Questions And Yet More Questions Than Answers

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Today’s editorial is informed by the story carried in the Thursday, March 6, 2019 edition of the Daily Observer under the headline, “Govt. Files Criminal Charges Against Crane Currency”.

According to the story, state prosecutors have brought criminal charges against the Crane Currency for the unauthorized printing of excess Liberian dollar banknotes. According to state prosecutors, the government of Liberia had concluded an arrangement with the Crane Currency of Sweden to print 15 billion worth of Liberian dollar banknotes.

But, according to state prosecutors, the Crane Currency instead reported that it had printed LD$15,506,000,000 (fifteen billion, five-hundred six million Liberian dollars) when it had actually printed LD$18,151,000,000 (eighteen billion, one-hundred fifty-one million Liberian dollars) representing an excess of L$2,645,000,000 (two billion, six hundred forty-five million Liberian dollars).

State prosecutors maintain that the excess amount of currency printed was discovered from the packing list, which showed a figure different from that which was officially presented to CBL authorities. And for this reason, prosecutors say, Crane conspired with CBL authorities and acted criminally by printing an excess of Liberian dollars.

In view of this, criminal charges have been filed against Crane Currency and an indictment has been accordingly drawn up against the Crane Currency although, it remains unclear if the indictment has actually been served on the defendants as required by law.

This, however, appears to be a task far exceeding the capacity and ability of state prosecutors to handle, simply because the aforementioned defendants are not within the bailiwick of the Republic of Liberia. Just how would state prosecutors for instance get the defendants to surrender to Liberian authorities to face the charges with which they have been slapped.

Although some individuals hold that state prosecutors could file a request to Interpol to have the individuals brought to Liberia, such remains a very unlikely proposition as Liberia does not have an extradition treaty with the Kingdom of Sweden. As the French say, “chaque chose en son temps”, literally meaning “one step at a time”, or better still, “don’t cross your bridges before you get to them” or “don’t bite off more than you can chew”.

The point being underscored here is that in view of these concerns, it does appear that State prosecutors are certainly taking on more than it can handle. But except for the purpose of distraction from the printed billions, which it certainly is, the indictment may not be worth more than the paper on which it is written.

As mentioned earlier, this indictment, in the opinion of legal experts, serves no useful purpose other than the distraction it provides away from the main issue. And the main issue which appears to have gotten lost, in seemingly overwhelming concerns about the US$25 million infusion, is that of accounting for the printed money brought into the country.

In this regard, it is important to ascertain just how much of the newly printed banknotes the CBL gave to commercial banks. It is important to underscore that the CBL does not by itself infuse money into the economy. It does that through the various commercial banks.

But if the CBL did not deal with commercial banks how then were the banknotes infused into the currency in circulation? Was it infused through money changers as Finance Minister Tweah once declared when the scandal first broke? And how is it  possible for money changers to infuse the money directly into circulation?

According to CBL Governor, all of the money printed and brought into the country was received and deposited into the CBL’s vaults. The CBL had reported that as of January 1, 2016, it had 10 billion Liberian dollar banknotes in circulation. By 30 November 2018, the CBL had reported 18 billion Liberian dollars in circulation which means the CBL had between the period infused 8 billion Liberian dollars into the economy.

But this will only hold true if the CBL did not destroy old banknotes (Legacy notes) or it did keep the banknotes in its reserve vaults. This was however difficult or impossible to ascertain simply because the CBL refused to grant entry to the Presidential Investigating Team (PIT) to conduct a physical check of the money the CBL had reported it had in its vaults.

Additionally, questions abound about what documents were called into review by the PIT during its investigation to change banknotes CBL infused in 2016, 2017 and 2018. It remains unclear at this stage whether the PIT relied on documents provided by the CBL to alter the value of banknotes the CBL reported.

Since the report states that CBL authorities barred access to its vaults by the PIT, it does appear amiss that Justice Minister Musa Dean did not fall back on the law to obtain relevant third party documentation, from the commercial banks for instance in order to determine how much was infused into the economy.

And so the question is, given the above, how was it possible for the team to derive a higher value of the banknotes deposited with commercial banks since the PIT did not, according to its report, gather relevant information from the commercial banks?

Further, questions are being asked why Technical Economic Management Team (TEMT) member, Justice Minister Musa Dean, who is the official legal advisor to the President, did not call the TEMT’s attention to violation of established policies and procedures vis a vis the handling of the infusion.

But in case he did provide such advice, in the absence of documented evidence establishing he actually did, the public is left to assume rightly or wrongly that the Justice Minister was complicit and therefore lacked the moral authority to demand respect for the law.

As it appears, there are questions and yet more questions there are than answers.

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