A judgment that was expected to establish whether or not Aminata and Sons Incorporated, a petroleum company, actually duped government of US$5.7m unjustly accrued from the sale of the Japanese Oil Grant was held back yesterday. No new date was set to announce the judgment.
The decision to reserve judgment came immediately after Judge Emery Paye of Criminal Court ‘C’ entertained final legal arguments from both Aminata and Sons’ legal team and lawyers of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) that allegedly discovered the fraud and brought the lawsuit.
Although similar allegations were levied against former Commerce Minister Miata Beysolow and T. Nelson Williams, former managing director of the Liberia Petroleum Refining Company (LPRC), Judge Paye decided to drop the allegations against them.
The judge said his action was due to what he considered as “serious legal errors” in LACC’s investigative report based on which the indictment against the former public officials were drawn.
It is not clear whether or not the judge will rely on his previous judgments in favor of Beysolow and Williams to drop the charges against Aminata and Sons.
The two former officials were indicted on multiple crimes ranging from economic sabotage, misapplication of entrusted property, criminal conspiracy and facilitation and violation of the required Public Procurement Concession Commission (PPCC) procedures and processes that called for a competitive bidding process, as well as their alleged roles in the Japanese Oil Grant in 2011.
Before yesterday’s reservation of judgement, Siaka Turay, chief executive officer (CEO) of the petroleum company, denied having any knowledge of setting up the price of the products, which LACC claimed resulted in a loss of US$5,787,134.01 to the government.
In his testimony at Criminal Court ‘C’, Turay said, “I played no role absolutely in the determination of the oil price.”
Turay’s denial stemmed from the testimony of prosecution’s second witness, Aaron Henry Aboah, a program manager for enforcement at the LACC, who stated that Aminata and Sons duped government of US$5.7m of excess income which Turay unjustly accrued when he sold the grant products.
Aboah also claimed that Turay sold the products (both diesel and gasoline) for US$4.22 and US$4.37 contrary to the agreed price of US$21.19 based on the gift element nature of the grant.
Defendant Turay in response to Aboah’s allegation explained that in August 2011, his company and the Liberia Petroleum Refining Company (LPRC) entered into an agreement to execute the sale of the products.
“In that agreement, my company was required to pay for the product at a cost of US$8.5 million, which amount we deposited through several payments,” Turay claimed.
“Aminata and Sons paid the US$8.5 million to the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) as required by the agreement.”
According to Turay, for transparency and accountability, they secured two bank guarantees of US$700,000 from Ecobank and US$400,000 from Guaranty Trust Bank (GT Bank) totaling US$1.1 million.
“After we presented those guarantees,” Turay claimed, “LPRC management released the products, equivalent to the amount of US$1.1 million.”
He claimed that after his initial payment of US$1.1 million that was made through a bank guarantee, “all other subsequent deliveries out of the consignment were made after we agreed on a pre-payment basis. This means that we were compelled to deposit the cash into the grant product accounts at the CBL.”
“When we deposited the money at the CBL,” defendant Turay alleged, the agreement authorized his company to present copies of the deposit slips to LPRC, adding, “There was not a single gallon of the product given to Aminata and Sons without any payment made.”
“We were required to pay all related storage fees to LPRC. We also paid taxes on those products to the government.”
According him, his company was required to pay US$22,500 to LPRC constituting costs of publicity and audit of which he said the company paid US$6,500, leaving a balance of US$16,000.
Defendant Turay, however, admitted to not completing that payment.
He claimed that at the end of the sale of the grant products, LPRC prepared a report that summarized all of the transactions and presented that document to the government.
“At that point, we thought that would have been the end of the transaction, but at some point later, we were called by the LACC to give an account of the products,” he continued to the disbelief of the onlookers and court staff.
He said after responding positively to concerns about the grant products, LACC prepared its final report indicting his company.
“The LACC report recommended that we pay the balance US$16,000, which we did,” defendant Turay claimed, adding “To our surprise, we received a writ indicting Aminata and Sons of committing several crimes.”
In 2011, the Liberian government and the Japanese government executed an Exchange of Notes to which Japan donated 15,000 metric tons of petroleum products valued at US$13m to Liberia to be sold at the gift element rate of 21.19 percent of the market price, and the proceeds used for the country’s economic and social development. It is alleged that Aminata & Sons sold the product at the then market price of US$4.22 and US$4.37 without the gift element.