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Politics News

Exxon deal takes new twist

The call for a probe by President George Mannah Weah into the allegation of corruption that clouded the sale of the famous Oil Block 13 in 2013, is taking a new twist with an increasing call for his chief investigator, Justice Minister Cllr. Musa Dean to rescue himself.

The UK based environmental watchdog, Global Witness or GW, which released a report Thursday unearthing the corruption that crowded the sale of the Oil Block said Cllr. Dean as head of the investigation poses a conflict of interest and that could undermine the review.

“It’s very encouraging that President Weah has called for an investigation into the 2013 Block 13 deal,” says Jonathan Gant, Senior Campaigner at Global Witness. “However, the review must be led by an independent investigator and not by Minister Dean.”

GW wants the investigation to be independent and thorough, and asks that the Liberian Government hold accountable any individuals or companies that are found to have broken the law, while also respecting the due process rights of those being questioned.

According to GW, Justice Minister Dean cannot be involved, given his earlier role; rather, he should immediately hand responsibility to an independent investigator who was not attached to the Block 13 award.

President George Weah ordered an investigation into the allegation of bribery that clouded the sale of the famous Oil Block 13 in 2013 over the weekend.

“…these allegations of bribery and misuse of office are deeply concerning,” a statement issued by the government said while indicating that the President had instructed Cllr. Dean to investigate the matter and submit a preliminary report to him within two weeks.

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His move follows report of former government officials pocketing huge amounts after the sale of the controversial oil block was sealed in 2013.

Global Witness, in its report on Thursday March 29, accused several former government officials of receiving huge bonuses, among them Mr. Robert Sirleaf, the son of former President Sirleaf after the deal.

Mr. Sirfleaf was then chairman of the National Oil Company of Liberia NOCAL Board on “a pro bono” at the time of the sale. Other former officials named are (NOCAL) former CEO Randolph McClain, National Investment Chairman Natty Davis, Finance Minister Amara Konneh, Mining Minister Patrick Sendolo and former Justice Minister Christiana Tah.
The controversial Oil Block 13 in question was originally awarded by NOCAL in 2005 to Liberian-Anglo Company Broadway Consolidated/Peppercoast (BCP). In 2007, the block was ratified by the Liberian legislature through bribery.

GW’s report also found that US$35,000 payments were made to each of the top Liberian officials after Exxon was awarded the block in 2013.

Global Witness is not the only group calling for Minister Dean’s recusal from the case. A local group, Center for Transparency and Accountability or CENTAL in a press release Monday similarly welcomes President Weah’s decision to investigate the matter, but notes, “We are concern about assigning such role to the Justice Minister Cllr. Musa A. Dean, who is said to have been involved with oil dealings in Liberia during the period under review.”

“We therefore call on the Justice Minister to recuse himself from the investigation. We recommend that the Liberia Anti- Corruption Commission or LACC form a core part of this investigation.”
The Government’s inquiry is expected to examine “allegations of bribery and misuse” outlined in multiple recent publications, including the Global Witness report.

-Story by Jonathan Browne

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