… over passport fraud at Foreign Ministry
By Joaquin M. Sendolo
Since the issuance of designation by the U.S. against former director of the Passport Division, Andrew Wonplo, an unsigned release and audio recording have been trending on social media suggesting that Wonplo was not acting alone in the passport saga that has led thousands of Liberian passports to possibly land in the hands of terrorists, drug and human traffickers.
For the fact that the release circulating is not signed, the media has been skeptical to authenticate it as Wonplo’s statement. However, since former Foreign Minister Gbehzohngar Milton Findley, who has resigned and seeking the senatorial seat of Grand Bassa in the upcoming election, released his reaction to the statement that heavily links him to the passport fraud, his response has lent credence to the purported Wonplo’s claims.
Upon receiving the U.S. designation issued by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo a week ago, Wonplo, who is now barred from entering the United States with all his children, promised not to face the punishment alone, but vowed that he would release a statement that will draw others who are connected to the scheme.
Among other big names in the saga that has cast dark cloud over Liberia’s diplomatic relations and credibility, Wonplo named former Minister Findley as the person who represented the Liberian Government under President Weah to illegally issue Liberian passports to foreigners around the world.
“The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Gbehzohngar Milton Findley, often acts in the place of the Chief Executive (i.e. President Weah) when it comes to the issuance of diplomatic passports. My fellow Liberians, CDCians and foot soldiers of the cause, please be informed that the passport scarcity was planned illegally and executed by the Government of Liberia represented by Gbehzohngar Milton Findley. Gbehzohngar is currently using proceeds from said illegal transactions to fund his campaign,” Wonplo’s statement said.
This allegation is not only damaging to Findley in his portfolio as the nation’s former top diplomat, but to his senatorial campaign in Grand Bassa where he has incumbent Nyonblee Karnga Lawrence to contend with.
In his response to the statement, Findley said: “I am constrained to respond to the outlandish comments oozing out of the unfounded accounts from the former Director of Passport [and] Visas, Mr. Andrew Wonplo, linking me to the so-called instruction to trade Liberian Passports to non-Liberians. I must indicate categorically that at no time did I, Amb. Gbehzohngar M. Findley, as Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Liberia, instruct the former Director of Passport and Visas, Mr. Andrew Wonplo, to trade Liberian Passports to non-Liberians. My service at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Republic of Liberia was characterized by service to country, commitment to duty, strengthening bilateral and multilateral relationships, upholding the rule of law, and dedication to delivering the statutory mandate of the Ministry; which I did to the best of my ability in conformity with law.”
In his statement, former Minister Findley said Liberian passport, as per the Executive Laws on the issuance of Liberian Passports, a Liberian passport is an official document issued by the Government of Liberia by which the bearer is recognized in foreign countries either as a Liberian citizen, an honorary consul, a diplomatic agent or emissary designated by the President of the Republic of Liberia or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“Consistent with this provision, the Republic of Liberia has had and continues to have Honorary Consuls representing its relations in varied countries and states, to include: Liberia’s Honorary Consul to Florida, Mr. David Straz who contributed US$1 million for the construction of a US$2 million polytechnic project in Sinje (named after him in 2016) but [he] died on November 18, 2019. We have honorary consuls in Italy, Spain, Saudi Arabia, among others, who by law are entitled to Diplomatic Passports,” said Findley in the release.
Clarifying the processes involved in the acquisition of Diplomatic Passports at the Foreign Ministry, Findley said, “For instance, applicants for Diplomatic Passports must give written proof or evidence that they are employees of the Government of Liberia with a rank or status as contained in these Regulations or individuals who are or may be required or assigned to serve the Republic of Liberia as diplomatic emissaries to foreign nations or Governments; or show proof that a specific waiver of these requirements have been approved by the Minister of Foreign Affairs or a dispensation given by the President of the Republic of Liberia. Said dispensation was at no time abused, but legally utilized under the discharge of my statutory functions.”
“As such,” Findley stressed, “I am bewildered by the unprovoked outburst from Mr. Wonplo wherein he’s making claims that he smartly designed as retaliation to his re-indictment, as well as his designation by the Government of the United States of America.”
He added: “My deeds can clearly speak for me, and no chicanery can thwart the resolve of the peace loving people of Grand Bassa County.”
The discovery of frauds in the Passport Division makes other countries that Liberia has diplomatic relations with and affected by terrorism to create fear in making business with the country. The passport deal led 4,250 Liberians passports are in the hands of foreigners around the world.
Alvin Worzi contributed to this story.