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Faulty calculation

-Milton Weeks explains printing of L$10bn

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Former Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) Executive Governor Milton A. Weeks says it appears that prosecution’s witness Baba M. Boakai may have been using a faulty calculation.

Mr. Weeks argues that Baba assertion that the CBL received 13bn plus, yet the documents he submitted as evidence shows CBL received 10.359bn.

Testifying Tuesday, 4 August, Mr. Weeks agreed with the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) Program Manager for Enforcement and Investigation Mr. Baba on one point that under his (Weeks’) administration, the CBL could only account for 10bn plus, saying it is correct because it was LD$10.359bn plus that was received.

But he disagrees with Mr. Baba’s testimony that the CBL received 13bn plus, insisting that Baba’s assertion is not backed by the document he submitted as exhibited in the Presidential Investigative Team (PIT) report because the documents submitted show that CBL received 10.359bn.
“Once again, it appears Mr. Baba may have been using a faulty calculation …,” Mr. Weeks says.

Further, he says he finds it difficult to reconcile former House Speaker Emmanuel Nuquay’s assertion that the Legislature’s letter requesting the CBL to advise on the amount of banknotes to be printed to replace the legacy notes was referring to the printing of five billion that had been previously printed.

Earlier on Monday, 3 August, Weeks said it was absurd, an allegation that the CBL’s Board of Governor, which he was a part of, was aware that LD$13 billion plus was in circulation here and yet the CBL printed LD$10 billion.

Weeks recalled a number of issues that necessitated the printing of the LD$10 billion, saying in late 2016, the government through the Finance Ministry informed the CBL it would be unable to continue to sell USD to CBL due to acute foreign exchange constraints.

“However, the indictment claims that we were aware that the 13 billion plus was [the] currency in circulation, yet we only printed 10 billion. To me, with all due respect, the allegation is absurd and the reason is that the Board of Governors was looking at total legacy notes, not total currency in currency,” he says.

Mr. Weeks who boasts of working in the banking sector for 26 years in top positions in Liberia, Zambia, Malawi, South Africa and Nigeria, recounts that when he assumed the position of CBL’s Executive Governor in 2016, the first contract to print LD$5 billion had already been executed by CBL management headed by Mr. Charles E. Sirleaf, ex-President Ellen Johnson – Sirleaf’s son.

Weeks and other CBL board members David Fahart, Elsie Dossen Bardio and Kollie Tamba are on trial for theft of property; economic sabotage; fraud on the internal revenue of Liberia; misuse of public money, property or record; theft or illegal disbursement of public money; criminal conspiracy and criminal facilitation.

The government indicted the officials for allegedly printing and shipping to Liberia L$13,004,750,000.00 without authorization between 2016 and 2018 and allegedly understating the printed amount as L$10,359,750,000.00, giving a variance of L$2,645,000,000.00.

Defendant Weeks informs the court that all foreign exchange that the CBL utilized came from the foreign exchange that was sold to the CBL by the government, but the government had said it would be unable to continue to sell USD to CBL due to acute foreign exchange constraints.

Following this decision of the government, defendant Weeks explains that the CBL introduced “25% surrender on inward remittance,” a category of money that he says is transferred into Liberia that are related to individuals through the banking system but use international money transfer companies such as Western Union, MoneyGram and Nobel, among others.

According to him, total inward remittances were averaging about US$240m per annum, and the 25% surrender translated into roughly US$60M or US$5m per month which had to be paid to individuals receiving inward remittances by the commercial banks.

“The commercial banks were strained in being able to pay [their] customers due to the fact that roughly only 20% of the total currency in circulation was in the banking system. Most of the currency never made it to the banks. The commercial banks here, were constantly agitating for the CBL to [make] currency available,” Mr. Weeks testifies.

Besides the commercial banks, defendant Weeks tells the court that the CBL began to also have significant agitation from the public and the Legislature, complaining about the use of three currencies in Liberia in reference to the USD, the Old or Legacy notes and the Newly Printed Enhanced Banknotes.

Weeks says the CBL wrote the Senate President Pro – tempore in May 2017 and similarly informed the House Speaker that LD$10 billion should be printed at the estimated cost of US$10.4m following the Senate’s request for the bank to advise the Senate on how much LD would be printed to replace all the legacy notes.

He adds that the CBL received assurances that its advocacy would be considered, adding that by July 19, 2017, the CBL received a letter from the Legislature signed by the Chief Clerk of the House of Representatives and the Secretary of the Senate, instructing the CBL to maintain the USD, replace all legacy banknotes and introduce coins.

Giving a background earlier as to how Crane Currency got the contract to print the five billion, defendant Weeks recalls that French company Oberthur Fiduciaire, which had printed the Legacy note, declined at the last minute to take the contract to print the five billion Liberian Dollars.

On account of this Mr. Weeks says Crane Currency which was then chosen over one other company called De La Rue, had indicated that it did not have the right to print the exact design that Oberthur had used, thereby using a new design while trying to retain some of the features of the legacy notes.

“However, the first print run was better than the expected and they advised CBL that they had this amount of banknotes in excess of the 5 billion and offered to make it available to CBL at cost that is the cost of the notes plus transport,” he testifies.

The four defendants on trial have pleaded not guilty for the charges levied against them, but the fifth defendant Melisa A. Emeh is said to be out of the bailiwick of Liberia and has not been brought to court.

Charles Sirleaf was included in the previous two indictments for this same case, but prosecutors did not include in this third indictment after they nolleprosequi the former Deputy CBL Governor for Operations with prejudice in May this year.

Besides Mr. Sirleaf, the prosecution here also entered a nolleprosequi (dropped charges) in favor of defendants Richard H. Walker, Dorbor M. Hagba and Joseph Dennis.

According to Mr. Weeks’ testimony, the purpose of printing the five billion was to assist in the replacement of mutilated Liberian Dollars banknotes, but he suggests that the five billion was inadequate to fully replace all of the mutilated banknotes. He testifies that LD$146,250,000 was printed in excess “over and above” the five billion Liberian Dollars in the first printing done by Crane Currency. By Winston W. Parley

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