Global Witness’ (GW) latest report, warning that conflict of interest within the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) could undermine the review of its report, has forced Cllr. Frank Musa Dean, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Liberia, to recuse himself from conducting the investigation.
GW’s report indicted several top former government officials of allegedly manipulating a major oil deal that subsequently led to the awarding of kickbacks (bribes) in the form of bonuses, with some now admitting to the act or corroborating the GW’s report.
Minister Dean, in a communication issued yesterday, said, “I hereby recuse myself from the investigation commissioned by the president into the acquisition of the National Oil Company of Liberia’s (NOCAL) Block 13 by Broadway Consolidated Peppercoast (BCP) and its subsequent sale to ExxonMobil.”
Dean said the decision to recuse himself is based on the fact that “I served as president and Chief Executive officer (CEO) of NOCAL between 2004 and January 2006.”
He added, “I have obtained the approval of President George Manneh Weah to recuse myself from the investigation.”
In making this recusal, Minister Dean said, all oil blocks awarded between 2004 and January 2006 were awarded pursuant to the companies’ compliance with NOCAL’s full disclosure requirements, under penalty of law.
According to Dean, his recusal is intended to avoid any semblance of conflict of interest and to ensure that the investigation is characterized by transparency and integrity.
It may be recalled that GW on Monday, April 2, 2018, welcoming President Weah’s position to launch or undertake a preliminary investigation of corruption into Liberia’s oil sector, indicated that Justice Minister Frank Musa Dean poses a major conflict of interest and should not head the investigation into Exxon’s Block 13 purchase.
GW said the government’s investigation will examine “allegations of bribery and misuse” outlined in multiple recent publications, including its report.
The GW’s report also found large US$35,000 payments were made to top Liberian officials after Exxon got the block in 2013.
Minister Dean being tasked with heading the investigation is posing a clear conflict of interest.
GW indicated in its welcoming statement that Minister Dean was the president of NOCAL in 2005, when the agency awarded BCP Block 13, and was one of the Liberian officials who signed BCP’s contract.
“It’s very encouraging that President Weah has called for an investigation into the 2013 Block 13 deal,” said Jonathan Gant, Senior Campaigner at GW.
“However, the review must be led by an independent investigator and not by Minister Dean,” the report said.
GW calls on this investigation to be independent and thorough, and asks that the Liberian government hold accountable any individuals or companies that are found to have broken the law, while also respecting the due process rights of those being questioned.
The investigation must also be conducted with integrity. For this reason, Minister Dean cannot be involved, given his earlier role. He should immediately hand responsibility to an independent investigator who was not attached to the Block 13 award, either in 2005 or 2013.
“President Weah has promised Liberians that he will tackle Liberia’s endemic corruption. This is his first major test in office to see if he will make good on that promise,” said Gant.
He noted that calling for this investigation is a good start. Now the president should ensure it is independent and fair – and it cannot be as long as it is led by Justice Minister Dean.
Amara Konneh admits receiving US$35K
Following the GW’s latest report that indicted several top former government officials of allegedly manipulating a major oil deal that subsequently led to the awarding of kickbacks (bribes) in the form of bonuses, has up to press time last night faced no legal challenge as some of the accused have admitted to committing the act or have corroborated (agreed with) the report.
One of the most powerful and influential members of the administration of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Amara M. Konneh, also implicated by the report, has admitted to receiving his share of the ExxonMobil money, which is widely perceived as a bribe.
“Let me state here categorically that while I accepted the bonus through an official NOCAL check as did to all others, I, Amara M. Konneh, as Minister of Finance and Development Planning at the time, did not solicit or request a bonus or any other payment for the work. I did it for the benefit of my country’s oil burgeoning hydrocarbon program,” Konneh said in his response to GW’s corruption report.
Konneh, who served as Minister of Finance from February 2012 to April 2016, said during and after his tenure, he did not, at any point in time, solicit or receive money or favor from corporations or individuals seeking relationship with the Liberian government.
On March 29, 2018, GW released a report titled “Global Witness ExxonMobil Liberia,” in which it mentioned that a US$35,000 ‘bonus’ was given former officials of the Liberian government after successfully concluding the Production Sharing Contract for Block 13 between the government through NOCAL and ExxonMobil in 2013.
“As Minister of Finance and Development Planning, which made me a member of the Board of NOCAL,” Konneh said, “I was effectively involved in the negotiation efforts to bring in ExxonMobil, America’s largest oil company, into Liberia’s promising oil basin as a means of boosting its outlook and ultimately attracting other super majors to participate in the development of the country’s hydrocarbon resources.”
Konneh said after many months of intense negotiations, “We concluded a landmark deal that would see Liberia receive a non-refundable signature bonus of US$50 million, a first for a non-oil producing country.
“Following this major milestone,” Konneh said the Board of Directors of NOCAL decided that it would be fitting to organize a bonus package for all of those who worked hard and long to pull off this deal, which included, as supported by GW in their report, the relevant line ministries and agencies and the entire staff of NOCAL.
Konneh however called on authorities of NOCAL to release to the public the full list of everyone who received bonus payments from the ExxonMobil negotiations.
Additionally, Konneh said GW is fully aware that everyone knew the circumstances surrounding Block 13 before the Canadian Overseas Petroleum Limited (COPL) acquired it and then subsequently sold it to ExxonMobil.
“The records are there, and the transactions were concluded in the public and reviewed by top U.S. lawyers, to ensure that the transaction did not violate the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act,” Konneh said.
He said GW’s position of contacting him to respond to their query, but that he refused to do so is “false and misleading.”
“I would like to state categorically that at no point in time have I ever received a call or communication in any other manner from GW to respond to issues raised in their report relating to me. I am, as always, willing to respond to queries relating to issues arising during my time of service with the Liberian government,” Konneh said.
Finally, Konneh said he remains proud of the work by ensuring that Liberia benefits from the US$50 million as a result of that transaction, adding, “this is by far the largest amount that Liberia ever received for any of its offshore blocks.
“For Global Witness to suggest that a US$35,000 bonus paid to each member of the negotiating team for ensuring that Liberia received US$50 million from the transaction is a bribe on a US$120 million deal, is an insult to the reputation and integrity of the Liberian officials.
“In fact, global best practice would suggest that when employees achieve great results, bonus is a way of appreciating and incentivizing them. When has this become a crime to pay and receive a bonus?” Konneh rhetorically asked.