By Benedict Wisseh
That was my reaction to a picture in which the French President, Emmanuel Macron, and Emmanuel Shaw were standing side by side and smiling. Both appeared as if they were former schoolmates meeting at a class reunion gathering. But, this was not at a class reunion gathering. It was at a reception hosted by the French president in Paris for his visiting Liberian counterpart, President George Weah. Mr. Shaw, however, was not there, as other Liberian citizens were, to pay their respects to President Weah. Rather, Shaw was there as a member of the official Liberian delegation that was headed by the president.
Hence, one can conclude that Shaw was selected by Weah to travel with him. Although it has not been announced publicly, one will not be wrong to also conclude that Shaw is an official in the Liberian government. For an administration that portrays itself to the world to be “pro poor,” Shaw’s involvement in it, perhaps, with what appears to be unrestricted access to the president, does not inspire confidence in the commitment to the “pro poor” agenda. Why do I make this assertion? I make this assertion because Shaw has a checkered past that worries me.
It should also worry other Liberians because the history of his past activities, as a public servant, contains no evidence of his concern for the downtrodden majority Liberians. While others see and go into public service to benefit the public good, Shaw sees and goes into it to benefit his personal ambition to be a multimillionaire. Therefore, he is instructed by his modus operandi to court friendship with people in government from whom the power to make and execute final decisions originates. These people are usually presidents or individuals who have unrestricted access to the ears of the presidents.
His relationships to Stephen Tolbert, Samuel Doe, Charles Taylor, and now George Weah, demonstrate that. For Shaw, becoming a multimillionaire has been an obsession. This obsession began in the 1970s when he was a protégé and confidant of Stephen Tolbert, President Tolbert’s younger brother, who served as minister of finance. The younger Tolbert was believed to be a multimillionaire, a standing he accomplished only after he became minister of finance. Prior to becoming minister of finance, Stephen Tolbert was a successful businessman by Liberian standardS.
However, he was not sufficiently successful to be regarded a multimillionaire. As a businessman, he got to know and understand how the Ministry of Finance could be used by a powerful minister to build a personal lucrative business empire. The opportunity for him finally came when his brother ascended to the presidency and appointed him the minister of finance in 1971. As minister, Stephen Tolbert already had the template to use the Ministry of Finance to build a lucrative business empire and, yes, he did and became a multimillionaire.
Having served as Stephen Tolbert’s foot soldier and fixer, Shaw knew the template and began to dream of becoming a millionaire also, perhaps, with the assistance of Stephen Tolbert in later years. But, Stephen Tolbert was tragically killed in a plane crash in 1975. The death of Stephen Tolbert and the appointment of Charles Williams as minister of finance severed Shaw’s connection to the ministry of finance. Nevertheless, President Tolbert became Shaw’s benefactor. Out of respect for his late brother, President Tolbert appointed Shaw deputy minister of state for economic affairs at the Executive Mansion.
This appointment appeared to have derailed the trajectory of Shaw’s plan to use the Ministry of Finance to construct and preside over a lucrative business empire of his own. From this position, Shaw saw the president every other day, if not daily, and became a trusted counselor to him. It also catapulted Shaw to national recognition that he served as the guest speaker for my high school graduating class in 1979 and became a prominent figure in the leadership of the True Whig Party youth wing. Having won the confidence of Tolbert, Shaw began to explore how he could go about the execution of his own plans.
Generally, it was known and believed that Stephen Tolbert’s impressive business success was due to the unprecedented government sanctioned monopoly that prevented other businesses from fairly competing against his businesses. But, Shaw was not sure if the president would allow him unrestricted reigns to use the template of his late mentor to benefit himself. While Shaw was contemplating his next moves, Tolbert was overthrown and brutally killed in a military coup staged by soldiers who selected and installed Samuel Doe as president of Liberia.
Following the coup, Shaw was detained and it appeared that the sun had set on his career in government and association with politically powerful people. However, in less than a month and like Jason, who comes back to life in horror movies, Shaw was resurrected in an introduction of him to Doe by George Boley, who was minister of state for presidential affairs in the military regime. President Doe promptly embraced Shaw and made him his economic advisor.
Mr. Shaw did not take long to conclude from his psychosocial assessment of Doe that they shared a common appreciation of wealth via whichever means it could be accumulated. Using his flamboyant appearance, which Doe had come to admire and wish for himself, Shaw ingratiated himself to Doe and won his trust. But the trust won did not emanate from Shaw giving good economic policy advice to benefit the downtrodden Liberians. Rather, it came from Shaw finding and suggesting avenues of complex thread of reasoning to use the authority of the Executive Mansion to acquire wealth.
President Doe, undoubtedly impressed by Shaw’s ingenuity for corruption, appointed him minister of finance, a position that the latter had coveted from the time he served as Stephen Tolbert’s confidant. At the Ministry of Finance, Shaw did nothing to improve the economy. His main occupation there was to design elaborate criminal schemes to benefit him and Doe financially. He became the front man for Doe and worked persistently on how he could create personal wealth.
In 1989, Shaw began by setting up insurance and oil importing companies under the name Liberia National Petroleum Company (LNPC) and made the Liberian government its only costumer. Under the cover of this criminal partnership with Doe, Shaw got the government to increase gasoline price. As a result, the government rescinded its subsidy of the price of rice. The promulgation of this policy, according to sources, was contrived to benefit Doe and Shaw financially from the activities of the Liberia National Petroleum Company.
Having succeeded in making his company the exclusive supplier of oil and other petroleum products in Liberia, Shaw was convinced that he had hit the jackpot to be a millionaire. But, he was prevented from the collection of the jackpot. He was constrained to flee Liberia by the armed invasion of the country to dislodge Doe from power in 1990. Mr. Shaw, however, was not finished with Liberia.
Before he ran away from Liberia, Shaw, according to The Mail & Guardian newspapers based in South Africa, “resigned as finance minister, and then wrote a letter as if he were still finance minister obligating the government to pay his oil company millions of dollars.” Mr. Shaw would use this criminally deceptive claim against Liberia later in court in London, England. In 1990, as the civil war left Liberia without a government, and people were dying helplessly in the streets from hunger and bullets, Shaw, unscrupulous and without a modicum of rectitude, sued the Liberia for $27m he asserted the country owed him for oil importing services that LNPC provided.
The calculation of this unscrupulous man was that since there was no central government to represent Liberia in court, the court was legally bound to rule in his favour by default. He took Liberia to court in London, England. In the papers to the court, according to The Mail & Guardian, Shaw successfully hoodwinked the British court to believe that he was a plaintiff, along with the LNPC, in the case against Liberia which, by then in 1990, was a country trapped in the graveyard of history and hopelessness.
As Shaw calculated, Liberia was not represented by anyone to defend the claims against it. Therefore, as he asked in his lawsuit in London, according to the newspaper, Liberia was ordered by the court to pay $8.4m to him and the LNPC. To enforce the judgement, the court, as security, ordered the Liberian presidential aircraft grounded in London, where it had taken Doe’s family into exile. The victory in London emboldened Shaw to push for another victory to increase his jackpot earnings. This time, he was seeking $20m in New York. In New York, he filed his second lawsuit against Liberia.
In the suit, he sought an injunction on any assets Liberia had anywhere in America. According to West Africa magazine, Shaw demanded $19m in the law suit. The lawsuit, however, turned out to be his waterloo. Liberia, then run by an interim administration, was able to mount a legal representation in court. In the 1991 U.S. court proceeding, in which the plaintiff was the LNPC, the Liberian representative revealed that the LNPC was founded by Shaw while he was finance minister and owned 60% stake in it.
Acting in both capacities, he “negotiated and signed the two guarantee agreements” that LNPC’s lawsuit relied on for its $20m claim against Liberia. Based on this claim by Liberia, Shaw’s lawsuit was thrown out and he disappeared. In 1997, however, after Charles Taylor was elected president and Liberia was gradually returning to normality, Shaw returned to Liberia. As he has always done in the past, he managed to work his way into the inner circle of Taylor’s trusted counselors and became an economic adviser to him.
This time, Shaw did not need to work hard to secure Taylor’s appreciation of him. Both are flamboyant, corrupt and like money, which they are always prepared to acquire via calculated criminal schemes. However, the life of Taylor’s administration was truncated and he went into exile in Nigeria. Mr. Shaw, too, left Liberia and took up residence in South Africa, where, according to The Mail & Guardian, Don Mkhwanazi, the South African oil chief, appointed him to advise the country’s state oil company on its “restructuring and privatisation.”
But this appointment was so controversial because of Shaw’s rotten character that a “three-day commission of inquiry” was held by the country’s Department of Minerals and Energy. The outcome of the inquiry forced Shaw to leave the country for Ghana. While living abroad, Shaw, nevertheless, kept his eyes on the political development that was taking place in Liberia. In the 2005 general elections, George Weah, an internationally known retired footballer, but ignorant politically, came close to winning the presidency.
This remarkable performance convinced Shaw of the certainty of Weah winning the presidency in later years. According to a source, Shaw, therefore, began to befriend Weah in Ghana, where they spent considerable time together. Having no doubts about Weah becoming president, Shaw became a surreptitious but prominent financial benefactor for Weah’s presidential campaign. But Shaw’s financial support was not a random act of benevolence. Rather, it was an act driven by his commitment to the pricinple of financial quid pro quo.
As we see now with his appointment as a trusted counselor to the president, Shaw has come home to collect from his investment. Emmanuel Shaw, as an economist or accountant, has no professional accomplishments in the public interests. He has no commitment to probity in public service or personal relationships. He has always been instructed by a selfish determination to be a millionaire however he can. Through Stephen Tolbert, the Tolbert family cared for Shaw.
The family’s generosity benefitted Shaw, ensuring his education and standing in society. President Tolbert appointed him as his counselor, a position from which he saw the president daily. But after the president was brutally killed at the Executive Mansion, Shaw felt at home there with those who committed it. Just before Tolbert’s blood had the chance to dry from the floors of the Executive Mansion, Shaw walked through it and found comfort in the arms of those who ended the president’s life. Commitment to personal integrity did not matter to him because embracing Doe presented his best opportunity to make money.
Liberia is a country where official corruption goes unpunished. If it is punished, it is done selectively to settle political disagreements. Liberia, currently, is also a country recovering from more than a decade of destructive civil war. This makes it a country where reconstruction projects are needed. This means that private construction companies will be required to carry on any of the infrastructure development projects. This atmosphere presents countless opportunities for Shaw to excel criminally.
As he did in Doe’s regime, his close proximity to President Weah will give birth to one or two or, even three, companies that will have the monopoly over construction projects. For Shaw, now more than 70 years old, this is the last hurrah and President Weah appears to be an enabling partner. If the president is not, why did he appoint Shaw, a man whose reputation is associated with corruption and stealing, as his confidant?
If not, why did the president appoint Shaw, a man who took Liberia to court at a time the country was at the brink of destruction? If not, why did the president appoint Shaw, who is known to be notorious for shady financial deals, to be his trusted counselor? If not, why did the president appoint Shaw, whose reputation has descended into the swamp beyond redemption because of corruption, as his counselor?
Why is it not Wilson Tarpeh at the Executive Mansion, whose professional resume is far better than Shaw’s and has defended candidate Weah in the past against many allegations? The answers lie between Weah and Shaw while we wait for time to tell us.
The author is known for being a Barrolle teammate of Solomon Sipply and Joseph Sion, also known as Kofi Bruce. Email: [email protected]