of angry Liberians under the banner of Concerned Citizens United to Bring Back our Money, took to the streets to demand an independent investigation.

The CBL under Weeks’ predecessor, Dr. J. Mills Jones, advanced similar request to the House of Representatives. The communications from the CBL and the President were transferred to relevant committees with a mandate to analyze the request and guide plenary in making informed decisions.

Controversy surrounding dismissal of charges against Sirleaf 

Dismissing Sirleaf’s charges, Solicitor General Cllr. Seymah Cyrennius Cephus said they filed a request  for Nolle Prosequi with prejudice to the state in favor of Sirleaf because, according to Cephus, “This means that the state is no longer going to go after Mr. Sirleaf as it relates to this case, if there was any; meaning we are not indicting him. We have removed all the charges on him.”

Defending his action, the solicitor general said, they found out that Sirleaf’s only mistake in the process was that he (Sirleaf) made an “egregious abuse of administrative discretion” when he didn’t follow through with the instructions he had received earlier as it relates to the printing of the first L$5 billion.

Cephus added that initially the government had early recommended Thomas De La Rue to print the banknotes, unfortunately, Sirleaf and the other defendants, singlehanded chose Crane Currency to print the new money.

According to him, Sirleaf printed an entirely “new money”, containing the L$500 denomination, which he said wasn’t the original objective and it was infused into the economy. “Instead or withdrawing or replacing the legacy banknotes, they added the new money into the economy, so there was the concomitant or parallel usage of both the mutilated banknotes, which is the legacy banknotes.”

 

According to Cllr. Cephus, this is where the problem had come from. He added: “The problem was if you went to Thomas De La Rue, the line, the texture, the design, physical appearance and every other thing will look different, it will carry different stamp. If you went to Crane Currency, it will look different.”

Cephus’s utterances came shortly after former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, while being interviewed by foreign journalists on the Aljazeera program, Upfront, claimed that her son, Charles’s trial was being conducted “unjustifiably and  illegally.” Madam Sirleaf did not further elaborate on the matter; according to her, it is against the practice of the Liberian law.

Shortly after the resignation of Executive Governor J. Mills Jones, who had completed his term as Governor and needed to do so to enable him to contest for the presidency in the upcoming elections, Madam Sirleaf, in 2016, the year the missing money is said to have been printed, appointed her son, Charles as Interim Governor of the CBL.

Charles Sirleaf, when he also appeared before the Plenary of the House of Representatives, said that there is no money missing, as was being reported and the 53rd Legislature, and former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf authorized the printing of additional L$10 billion.

He also maintained that no money printed was missing as being reported, noting all of the money was delivered in the vaults of the CBL.

“The Legislature and the President (Ellen Johnson Sirleaf) acknowledged receipt of the Ex-Governor’s letter and gave approval pending pre-condition, stating, before you can print money, provide us the detail of the denominations prior to printing of currency. That was very clear… There is no missing money. The process of moving money by the Central Bank is security oriented and the process was very clear and transparent,” Mr. Sirleaf clarified.

Contrary to Charles Sirleaf’s denial, the former Speaker of the 53rd National Legislature, Emmanuel Nuquay, who was also invited to testify before the House’s plenary, by then, categorically denied that the legislature gave any authorization to the CBL to print an additional L$10.5 billion new banknotes after authorizing the printing of the initial L$5 billion new banknotes.

Although he admitted to the communication sent to the bank, Nuquay said the communication simply requested the CBL to conduct an analysis and return for further advice.

The CBL under Dr. J. Mills Jones advanced similar request to the Honorable House of Representatives. The communications from the CBL and the President were transferred to relevant committees with a mandate to analyze the request and guide plenary in making informed decisions.

President Sirleaf, in a communication dated Thursday March 3, 2016, informed the Lawmakers that she received two letters from the Central Bank of Liberia advising that the economy may be seriously affected due to the lack of local currency to meet National needs.

According to President Sirleaf’s communication, the first letter dated December 23, 2015 was sent by the then Executive Governor and the second of such letter, dated February 19, 2016, sent by the Acting Executive Governor Mr. Charles Sirleaf.

The President’s Communication stated: “While the decision needs to be made now to address this issue that impacts the economy, it is important to note that the printing of notes will require a period of some five months. The underlying reason for the delay that has led to the crisis has to do with the interpretation of Article 34 (d) of the constitution and the Act to Authorize the Establishment of Central Bank of Liberia as amended.”

The President also stated: “as conveyed by the letters from the CBL referred to above, the Central Bank of Liberia is of the opinion that by the article referred to above, the legislature has granted implicit approval to the CBL to issue local currency and believe that the legislature has registered a contrary view.

“These issues of interpretation should be resolved at an appropriate time, preferably sooner than later. Mr. President Pro-Tempore, I have advised the acting executive Governor to seek the opportunity to discuss this matter with you and with your committees as you will dictate. I hope that you can agree on the way forward to enable the CBL to move forward in a timely manner to conclude arrangements for printing of currency,” the President’s communication added.

At the time of the President’s letter she received criticisms from the public for seeking the consent of the National Legislature for the printing of more money in the wake of the limited time she now has in power, expressing fear that this move may cripple the already crisis-prone economy.

The Liberian economy has been experiencing crisis since the country experienced the outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus during the entire 2014. After Ebola, the country has not been able to overcome the shock from the consequences of the health crisis and further compounded by decline in the prices of commodities in the extractive industries — mainly rubber and iron ore — Liberia’s predominant sources of revenue.

The President’s request was in keeping with article 34 (b) of the Liberian constitution.

“While the decision needs to be made now to address this issue that impacts the economy, it is important to note that the printing of notes will require a period of some five months. The underlying reason for the delay that has led to the crisis has to do with the interpretation of Article 34 (d) of the constitution and the Act to Authorize the Establishment of Central Bank of Liberia as amended,” President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said at the time.

“Article 34 (b) of the Constitution gives the legislature the power to levy taxes, duties, imports, exercise and other revenues, to borrow money, issue currency, mint coins, and to make appropriations for the fiscal governance of the Republic, subject to the following qualifications: which includes; all revenue bills, whether subsidies, charges, imports, duties or taxes, and other financial bills, shall originate in the House of Representatives, but the Senate may propose or concur with amendments as on other bills.”

“No other financial charge shall be established, fixed, laid or levied on any individual, community or locality under any pretext whatsoever except by the expressed consent of the individual, community or locality. In all such cases, a true and correct account of funds collected shall be made to the community or locality.

The Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) was established on October 18, 1999 by an Act of the National Legislature of the Republic of Liberia. It became functional in 2000 and succeeded the National Bank of Liberia (NBL). The principal objective of the CBL is to achieve and maintain price stability in the Liberian economy.