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Sirleaf, others locked-up!

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The son of former President Ellen Johnson -Sirleaf’, Central Bank Deputy Governor Charles E. Sirleaf, former CBL Executive Governor Milton A. Weeks and CBL Director of Banking Dorbor Hagba have been locked up. The trio were locked-up on Monday at the Monrovia Central Prison after they failed to file criminal appearance bonds.

The trio appeared in Court Monday March 4, following their arrests Thursday February 28 through Friday March 1, for their roles in the “missing 16 billion” Liberian bank notes which both local and international investigators now put at over 18 billion.

The premises of the Temple of Justice, Liberia’s High Court was packed with both observers and family members of the arrested individuals. Among those family members recognized at the court included Dr. James A. Sirleaf, former Public Works Minister Dr. Antoinette Weeks, University of Liberia President Dr. Ophelia Inez Weeks and former Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA) Commissioner, Angelique Weeks, among others.

The current and former CBL officials’ arrests follow the release of separate reports into the finding of the “missing 16 billion” Liberian bank notes by United States Embassy near Monrovia and the government.

They face charges ranging from economic sabotage, misuse of public money, illegal disbursement of public money to criminal conspiracy and criminal facilitation.

The parties are being represented in court separately by different lawyers from different law firms.

The Monrovia City Court was jam -parked when the officials made their first appearance, and scores of eager Liberians who could not make their way into the court, waited outside to see the defendants come out
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On their way to the Monrovia Central Prison where they will remain until their criminal appearance bonds are filed, each of the accused was handcuffed and escorted outside by riot police and court officers, while some angry bystanders jeered at the defendants.

Earlier in the courtroom, Monrovia City Court Stipendiary Magistrate Kennedy Peabody, informs the defendants that the charges against them are bailable.

He says the accused are entitled to bail; to choose to request the state to produce the evidence it has against them preliminarily in the court; and they could exercise their rights to speak or be silent.

Magistrate Peabody, however, informed the defendants that they are required to satisfy the statute by filing the appropriate criminal appearance bond to commensurate with the crimes charged, or be incarcerated at the Monrovia Central Prison if they failed or refused to proffer the required bonds.

Mr. Sirleaf and Mr. Hagba were arrested Thursday, 28 February, hours after the United States Embassy and the Presidential Investigative Team (PIT) released their reports, while Mr. Weeks was later arrested Friday.

The trio are expected to give account of the excess amount of money that were printed and their roles in the alleged missing money saga.

The PIT says CBL reported 15,606,000,000 (15.6bn) Liberian banknotes as the total amount printed, shipped by Crane Currency AB and received by the CBL between July 2016 and April 2018.

But the head of the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) and member of the PIT Mr. Alex Cuffey says analysis of the packing list submitted by the CBL reveals that the amount of 18,151,000,000 (18.1bn) Liberian dollar banknotes were printed and shipped by Crane Currency.

According to Mr. Cuffey, this leaves a variance of 2,645,000,000 (L$2.6bn) Liberian dollar banknotes that is yet to be fully accounted for by the CBL.

The firm hired by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to help investigate the money issue separately, Kroll Associates Inc., established that the CBL entered into a contract with Crane AB on May 6, 2016 to print new banknotes totaling LRD 5.0 billion. eleven days prior to the CBL receiving full Legislature approval to print new banknotes.

The USAID report further indicates that the Legislature’s 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.

It adds that Crane AB was awarded the second contract in June 2017 by the CBL to print new banknotes totaling LRD 10.0 billion, four weeks before two officials from the Legislature requested that the CBL replace all legacy banknotes.

The report says a letter dated July 19, 2017 from the Chief Clerk of the House of Representatives Mildred Sayon and the Secretary of the Senate Nanborlor Singbeh 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.

The CBL did not provide the Legislature with details of the quantity and denominations of the new banknotes prior to the printing and shipping of new banknotes, the USAID report finds.

The actual value of new banknotes printed by Crane AB to Liberia totaled LRD 15.506 billion, the report says, adding that the new banknotes totaling LRD 0.506 billion were printed by Crane AB above the initial contractual amount of LRD 15.0 billion.

According to the USAID report, under the direction of the Minister of Finance, the President’s Economic Management Team also conducted a separate USD 25.0 million exercise to “mop-up” excess LRD banknotes with USD banknotes.

At the time of Kroll’s review, this resulted in LRD 2.3 billion (USD 15.0 million)3 being purchased by the CBL from local businesses and foreign exchange bureaus, in an attempt to address the depreciation of the Liberian Dollar, the USAID report says.It reveals that this action was undertaken by the CBL without a clearly documented strategy.

Kroll’s independent counts of the physical cash balances in each of the CBL’s three operational vaults could not be reconciled with the CBL’s corresponding financial accounting records.

Kroll established that 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 or value of legacy banknotes (the old money).

The prosecuting team representing the Ministry of Justice in the case include Solicitor General Cllr. J. Darku Mulbah; County Attorney for Montserrado County Cllr. Edwin K. Martin and City Solicitor Atty. J. Wilson.

Cllrs. James E. Pierre, J. Johnny Momo and Amara Sheriff represent defendant Charles E. Sirleaf while co-defendant Milton Weeks is represented by Cllr. Abraham B. Silah Sr of the Heritage Partners and Associates Inc.

Further, co-defendant Dorbor Hagba is represented by Cllr. Augustine C. Fayiah and Atty Rose Stryker.
By Winston W. Parley

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