Benoni Urey De-listed from UN Ban: Pro or Con for Liberia

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The United Nations Security Council has deleted Mr. Benoni Urey from its travel and assets freeze ban. Urey is one of the last remaining prominent figures of the Charles Taylor era.

Mr. Urey was one of the most influential government officials in former president Taylor’s regime who allegedly helped galvanize support for the convicted Liberian leader’s warfare.

He most notably served as the Commissioner of the Bureau of Maritime Affairs (BMA), which is now being referred to as Liberia Maritime Authority (LMA), where he was accused of accruing much of his present wealth.

The UN Security Council announced the decision to have Mr. Urey and others de-listed on Monday December 23, 2013 in New York City.

De-listing of Mr. Urey came less than two weeks after the United Nations Panel of Experts (UNPE) recommended to the council that he be removed from the travel and assets freeze ban.

UNPE told the council that it made the recommendation because Mr. Urey no longer posed a threat to Liberia’s security due to the vested interest he has in the country.

While delisting the former Taylor ally, the council declared:“The Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1521 (2003) concerning Liberia decided on 23 December 2013 to delist the following individual from the lists of individuals subject to the travel restrictions imposed by paragraph 4 (a) of resolution 1521 (2003) (the travel ban list) and the list of individuals and entities subject to the measures imposed by paragraph 1 of resolution 1532 (2004) (the assets freeze list). The measures no longer apply to this individual.”

It furthered, "He is one of the wealthiest citizens of Liberia. On 1 October 2009, President Sirleaf appointed Urey to serve as mayor of Careysburg, but removed him from this position when it became clear that Urey would not back her re-election bid in 2011."

The panel went on to caution that Urey clearly has the resources and the leadership capacity to command support and undermine peace and security in Liberia if he chooses, noting that the animosity that exists between him and the Government of Liberia has led some ranking officials in President Sirleaf's Government to speculate that he might have the motivation to do so.

“The Panel attempted to investigate Urey's extensive assets to determine whether they were being used to support groups seeking to destabilize Liberia and the sub-region. Urey's assets have not been frozen or fully disclosed.

The Panel relied on information provided by confidential sources, the Government of Liberia and Urey himself. The Panel did not have information suggesting that Urey was involved in activities that would destabilize Liberia and the sub-region.

“It is difficult for the Panel to assess Urey’s intent. During the presidential and legislative elections of 2011, the Government of Liberia alleged that Urey used his radio station, Love FM, to broadcast inflammatory anti-Government statements. Officials saw this as evidence of Urey’s seditious intent. The Panel interviewed Urey on 15 March and 27 September 2013, a day after Taylor’s conviction was upheld. During the interviews, Urey stated to the Panel that his radio station was a commercial outlet and that it granted both government officials and opposition figures paid airtime to broadcast their views, without censorship. The Panel has confirmed that this is the case and that Love FM is not unique among Liberian radio stations in airing inflammatory anti-Government statements. Urey, in turn, has accused the Government of involvement in the subsequent burning of the radio station’s offices because he was a financial supporter of an opposition political party, the Congress for Democratic Change,” the Panel said.

 

However, according to the them, Urey stated told them that his radio station was a commercial outlet and that it granted both government officials and opposition figures paid airtime to broadcast their views, without censorship.

The Panel of Experts said evidence collected by the Special Court for Sierra Leone and reviewed by the Panel showed that, while serving as Commissioner of Maritime Affairs, Urey authorized payments for arms purchases from Serbia from the accounts of the Maritime Bureau in 2000 and that the first shipment of arms arrived in Liberia in 2001 or 2002.

But in subsequent interviews with the Panel, Urey insisted that as a civilian who had been appointed to the position of Commissioner of Maritime Affairs by Taylor, he did not make any war-related decisions. Mr. Urey currently serves as the Chair of Lonestar Communications Corporation, which is one of the largest taxpayers in Liberia.

“He owns 20 per cent of the company's shares through PLC Investment Limited, a Liberian company that is in turn owned by IDS and Nexus — two other Liberian companies established in 1989 with anonymous bearer shares,” the Panel added.

The Panel determined that Mr. Urey's business activities, and the profits gained from them, would appear to suggest that further civil conflict in Liberia would have a significant negative financial impact on him.

He reportedly informed the Panel that he had submitted a de-listing request to the relevant focal point in the United Nations Secretariat as well as provided the Panel with a letter dated 6 September, 2013, and signed by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, supporting his petition for delisting from the UN Travel Ban, perhaps to enable him to adequately prepare for the Presidency in 2017.

Political observers say the de-listing of Mr. Urey paves the way for what many anticipate would mark the shock launching of a 2017 presidential bid.

Urey has also invested in residential housing, hotels, a car rental company, radio and television stations, and a newspaper. In addition, he operates a farm which produces eggs, chickens, and juices. 

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