— Former Deputy Defense Minister for Operations Larbele sets record straight
St. Jerome Larbele, former Deputy Defense Minister for Operations, on Monday, October 14, denied that his name has never been mentioned in any court record and that, at no time did his name appear as one of those former ministers that the Criminal Court ‘C’ issued an arrest warrant or an indictment against.
“My name is not in the writ, because it contains names of the former Minister of Defense, Brownie J. Samukai, Jr., the deputy for Administration, Joseph F. Johnson and the Comptroller Nyumah Dorkor, though it said “there are others to be identified.”
Larbele’s clarification comes following a front page story published in the Monday, October 14, 2019 edition of the Daily Observer under headline: “Arrest Warrant Out for Ex-Defense Minister and his two Deputies.”
In that story, based on leaked information from a source at the Temple of Justice, the newspaper named Larbele as one of those former officials of the ministry, which the government of Liberia alleges has misapplied some US$1.147 million from the welfare and supplementary pension benefits fund of officers of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), while they served at the ministry during the administration of former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.
Meanwhile, the court document in the possession of this newspaper also did not mention Larbele name as one of those the government had indicted over the alleged disappearance of the AFL pension funds.
Rather, the document named those implicated as former Defense Minister Brownie J. Samukai, Jr., the deputy minister for administration, Joseph F. Johnson and Nyumah Dorkor, comptroller.
Mr. Larbele, said he was taken aback by the newspaper’s publication, “because my position as deputy minister for operations, does not have anything to do with finances.”
He added, “I ran operations, which has nothing to do with money, nothing whatsoever. This is a surprise that the newspaper will include my name in the story as one of those people indicted for the alleged missing soldiers’ money.”
Mr. Larbele maintained that he has nothing to do with the money and that he was also not aware of the money in question, which he believes was meant for the soldiers’ welfare.
It can be recalled that the Criminal Court ‘C’ at the Temple of Justice on Friday, October 11, 2019, issued an arrest warrant for two former ministers and a comptroller from the Ministry of National Defense, including the former minister, Brownie J. Samukai, Jr. Joseph F. Johnson and Nyumah Dorkor on claims of misapplying some US$1.147 million from the welfare and supplementary pension benefits fund of officers of the AFL, while they served in at the ministry during the administration of former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.
Dorkor served as comptroller, while Johnson was the deputy Minister for Administration.
Samukai, together with Dorkor and Johnson, were on Friday formally indicted (charged) with multiple crimes, ranging from money laundering, economic sabotage, criminal facilitation and criminal conspiracy.
Though the Liberian government in August 2009 recommended that the appropriate and right thing to do in the AFL money saga was restitution or refund the full amount of US$1,147,656.35 that was expended on the AFL for the past several years.
“This refund shall be immediately provided in the next budgetary appropriation to the AFL by the government, not an individual minister or its designate(s),” the recommendation then said.
In August 2009, the ministry established a contributory savings involving deduction from all ranks of the AFL for their welfare and supplementary pension benefit after their years of honorable service.
As of October 2017, the amount of US$2,062,160.14 (including accrued interest), were collected and deposited into that account at Ecobank. And, it was established that about US$1,147,656.35 was spent on the AFL, and the balance in the account was US$688,964.96 as of November 8, 2017.
At the conclusion of the investigation, the board, among others, said that the ministry did not establish guidelines, nor a clear policy on the utilization of this welfare account, and that it did not provide timely information to personnel of the AFL on the operations and utilization of said account.
The findings also said that the ministry authorized the expenditure of funds from this account on soldiers’ welfare without the requisite consent of the AFL High Command. That all monies spent on military personnel welfare should have been handled by and through the government normal budgetary appropriation, and not from the welfare of the soldiers, and that the ministry should not have used the funds for the benefit of the soldiers without requisite budgetary appropriation.
It continues, “Documents revealed that expenditure made from this welfare account were for the benefits of AFL personnel and their families, but should have never been done so.”
However, the findings noted that the ministry is responsible for procedural lapses in the management, expenditure and utilization of said funds, but no mention of misappropriation.
Consequently, the report maintained that the government has determined that it is appropriate, and the right thing to do is restitution or refund the full amount of US$1,147,656.35 that was expended on the AFL for the past several years. “This refund shall be immediately provided in the next budgetary appropriation to the AFL by the government.”
Henceforth, the AFL shall manage all of its accounts by itself, including welfare account, through their chain of command without any hindrance, nor interference from authorities of the ministry, according to the findings.
It went on, “There shall be no further withdrawal from this account until such time when a clear and concise policy is put into place that will articulate the management, procedure, criteria and authorization for the usage and expenditure of monies from the AFL and welfare account.
Also, there shall be no further deduction from the morale and welfare account,” adding, “The ministry shall not utilize any funds appropriated for or belonging to the AFL for any purpose absolutely whatsoever.”
Contrary to the findings and recommendations, the AIRReT through Solicitor General, Cllr. Sayma Syrenius Cephus, openly disclosed that there was an initial indictment for the immediate former Minister of Defense, Brownie Samukai, as it relates to the usage of the AFL funds.