By Lincoln G. Peters
Liberia’s Finance Minister Samuel D. Tweah, Jr., says he believes that he has been sanctioned by the United States Department of State because he supposedly favored ArcelorMittal Limited (AML) over an American Company, High Power Explorations Inc. (HPX).
Tweah links his sanction by the U.S. to supposedly preventing HPX from accessing the rail to conduct its investment in Guinea through Liberia after depositing US$37 million to the Government of Liberia through the national budget in 2019.
The finance minister addressed a press conference in Monrovia Thursday, 14 December 2023 after becoming one of nine senior officials of President George Manneh Weah’s regime to be placed on U.S. sanctions.
This week, the United States government has widened its sanctions against Liberian officials, adding as latest on the list Finance Minister Samuel Tweah, Senators Albert T. Chue and Emmanuel Nuquay.
The U.S. has also included on the list of sanctions the immediate family members of Mr. Tweah, Mr. Chie, and Mr. Nuquay.
The U.S. State Department said pursuant to Section 7031(c), it has publicly designated Mr. Tweah, Sen. Chie, and Sen. Nuquay, for their alleged involvement in significant corruption by abusing their public positions through soliciting, accepting, and offering bribes.
The U.S. government has accused the top Liberian officials of offering or receiving bribes to manipulate legislative processes and public funding, including legislative reporting and mining sector activity.
As part of this action, the U.S. explained that their immediate family members including their spouses Delecia Berry Tweah, Abigail Chie, and Ruthtoria Brown Nuquay, and Tweah and Nuquay’s minor children are also designated.
Earlier on 8 December 2023, the U.S. Treasury Department designated Monrovia Mayor and ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) secretary general Jefferson Koijee.
Koijee’s sanction is pursuant to E.O. 13818 for engaging or having been a leader of an entity that has engaged in serious human rights abuse and corruption.
The U.S. said Koijee has engaged in corrupt acts, including bribery and misappropriation of state assets and pressuring anti-corruption investigators to halt all corruption investigations.
The U.S. had earlier sanctioned Margibi County Senator-elect Nathaniel McGill, River Cess County Senator-elect Bill Twehway, and former Solicitor General Cllr. Saymah Syrenius Cephus.
The three senior officials from the Executive were sanctioned along with Nimba Senator Prince Y. Johnson and Grand Cape Mount Senator Varney G. Sherman.
According to Minister Tweah, he was informed that persons closed to HPX were considering sanctions against him because the company had paid US$37 million to the Government of Liberia through the national budget since 2019 and was yet to have an agreement with the government.
Minister Tweah said about a year ago in Washington D.C, he received a hint that persons connected with the American company HPX were trying to get him on Treasury sanctions because he was allegedly or supposedly “favoring ArcelorMittal Limited (AML) over HPX.
He said he was accused of preventing HPX from accessing the rail to conduct its investment in Guinea through Liberia.
“As a Minister, my job is to provide approved resources to the National Legislature upon request, subject to the availability of cash,” he argued.
“I have never influenced “legislative processes,” whatever that implies.” Specific reference to the mining sector confuses me but I believe this reference pertains to my involvement to developing a multi-user gateway through the third amendment of Accelor Mittal’s current concession,” he noted.
Tweah further indicated that his informant knew this was unjust and unfair, knowing the role he was playing on the Inter-ministerial Concessions Committee and understanding the difficulties and complexities of the negotiation.
Minister Tweah alleged that he was also informed that persons closed to HPX were considering sanctions against him because the company had paid US$37 million to the Government of Liberia through the national budget since 2019 and was yet to have an agreement with the Government.
“Legitimate monies received by the Government of Liberia for the development of Liberia through the national budget is never a bribe,” Tweah argued further.
“That an agreement has been difficult to reach because of complexity surrounding a pre-existing agreement is no reason to threaten government officials with sanction, he continued.
He lamented that he is providing these explanations and contexts because these are chatters that have allegedly underpinned threats of sanction against him and his family from powerful individuals.
“I was advised that to avoid sanction, I should withdraw my support for ArcelorMittal’s third amendment until after the election,” Minister Tweah disclosed.
He said it was allegedly on this basis that he advised President Weah to turn over negotiations on the rail to the U.S. Government since too much propaganda and misinformation were threatening to destroy members of his government.
“The president obliged and the Americans for a brief moment tried to bring both HPX and AcceloMittal together to reach some understanding on the multi-user rail system.”
According to Minister Tweah, meetings were held in London and Washington, and unfortunately, these meetings did not achieve anything.
He added that the Americans withdrew and turned negotiations back to the Government of Liberia.
He narrated that the truth of the matter is that ArcelorMittal has an agreement with the Government of Liberia signed by the Unity Party Government that gives Mittal the right to use the Nimba rail and to be an operator of this rail.
Mr. Tweah noted that in the Government’s vision to develop a multi-user rail system, they have tried to have Mittal relinquish operatorship of the rail to an Independent third-party rail operator for purposes of fairness and equity.
However, Tweah said Mittal has not been open to this position, and they have been in a deadlock for more than three years.
Mr. Tweah stated that realizing the impossibility of having Mittal give up rail operatorship, and knowing the Government was not willing to proceed to international arbitration, the Government moved to a position of having Mittal become the User-Operator.
He said this is in exchange for other critical rights Mittal would have to give up under its current concession that would enable fair and equitable access to third parties such as HPX.
‘’That would have enabled us reach a compromise. Unfortunately, HPX does not seem open to such a compromise and has insisted that Mittal abandons the rail operatorship,” he lamented.
The Finance Minister stated that Mittal itself does not want to give up the rail operatorship.
“As a consequence, Samuel Tweah became the biggest victim in this power play between two billionaires, each of whom aims to undo and outmaneuver the other.”
“This is fundamentally unfair to me and requires correction by the U.S. authorities,” he complained.