Several former senior officials including the former board of directors of the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) have denied knowledge about the printing of excess Liberian dollar banknotes amounting to L$2.645 billion and also payment of US$835,367.72 to their former co-defendant, Crane Currency, entering a plea of not guilty to the charges.
The former officials’ plea comes immediately after they were arraigned before Criminal Court ‘C’ at the Temple of Justice where they are expected to stand trial. Their ‘not guilty’ plea now shifts the burden of proof unto the prosecution to overturn the not-guilty pronouncement. Those indicted and expected to be tried are 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.
Prosecution claims that the incident took place between 2016 and 2017, which they allege the board of directors without the approval of the Legislature printed the excess Liberian dollar banknotes. 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 Charles Sirleaf, former Deputy Executive Governor and son of former President Ellen Johnson 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 and the inclusion of the Board of Governors is apparently necessitated by an early testimony of Weeks; when Weeks, on November 8, 2018, appeared before the plenary of the House of Representatives and 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 authorization 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 that 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 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 Melisa Emeh, a former member of the CBL Board, informed the lawmakers that in order to get more clarity on the alleged missing billions of 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, 2018 when a 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.