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Bombshell! US sanctions McGill, Cephus and Twehway

The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has designated Liberian government officials Nathaniel McGill, Sayma Syrenius Cephus, and Bill Twehway for their involvement in ongoing public corruption in Liberia.

“This morning in Washington, D.C., the United States Secretary of the Treasury placed sanctions
under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act on three Government of Liberia
officials: Minister of State Nathaniel McGill, National Port Authority Director Bill Twehway, and
Solicitor General Syrenius Cephus. After a rigorous inter-agency investigation, the Treasury
Department determined that these three officials engaged in corrupt acts, and they are now subject
to U.S. financial sanctions and visa restrictions. This is a decision that the United States
Government does not take lightly because corruption is not a light topic. As Treasury Secretary
Yellen put it, “Corrupt acts take resources from citizens, undermine public trust, and threaten the
progress of those who fight for democracy,” US Ambassador Michael A. McCarthy told journalists Monday, August 15.

Bill Twehway

Amb. McCarthy explained that the sanctions are against individuals, not against the country, the party, or the Weah administration.

“Today, these three Executive Branch officials are being singled out,” he said. He further explained that the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, or GloMag, under which the three officials have been sanctioned has only existed since 2017, so no previous Government of Liberia administrations could have had individuals sanctioned under GloMag.

The US diplomat noted that the announcement today does not exclude others from potential future sanctions.

The Sanction regime

The U.S. Department of the Treasury said these officials are designated pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13818.

The Executive Order builds upon and implements the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act and targets perpetrators of serious human rights abuse and corruption around the world.

“Through their corruption these officials have undermined democracy in Liberia for their own personal benefit,” said Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, Brian E. Nelson. 

“Treasury’s designations today demonstrate that the United States remains committed to holding corrupt actors accountable and to the continued support of the Liberian people,” the release said.

It noted that corruption has long undermined Liberia’s democracy and its economy, robbing the Liberian people of funds for public services,  and empowering illicit actors.

It further stated that corruption has long been degrading the business environment, and damaging the rule of law and effective governance in the country. 

According to the U.S. Department of the Treasury corruption also contributes to diminished confidence in government and public perception of impunity for those with power. 

The press release said designations reaffirm the commitment of the United States to hold corrupt actors accountable. 

“The United States is a proud and dedicated partner and friend of Liberia and stands with the people of Liberia in support of democracy and the rule of law,” the release said.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury assured that the United States will continue to promote accountability for corrupt actors, regardless of their position or political affiliation. 

“The United States is also committed to working with the people and Government of Liberia to elevate countering corruption as a priority, including by bolstering public sector anti-corruption capacity,” it noted.

The U.S. added that it will work with Liberia in reviewing and re-evaluating criteria for bilateral and multilateral assistance, including around transparency and accountability.

“Holding corrupt actors accountable and bolstering anti-corruption efforts are both consistent with, and reflects our commitment to implementing, the United States Strategy on Countering Corruption,” the release continued.

Nathaniel McGill (McGill) is Minister of State for Presidential Affairs and Chief of Staff to President George Weah. 

The release said during his tenure in government, McGill has bribed business owners, received bribes from potential investors, and accepted kickbacks for steering contracts to companies in which he has an interest. 

The U.S. says McGill has manipulated public procurement processes in order to award multi-million dollar contracts to companies in which he has ownership, including by abusing emergency procurement processes to rig contract bids. 

“McGill is credibly accused of involvement in a wide range of other corrupt schemes including soliciting bribes from government office seekers and misappropriating government assets for his personal gain,” the release said. 

He has used government funds allocated to other Liberian government institutions to run his own projects, made off-the-books payments in cash to senior government leaders, and organized warlords to threaten political rivals, the release details. 

“McGill has received an unjustified stipend from various Liberian government institutions and used his position to prevent his misappropriation from being discovered,” the U.S Department of the Treasury added.

It said McGill regularly distributes thousands of dollars in undocumented cash to other government officials for government and non-government activities.

“McGill is being designated for being a foreign person who is a current government official who is responsible for or complicit in, or who has directly or indirectly engaged in, corruption, including the misappropriation of state assets, the expropriation of private assets for personal gain, corruption related to government contracts or the extraction of natural resources, or bribery,” the release said.

Sayma Syrenius Cephus (Cephus) is the current Solicitor General and Chief Prosecutor of Liberia. 

The U.S. Department of the Treasury said Cephus has developed close relationships with suspects of criminal investigations and has received bribes from individuals in exchange for having their cases dropped. 

It said Cephus has worked behind the scenes to establish arrangements with subjects of money laundering investigations to cease investigations in order to personally benefit financially. 

“He shields money launderers and helps clear them through the court system and has intimidated other prosecutors in an attempt to quash investigations,” the release said.

It said Cephus has also utilized his position to hinder investigations and block the prosecution of corruption cases involving members of the government. 

The release detailed that Cephus has been accused of tampering with and purposefully withholding evidence in cases involving members of opposition political parties to ensure conviction.

Cephus is being designated for being a foreign person who is a current government official who is responsible for or complicit in, or who has directly or indirectly engaged in, corruption, including the misappropriation of state assets, the expropriation of private assets for personal gain, corruption related to government contracts or the extraction of natural resources, or bribery.

Bill Twehway (Twehway) is the current Managing Director of the National Port Authority (NPA). 

The U.S. Department of the Treasury said Twehway orchestrated the diversion of $1.5 million in vessel storage fee funds from the National Port Authority (NPA) into a private account. 

Twehway secretly formed a private company to which, through his position at the NPA, he later unilaterally awarded a contract for loading and unloading cargo at the Port of Buchanan. 

The release says the contract was awarded to the company less than a month after its founding. 

“Twehway and others used family members to obfuscate their own involvement in the company while still benefiting financially from the company.”

Twehway is being designated for being a foreign person who is a current government official who is responsible for or complicit in, or has directly or indirectly engaged in, corruption, including the misappropriation of state assets, the expropriation of private assets for personal gain, corruption related to government contracts or the extraction of natural resources, or bribery.

SANCTIONS IMPLICATIONS

“As a result of today’s action, all property and interests in property of these targets that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons must be blocked and reported to OFAC,” the release said. 

In addition, any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by one or more blocked persons are also blocked, the release disclosed. 

“OFAC’s regulations generally prohibit all dealings by U.S. persons or within the United States (including transactions transiting the United States) that involve any property or interests in property of blocked or designated persons.”

In addition, persons that engage in certain transactions with the individuals and entities designated today may themselves be exposed to sanctions or subject to an enforcement action. Furthermore, unless an exception applies, any foreign financial institution that knowingly facilitates a significant transaction for any of the individuals or entities designated today could be subject to U.S. sanctions.

The power and integrity of OFAC sanctions derive not only from OFAC’s ability to designate and add persons to the SDN List, but also from its willingness to remove persons from the SDN List consistent with the law. 

The ultimate goal of sanctions is not to punish, but to bring about a positive change in behavior. For information concerning the process for seeking removal from an OFAC list, including the SDN List, please refer to OFAC’s Frequently Asked Question 897 here

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