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Charles Sirleaf, others arrested

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Former President Ellen Johnson – Sirleaf’s son Charles Sirleaf, an official of the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) has been arrested along with Dorbor Hagba, Director for banking, hours after government released its findings into investigation on alleged missing billions Liberian bank notes.

Police Spokesman Moses Carter confirmed the arrest of Mr. Sirleaf and Mr. Dobor during a NewDawn newspaper inquiry via mobile phone Thursday evening, 28 February.

The police say details surrounding the arrest of the two officials will be provided later. The arrest also come hours after the US Embassy here issued the long awaited report into “missing” 16bn investigation.

The final report of a scoping investigation initiated by the United States Agency of International Development upon request of the United States Embassy near Monrovia into the “missing 16 billion Liberian bank notes” reveals that excess LRD 1.944 billion was printed by Crane AB of Sweden and brought into Liberia in two tranches, characterized by discrepancies and inconsistencies.

USAID hired an American private firm, Kroll Associates, Inc. to conduct a scoping report engagement to ascertain the basic facts of the alleged disappearance of new Liberian Dollar banknotes, and to determine to what extent a broader investigation would be required into the matter.

The investigation followed an official request from the Government of Liberia to the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation, ECOWAS and other international partners to assist with investigation that had already begun by a Presidential Investigative Team commissioned by President George Manneh Weah.

Kroll establishes that Legislature approval was granted on May 17, 2016 for the CBL to print new banknotes totaling LRD 5.0 billion. However, the Central Bank of Liberia or CBL had contracted Crane AB on May 6, 2016 to print new banknotes totaling LRD 5.0 billion, eleven days before the Legislature granted approval, which clearly indicates the CBL was acting on mere formality as a deal was already consummated without the lawmakers’ consent.

The report similarly notes that Legislature approval was not granted in the same manner as 2016 for the CBL to print a second tranche of new banknotes totaling LRD 10.0 billion in 2017, as Crane AB had been awarded the second contract in June 2017 by the CBL to print new banknotes totaling LRD 10.0 billion, four weeks or a month before two officials from the Legislature requested the Central Bank to replace all legacy or mutilated banknotes in circulation.

Kroll says it found no information to support allegations that a container of banknotes went missing. However, it raises concerns regarding the overall accuracy and completeness of the CBL’s internal records, and identifies systemic and procedural weaknesses at the CBL, including shortcomings in Liberia’s fiscal and monetary management processes that are longstanding and up to date.

The Report underscores the importance of drawing on international best practices in the conduct of economic affairs, including thoroughly documenting transactions to ensure credibility and transparency.

Kroll observes that the CBL procured the services of Crane AB for both contracts without adhering to its own internal tendering policies for procurement, meaning there was no bidding process in the entire exercise that saw the market here flooded with excess billions, and sustained depreciation of the Liberian dollar.

The report further details that actual value of new banknotes printed by Crane AB to Liberia totaled LRD 15.506 billion, recording an excess banknotes of LRD 0.506 billion above the initial contractual amount of LRD 15.0 billion.

“Records also show that the CBL paid Crane AB for new banknotes, totaling LRD 15.506 billion. However, delivery documentation provided by the CBL indicates that Crane AB printed and shipped a greater quantity of banknotes to Liberia. Of the new banknotes printed and shipped by Crane AB totaling LRD 15.506 billion, the CBL had injected new banknotes totaling LRD 10.146 billion into the Liberian economy without removing from circulation (and destroying) the equivalent quantity/value of legacy banknotes”, the report notes.

Legislature approval for new banknotes totaling LRD 10.0 billion Following on from the May 2016 Legislature approval to print new banknotes totaling LRD 5.0 billion, the CBL requested in Key discrepancies

The report further discloses that the Legislature did not grant approval for the CBL to print new banknotes totaling LRD 10.0 billion. Instead, a letter dated July 19, 2017 from Honorable Mildred Sayon, Chief Clerk of the House of Representatives, and Nanborlor Singbeh Sr., Secretary of the Senate, provided an instruction to the CBL to “…replace the legacy notes completely with newly printed banknotes” but with a clear caveat that the CBL provide the Legislature with details of the quantity and denominations of the new banknotes “…prior to the printing” of the new banknotes.

However, it says the CBL did not provide the Legislature with such details as it was requested prior to the printing and shipping of new banknotes, and despite the lack of approval, the CBL proceeded to enter into a contract with Crane AB on June 12, 2017 to print new banknotes totaling LRD 10.0 billion: four weeks prior to the letter dated July 19, 2017 from the Legislature.

Discrepancies in the CBL process to procure Crane AB
Kroll says it was not provided with adequate supporting documentation to demonstrate that the CBL adhered to its internal tendering policies in the procurement of the external banknote manufacturer Crane AB.

Despite CBL Management stating in Board of Governors meeting minutes that two other vendors also submitted proposals to print and supply new banknotes, Kroll has only been provided with limited email correspondence that does not demonstrate that either company had an opportunity to submit a formal proposal for services, and it appears that a competitive procurement process did not take place.

The report says CBL Management subsequently explained to Kroll that due to the urgency for new banknotes, the CBL did not follow its own internal tendering policies for the procurement of Crane AB.

But Kroll notes the explanation of urgency for new banknotes provided by CBL Management was inconsistent with letters sent several months prior to the initial procurement of Crane AB, arguing that a letter dated December 2015, sent by former Executive Governor Joseph Mills Jones, and a letter dated February 2016, sent by former Acting Executive Governor Charles Sirleaf, to ex-President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, set out that new banknotes were urgently required. Therefore it is possible that the CBL could have commenced preparations to complete a competitive procurement process several months before Crane AB was contracted to print new banknotes in May 2016.

Discrepancies in quantity/value of new banknotes delivered to CBL vaults
The report says CBL Internal Audit Department provided Kroll with delivery documentation in the form of CBL Internal Audit Memorandums and appended Crane AB packing lists, used by the Internal Audit Department to reconcile the receipt of new banknotes from either the Roberts International Airport or the Freeport of Monrovia into the CBL reserve vaults.

The IA Memorandums states that Crane AB printed and shipped new banknotes totaling LRD 15.506 billion, but Kroll notes the appended Crane AB packing lists provided by the CBL indicated that Crane AB printed and shipped new banknotes totaling LRD 17.450 billion, indicating a difference of LRD 1.944 billion.

“The issue specifically related to an IA Memorandum dated December 10, 2017 which stated new banknotes totaling LRD 1.173 billion were delivered to the CBL, whereas the appended Crane AB packing lists stated new banknotes totaling LRD 3.117 billion were shipped to the CBL, the same LRD 1.944 billion difference.”

But the reports says the CBL Internal Audit Department subsequently explained that the Crane AB packing lists provided to Kroll were communicated by Crane AB in draft format for the purposes of preparing customs documentation. The CBL Internal Audit Department also stated that certain IA Memorandums may have included appended draft format Crane AB packing lists in error.

The CBL Internal Audit Department commented that owing to a series of shipping delays in December 2017 the Crane AB packing lists provided to Kroll were therefore not reflective of the actual value of new banknotes delivered to the CBL which totaled LRD 15.506 billion, but Crane AB categorically maintains that new banknotes totaling LRD 15.506 billion were printed and shipped to Liberia.

However, the report observes the overall accuracy and completeness of the CBL’s internal records was considered to be inadequate. Nonetheless, there was an inconsistency in shipping records provided by Crane AB stating that new banknotes totaling LRD 15.506 billion were shipped to Liberia, compared to the Crane AB packing lists appended to IA Memorandums provided to Kroll by the CBL, which indicated that new banknotes totaling LRD 17.450 billion were delivered to the CBL.

The report does not specifically indict any current or former officials, and does not recommend prosecution, but identifies clear discrepancies and inconsistencies in transactions that warrant interventions from the highest level of government in bringing to book, officials past and present, who were directly involved in placing orders for the printing, shipping or airlifting, and delivery of newly printed bank notes to Liberia, including subsequent placing in circulation under questionable circumstances.

Meanwhile, the United States says it remains committed to Liberia’s development and democracy, and trusts that this Independent Review will support improved governance principles, fiscal reforms, and monetary system practices in Liberia.

“We appreciate the resilience of the Liberian people as their Government works in good faith to address vulnerabilities identified, and to strengthen the integrity of Liberia’s currency, banking system, and economy”, a statement placed on the U.S. Embassy’s official website in Monrovia by Kroll Associates Incorporated, Wednesday, 28 February reads.
-As US Embassy unveils 16bn report –Story by Jonathan Browne

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