When Will the Liberian Government Pay the Korean Businessmen’s Money?

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It has taken several weeks now since President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf officially acknowledged receipt of the Findings and Recommendations of a Special Independent Committee constituted by her to scrupulously investigate accusations of money laundering, counterfeiting, illegal arrest and conspiracy to defraud, involving some Korean nationals, a Lebanese and the state-owned National Security Agency (NSA).

The investigation was among others triggered by claims by five Korean businessmen that they were illegally arrested at a local hotel while holding business talks with a Lebanese man, who invited them to Liberia and 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 chemical to test gold, plus electronic Gold Scale, and two pocket wallets containing money, credit cards and other important call cards were confiscated by agents of the National Security Agency (NSA) without any search warrant as required by law.

Notwithstanding the NSA, headed by one of the Liberian President’s sons, Fumba Sirleaf, prior to the conduct of the independent probe disclosed that the Koreans were arrested for being in possession of “illegal combustible and hazardous materials including cyanide that posed national security risk to the lives of Liberians.”

Moreover, NSA told the nation that the materials seized from the Koreans were also for the purpose of smelting gold in the hotel room for shipment outside the country.

Indeed, it was on account of the magnitudes of such claims and counterclaims as traded by both the Koreans and the NSA that attracted the concern of well-meaning Liberians and others in the International Community.

And so, everyone took keen interest in the probe and its subsequent outcome.

Therefore, when President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, recently acknowledged that the Cllr. David A.B. Jallah-led Special Independent Investigation Committee has completed and presented to her its report, containing Findings and Recommendations, many at home and abroad, had hoped that indeed justice would be served without any fear and favor in this matter.

The Executive Mansion, in a press release quoted the Special Independent Investigation Committee as recommending that (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 the Two Hundred, Forty Seven Thousand, Five Hundred United States Dollars (US$247, 500.00) 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.”

However, many at home and abroad were not only appalled but also became apprehensive when the Executive Mansion, in the same press release, quoted Pres. Sirleaf as saying she has forwarded the report of the Jallah-led Committee to the Ministry of Justice “For review and to ensure that appropriate actions including all of the recommendations contained in the report are taken consistent with law.”

Frankly, in as much as Pres. Sirleaf, who is a Nobel Peace Laureate, may have good intension to resolve this matter that has all of the proclivities to further damage the image of Liberia, her submission of the Committee’s Report to the MOJ, for “review leaves much to be desired as far as justice for, and fair treatment of the Koreans is concerned.

One may ask: Why? This is because the MOJ, by its actions and inactions, presents itself regarding this issue, as lacking the audacity to stand on a moral hard ground as its relates to addressing the saga involving the Koreans’ money and other properties seized by the NSA.

Prior to the setting up of the Jallah-led Special Investigation Committee, NSA told the Liberians that the money it seized from the Koreans was turned over to the Ministry of Justice, MOJ, which requested to probe the matter.

Interestingly, the MOJ is yet to state officially the total amount of money which has been turned over to it by the NSA concerning the Koreans.

It is a known fact that MOJ on July 15, 2014, based on “a stay of investigation letter” to NSA Director Fomba Sirleaf, requested the transfer of the case to it for a probe. Yet, the outcome of the MOJ probe of this crucial matter has not been made public.

The NSA further said it seized counterfeit notes, which were in the possession of the suspects in the amount of US$49,300, although this disclosure was not made at the time of the arrest, or seizure.

The Liberian security agency further averred that the “counterfeit” notes were ‘in 100 US$ denomination’ and that said amount had been turned over to the Ministry of Justice since July 15, 2014. However, authorities of the MOJ are yet to say which US denomination the money it allegedly received from the NSA was in. The Ministry is also on record as disclosing that based on a communication from the lawyers of the Koreans, Kemp and Associates, it requested the authorities of the NSA to forward the matter involving the Koreans to it.

“We are indeed very concerned about the legal implications this issue poses to the Government of Liberia, and the potential negative impact it may have on investors. In this connection, therefore, we advise that you forward this matter to the Ministry of Justice for a thorough investigation in conjunction with the NSA. To protect the integrity of the process, we further advise that the amount in question be deposited into an escrow account until the legality of this issue is determined,” MOJ’s letter to NSA said.

One wonders why the MOJ has not made known the outcome of its own investigation report on this matter since then.

Has the Ministry, at the behest of some powerful forces quietly placed its findings under the carpet?  

Although the MOJ is yet to tell the nation and the civilized world as to what has happened to its much heralded investigation of this issue for reasons best known by the state prosecution arm, justice has emerged on the side of the aggrieved Korean businessmen as clearly established by the Cllr. David Jallah-led Committee constituted by the President. This by all accounts clears the Koreans of any wrong doing.

The Special Committee’s report indeed highlights the populous saying that “Truth, even when crushed to the grounds, always rises over falsehood including fictions that are often concocted in high and low places.”

It is on account of these developments that one wonders whether the necessary swift and proper measures would be taken by the Liberian Government through the MOJ for the Koreans to get back their hard-earned business money and properties since they are proven to be innocent of the money laundering, counterfeiting and conspiracy to defraud charges previously levied against them by the NSA.

Already, highly placed insiders of the MOJ are hinting that the Ministry’s authorities seem not to give much credence to the implementation of the Jallah-led Special Investigation Committee’s report forwarded to the Ministry by the President on grounds that the Chief Executive should have first contacted MOJ for appropriate legal advice to her on the matter.

According to the insiders, all of the recommendations of the Special Investigation Committee are being treated with high degree of insignificance by higher-ups at the MOJ on grounds that implementation of such recommendations were not “applicable.”

Indeed, if the latest revelations from the MOJ are anything to go by, then, what becomes of the Korean businessmen’s hard-earned money and properties that were illegally seized from them by the NSA?

What is even mindboggling is that the five NSA agents and their two collaborators, who reportedly arrested the Koreans and took away their money and properties are yet to be identified.

Whether or not they are being covered up after committing such act as contained in the report is anyone’s guess. It is indeed a national embarrassment and a classic affront to justice that should not be allowed to take root on Liberian soil by Pres. Sirleaf, a long time social justice advocate and Nobel Peace Prize laureate. In short, the Sirleaf-led administration must pay the Koreans’ money and return their properties because as the saying goes, “Small shame is better than big shame.”       

About the Author

McCarthy G. Teayah, former Coordinator, Federation of Liberian Youth (FLY), Montserrado County. He was one of those young Liberians, who once travelled to Korea for a Youth and Cultural Exchange Program.

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