-With Asset Recovery Team head, Cllr. Arthur Johnson resigns his post for lack of financial support to his hired international and local investigators
The recent resignation of Cllr, Arthur Johnson, who just few months ago was appointed to chair the Assets Investigation Restitution and Recovery Team (AIRReT) due unpaid benefits and salaries clearly point to the fact that President George Weah is gradually losing his government commitment in fighting corruption. President Weah, on January 27, 2020, during his 3rd State of the Nation Address said, he believes the CDC-led government will succeed in the fight against corruption.
President Weah disclosed that his government has hired the expertise of a world-renowned Asset Recovery firm to assist the local team carry out a professional exercise to recover Liberia’s wealth stolen over many decades.
“Additionally, we will continue to show political will in the fight against waste and abuse of our national resources, as we have shown in recent times when a managing director and other high profile officials were dismissed, arrested and sent to court to vindicate themselves from accusations of corruption. There will be no sacred cows as we take stronger measures to end this societal menace,” he said.
However, in his resignation letter, Cllr. Johnson said, “I am so constrained to tender in my resignation from the position of Chairman of the Assets Investigation Restitution and Recovery Team (AIRReT) due to the fact that my anticipation and perception about the fight against corruption is not achieving its objectives. I expected that there will be a “WILL” in the fight against corruption but this belief of mine had proven to be an illusion, and therefore, I cannot continue to risk my career and reputation.”
“I cannot continue working for them when they are not paying me. I have investigators, including international investigators and they all have not been paid, how do they continue working?” he asked rhetorically.
He said, ARReT has also not received the full cooperation of government institutions and officials in gathering evidence for the retrieval of government assets.
The Asset Investigation, Restitution and Recovery Team is charged with the responsibility of investigating, restituting and subsequently recovering funds that were embezzled, and misappropriated from the Liberian government as revealed by reports by the General Auditing Commission, (GAC) and the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC).
When contacted on Wednesday, March 4, at the Temple of Justice, the Solicitor General of Liberia, Cllr. Sayma Syrenius Cephus, who received Cllr. Johnson’s resignation letter, described the letter as “a serious blow.”
“This is a blow to our assets recovery exercise because he is very much important to our fight against corruption,” Cephus admitted, adding, “We are in the middle of several high profile corruption cases, so for him to resign now is very hard to understand. But we are going to hold a discussion with him, to see our next action.”
Before his resignation, Cllr. Johnson was the lead prosecutor in two of the high profile corruption cases that include the US$1.9M the AFL’s Soldiers Pension Money and the Central Bank of Liberia printing LD$16B at the Criminal Court ‘C’ at the Temple of Justice.
A highly placed government source hinted the Daily Observer that the Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Samuel Tweh rejected the US$4 million as suggested by Cllr. Johnson to hire international investigators that would help the government to recovery over US$4.6 billion as assets from past public officers.
The source further supported Cllr. Johnson’s accusation that the government is yet to pay international investigators preferably from the United Kingdom (UK) that was hired to assist in the recovery process.
“The government is not even willing to enter into the agreement with the international investigators, even after assuring the investigators to come to the country to assist the assets recovery team,” the source said.
According to the source, as part of the agreement the government is to give between four to five percent of any assets that would be recovery by the international investigators, based on which agreement the international investigators came to the country, and they yet to start any operation, because of the government noncompliance posture.