The integrity and fairness of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) has been called into question by Mr. Clemenceau Urey, one of the former government officials who the corruption watchdog indicted last week for alleged corruption.
During an Information Ministry press briefing last Thursday, the LACC Chairman, Counselor James Verdier, said the Commission had indicted Mr. Urey and Counselor Bill Dunbar on “bribery, misapplication of entrusted property, criminal facilitation, criminal conspiracy and economic sabotage for the amount of US$50,000.” The two men have been forwarded to the Ministry of Justice for prosecution, Cllr. Verdier added.
Mr. Urey said he had been invited by the LACC to answer questions relating to “lobbying fees” which the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL), during his tenure as Chairman of the Board, had paid to members of the National Legislature.
Responding to the LACC’s allegations, Mr. Urey said the facts are “simple, clear and undisputed.” The National Legislature, said Mr. Urey, “had demanded lobbying fees for the ratification of NOCAL’s contracts. When we protested and advised that it was vital to the national interest to immediately jumpstart the oil sector, and that legislative ratification of the contracts was necessary to do so, we were informed that it was standard procedure for nominees and the Executive Branch to pay Lobbying Fees for the passage of Bills and confirmation.”
Mr. Urey continued, “Since NOCAL was unaware of the ratification procedures which obtained at the Legislature, we consulted with the relevant Government officials at various levels of Government and we were advised to pay the fees the Legislature was demanding in order to ensure that the contracts be immediately ratified.
“Based on this advice,” Mr. Urey continued, “NOCAL’s Board met and seven of NOCAL’s nine-member Board of Directors voted to approve the payment of the Lobbying Fees. This included the Minister of Justice, the Government’s chief legal officer, who is also a statutory member of NOCAL’s Board of Directors.
Since NOCAL did not have the funds, the Board instructed Dr. Fodee Kromah, NOCAL’s President, and Chief Executive Officer, to obtain a loan from LPRC to make the payment.”
Mr. Urey told the Daily Observer yesterday that all of this had been done in the year 2006, the first year of the incumbency of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
Mr. Urey then made a detailed listing of what he called “the following facts:
- The Chairman only votes in cases where there is a tie. Since there was none in this case, I did not have to vote to approve the payment, even though I concurred with the Board’s action. Attorney Verdier, I and the Liberian public are entitled to know the legal basis of your recommendation for me to be prosecuted for corruption.
- As Chairman of NOCAL’s Board of Directors, I did not participate in the day-to-day management or operation of NOCAL. I did not sign any check or any disbursement of the payment to the Legislature. Once again, Attorney Verdier, I and the Liberian public are entitled to know the legal basis of your recommendation for me to be prosecuted for corruption.
- Why have counselor Stephen B. Dunbar and I been singled out for prosecution? Is this a witch hunt? What about the other five Board members – including the Minister of Justice – who voted to approve the payment? Attorney Verdier, why did you intentionally and deliberately refuse [to recommend also] the other five Board members – including the Minister of Justice – who voted to approve the payment? Why only me and Counselor Dunbar?
- Since this LACC investigation began, I was able to obtain the list of all the members of the Legislature who received payments and the individual amount each received. Attorney Verdier, why did you intentionally and deliberately refuse [also to recommend] ALL the members of the Legislature who solicited the payment as well as those who received the NOCAL payments? Why this selective prosecution, Attorney Verdier?
- Since it is a recognized and undisputed principle of criminal law that the persons who demand and receive illegal payments are equally, if not more guilty than the giver, why did the LACC recommendation for prosecution then not include all those who solicited, as well as those who received the NOCAL payments? Had LACC done so, this would have set the proper example and sent a clear message that all who are connected with and [requested and received] illegal payments will be subject to criminal prosecution.
“Given these facts, I fail to see how LACC can justify its decision to recommend me for prosecution and at the same time exclude the main persons who should be prosecuted.
“LACC’s decision to recommend me for prosecution for corruption is clearly politically motivated because it obviously has no legal or factual bases and I can assure Mr. Verdier that I will not stand by and be used as a political scapegoat to further the political aims of others.
“Let it be known that I am fed up with my name constantly appearing in the newspapers and on the airwaves about this allegation where individuals who do not know me personally, make loose and negative remarks about my character which I have [striven] to build over the years. Please, therefore, proceed expeditiously with your prosecution so that I can be given the opportunity to clear my name.”
Cllr. Verdier was not available over the weekend for comment, as his phone was turned off. The LACC public relations officer, Ben Kolako, when contacted for an appointment to follow up with the LACC chairman regarding the indictments he made at the MICAT press conference last Thursday, October 23, told the Daily Observer that his boss was not ready to give interviews.
At the press conference on Thursday, Cllr. Verdier admitted that the LACC had been “media shy… because this involves people’s characters and reputations.”
With Urey’s response, more of those named are expected to issue responses to the LACC’s indictments in the coming days.