US Embassy gives sanctioned officials lifeline?
Officials at the United States Embassy near Monrovia appear to have given a lifeline to sanctioned Liberian Government officials here ahead of the 2023 general and presidential elections.
It has been rumored that sanctioned Liberian officials here should not be allowed to participate in the upcoming election as doing so would force the United States to withdraw its support from the National Elections Commission if any of the affected individuals appeared on the ballot papers.
But US Embassy officials here say the Global Magnitsky Act by which 3 former officials of the Weah government were sanctioned and two Senators is not above the judiciary of the country and therefore cannot undermine any of Liberia’s laws or judiciary system.
Two US Embassy officials Mr. Sean Boda and Kemper Wagner, Public Affairs Officer and Political affairs officer respectively made the clarification when they appeared on a live radio talk show on Tuesday, October 4, 2022.
Both foreign diplomats appeared on the OK FM to speak to the issues regarding the sanctions and its implications on affected individuals, and the Magnitsky Act in the judicial system of sovereign states like Liberia.
Recently three officials of the Weah administration, former State and Presidential Affairs Minister Nathaniel McGill, NPA Managing Director Bill Tweahway and Solicitor General Cyrenius Cephus were designated under the Global Magnitsky Act.
The trio resigned after weeks of calls for them to do so, with speculations that they had intended to participate in the upcoming elections.
The speculations regarding their intent to contest in the 2023 elections in their respective counties sparked rumors that US Embassy had issued a warning against their desire to run during the election.
However, doing the show on Tuesday, the embassy officials noted: “So the Global Magnitsky Act is not a prosecution, it is not a court of law and it is not a way for the United States of America to try to step in and usurp the rights of any sovereign state from its own criminal procedure. And so, in democracies like Liberia, there are various mechanisms for the citizens to hold officials of government accountable, which is important.
“As a sovereign nation, Liberia has all rights to determine who is eligible to contest elections; the United States is not innocent of the process. The Magnitsky Act has nothing to do with your elections”, Sean Boda, the US Public Affairs Officer said.
Responding to a question on what the US government looks for in a country before placing sanctions on government officials, Wagner said corruption was a key indicator as it forms part of the core objective of the US government, expanding on it include diversion of state resources to personal interest, plundering of state funds, using official functions to enrich oneself.
“Besides corruption, gross human rights violation is also considered and that includes extrajudicial killings, clampdown on opposition figures, rigging of elections, denial of rule of law and Press freedom, etc”, he said.
Both men were evasive of the question speaking specifically about information that triggered sanctions against government officials such as the recent sanctions placed on three former government officials.
“It has always been rigorous. It takes a lot of time and resources, at times it takes up to a year or 3 or so to investigate and submit a report before sanctions are imposed”, Boda said.
Boda further explained that the sanction starts taking effect immediately when it is issued against the person and the various institutions of government responsible to enforce compliance get into motion which includes seizure or freezing of assets belonging to the sanctioned individuals.
He also said in the case where the affected official does not have assets within the territorial confines of the US but in other countries, the partners of the United States will act as is the case of the US to seize the assets or take other unspecified action to make sure that the indicted individual gets the full punishment as prescribed by the ACT.
“The idea behind the sanction is to incentivize a change in behavior, to help prompt change in behavior, like in the case of Liberia is to have a country free from corruption and allow the free democratic process to proceed”, Boda said.
When asked whether the US government keeps tap on persons under sanction to ensure complete compliance, Wagner said it was obvious that the US has vested interest in every decision taken with respect to the sanction and will ensure that there was compliance such as seizure or freezing of assets, denial of visas but if true accountability is to be held, then “citizens of that country or the government can take action against the sanctioned person through the justice system to hold the person accountable for all the acts done that triggered the sanctions.