– Questions arise on how he could afford such a house in 2000 as Maritime Commissioner
Liberian presidential candidates have been wooing electorates, convincing them that the October 10 presidential and legislative elections should usher in change to improve, among other things, the economic and infrastructural development of the country.
Many of the candidates, particularly the All Liberian Party (ALP), led by businessman Benoni Urey, have vowed to effect a regime change, because the governing Unity Party (UP) led government “has failed the Liberian people,” they say.
Corruption, the misuse of public funds for personal interest, has emerged as the number one cause of Liberia’s sorry history; and therefore, government officials who have been found to invest more than they earned have created concerns about their sincerity and how well, for example, presidential candidates may manage the country’s resources.
Information reaching the Daily Observer says that the ALP standard-bearer, Benoni Urey, in the year 2000 purchased his first house at the cost of US$385,000, located on 8500 Goshen View Drive, Gaithersburg, Maryland, USA, when he served in President Charles Taylor’s government as Maritime Commissioner.
The land on which the house is located is valued at US$214,500, and the total value of the property is US$562,400.
The information also revealed that Mr. Urey allegedly bought his second home in Silver Spring, also in the State of Maryland, at the total value of US$268,300. The property is located on 6,261 square feet of land, covering a building area of 1,188 square feet.
Mr. Urey served as Maritime Commissioner from 1996-2003, and was appointed as president of the Agricultural Development Bank in 1995.
Accordingto a UN report merely 12 days after President Taylor was inaugurated on August 14, 1997, he issued Executive Order #1 to the president of the International Trust Company (ITC), a U.S. based corporation that manages the Liberian shipping registry.
“Based on this order, the president of ITC was instructed to place 10 percent of the Maritime revenues into the personal account of Mr. Benoni Urey, Commissioner of the Bureau of Maritime Affairs. At the time 10 percent of the Maritime funds amounted to US$1.2 million annually. Maritime was receiving millions of dollars every year by registering more than 1,000 ships under its flag of convenience,” it said.
It said by the year 2000, the Liberian registry was netting an average of some US$15-20 million per year for the government of President Charles Taylor.
The report said for much of the Taylor era, Mr. Urey’s name resonated as the key figure of the president’s operations, and the United Nations Panel of Experts reported in 2001 that it was on the orders of Urey that the Liberian International Ship and Corporate Registry (LISCR) transferred US$25,000 to San Air General Trading’s account at the Standard Chartered Bank in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, “for arms and transportation in violation of UN Security Council Resolutions.”
The UN report cited four payments that were made to non-governmental accounts—two of the payments totaled about US$1 million, and they were used by the Taylor government to buy arms at the time in violation of UN arms embargo against Liberia.
It quoted a report by the Coalition for International Justice in 2005 that claimed Mr. Urey was a “primary liaison for the illegal purchase of weapons” in Liberia from infamous international arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence in the United States.
As Liberia seeks credible leaders to run the country, Mr. Urey’s record of his involvement in events in the country’s past places him in a tough position about what he might accomplish for the country, especially with the international community that is evidently suspicious of African leaders with challenging past.
In his reaction to the two homes he owned in the United States and how he purchased them, Mr. Urey said he owned the houses before Charles Taylor came to power in Liberia.
He added that the houses were bought by his sister in 1981, and were purchased by his daughter. However, the report said Mr. Urey’s eldest daughter, identified as Teila, would not have been more than five years old at the time the two houses were purchased.