A Special Independent Committee (SIC), constituted by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, to investigate accusations of money laundering, counterfeiting, illegal arrest and conspiracy to defraud, involving some Korean nationals, a Lebanese and the National Security Agency (NSA), has recommended that the NSA operatives, who were directly involved with the arrest of the Korean and Sierra Leonean nationals, and co-conspirators be handed over to the Ministry of Justice for prosecution.
Though the NSA operatives were not named, the committee, headed by the Dean and Professor of Law, Louise Arthur Grimes School of Law at the University of Liberia, Cllr. David A. B. Jallah, also recommended to President Sirleaf that appropriate administrative actions be taken against the NSA’s operatives involved.
The NSA is headed by the President’s son, Fumba Sirleaf.
President Sirleaf received the SIIC report from Cllr. Jallah over the weekend. She immediately forwarded it to the Ministry of Justice for review and to ensure that appropriate actions including all of the recommendations contained in the report are taken into consideration, consistent with law, an Executive Mansion statement said.
It can be recalled on July 8, 2014, some Koreans were arrested by officers of the NSA, in Monrovia. The Koreans alleged that during the arrest, their money in the amount of US$247,500 and other belongings, including a gas torch, melting dish, two packs of chemicals to test gold, plus an electronic gold scale, and two pocket wallets containing money, credit cards and other important business cards were confiscated by the NSA officers. This was done without a search warrant at a local guest house, the Koreans alleged.
In a release subsequently published by the NSA, the state security agency claimed that the money seized from the Asians was counterfeit. The Koreans have, however, maintained that the money was transferred from their home in South Korea to the International Bank in Monrovia to facilitate their business transaction which they were pursuing in Liberia.
The aggrieved Koreans further recounted that immediately upon receipt of the amount from the International Bank in Monrovia, they proceeded to a guest house situated on the Old Road, Sinkor where they were surprisingly rounded up by NSA agents. They maintained that the arrest was made while they were holding formal business talks with a Lebanese national, identified as Nasser Aly, who invited them to Liberia as business partners.
NSA authorities, headed by Mr. Fumba Sirleaf, also alleged that the suspects, who included Sierra Leoneans, were arrested for their alleged possession of illegal combustible and hazardous materials including cyanide that posed a national security risk to the lives of Liberians, indicating that the materials seized from the Koreans were for the purpose of smelting gold in the hotel room for shipment outside Liberia.
But the Cllr. Jallah Committee, which was constituted about a month ago after the case had received much publicity and was causing some level of embarrassment to the Liberian government, provided a three-count recommendation to the Liberian leader.
(a) Appropriate administrative actions be taken against the operatives of the National Security Agency (five in all) who were directly involved with the arrest of the Korean and Sierra Leonean nationals immediately.
(b) The operatives of the National Security Agency (five in all) who were directly involved with the arrest of the Korean and Sierra Leonean nationals, and their co-conspirators (two who do not work with the NSA) be handed over to the Ministry of Justice for prosecution in order to clear the name and image of the National Security Agency.
(c) The Government of Liberia refunds to the Korean nationals the full amount of US$247, 500, which they withdrew from the International Bank of Liberia (IBLL) on July 8, 2014, and which they proceeded with directly to the City King Hotel, immediately thereafter, and were arrested shortly after their arrival.
Former Justice Minister, Christiana Tah, said the Korean Nationals’ case was one of the reasons for which she resigned her post. Cllr. Tah, in her letter of resignation, cited undermining of her office, which prevented her from investigating allegations of fraud against the NSA headed by the President’s son, to a wide range of issues bordering interference from the Executive Branch.
“I cannot be the Minister of Justice and not supervise the operations of the security agencies under the Minister of Justice to independently investigate allegations of fraud against the National Security Agency. What is the rule of law if a duly appointed Minister of Justice with oversight has grave concerns about what her volitional resignation will mean for her own personal security and freedom as a Liberian citizen?”
Several renowned legal minds have maintained that the manner and form in which the NSA’s officers seized the Korean nationals’ money is both unwarranted and contrary to the Liberian constitution and other statutory provisions, specifically Article 21b of the Liberian Constitution, which states that: “No person shall be a subject to search or seizure of his person or property, whether on a criminal charge or for any other purpose, unless upon warrant lawfully issued upon probable cause supported by a solemn oath or affirmation, specifically identifying the person or place to be searched and stating the object of the search.”
The NSA disclosed in a statement that it has turned over all evidence to the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), on July 15, 2014, based on “a stay of investigation letter” to its Director, Fumba Sirleaf, from Deputy Minister of Justice for Administration and Public Safety, Cllr. Wheatonia Dixon Barnes.
The NSA further said that it seized counterfeit notes worth US$49,300 in the possession of the suspects, although this disclosure was not made at the time of the arrest, or seizure. It further stated that the “counterfeit” notes were “in US$100 denomination” and that said amount had been turned over to the Ministry of Justice since July 15, 2014.
MOJ, however, confirmed that based on a communication from the lawyers of the Korean nationals, Kemp and Associates, it requested the authorities of the NSA to forward the matter to the MOJ.
In a letter dated July 11, 2014, the MOJ, quoting lawyers of the Korean nationals, alleged that “US$247,000 was seized from their clients and that the Koreans were undressed at the NSA and subsequently released, but were requested to appear at the NSA on Monday, July 14, 2014, to present their passports and other relevant travel documents and to answer to charges of money laundering and counterfeiting.”
It can also be recalled a Nigerian businessman was arrested by officers of the NSA and US$500,000 was seized. The money was later refunded by government after a prolonged legal battle at home and abroad. However, this was not done during the tenure of President Sirleaf and the reign of Fumba but the Sirleaf government was made to repay the amount.