Liberia loses $104 mln in central bank cash, bans 15 from foreign travel

MONROVIA, LIBERIA (SEPTEMBER 19, 2018) (REUTERS) – Fifteen Liberians including the son of former president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf are banned from leaving the country while the government investigates the whereabouts of 104 million US dollars in missing cash intended for the central bank, the government said.

A series of shipments of notes ordered by Liberia’s central bank from printers overseas have disappeared since last year after passing through the country’s main ports, Liberia’s information minister Eugene Nagbe said on local radio on Tuesday.

The missing amount is the equivalent of nearly 5 percent of the West African country’s GDP.

One newspaper called it ‘Container-Gate’ as much of the money disappeared from the port’s containers used to ship the newly minted money as Liberia does not print its own currency.

People in Monrovia called for all those involved to be prosecuted and accused George Weah of not taking care of the poor despite his electoral promises.

Charles Sirleaf, the son of the Nobel Peace Prize winner Sirleaf, and former central bank governor, Milton Weeks, have been barred from travel as a part of the investigation, according to a Ministry of Information statement released late on Tuesday.

“The government says it takes the ongoing investigation seriously because it has national security implications,” the statement said.

Investigators are still trying to ascertain how much money was ordered, where it was printed, how much of it eventually arrived in the country, and where it is now. The money was ordered when Sirleaf was still in power, before President George Weah took over this year.

Justice minister Frank Musah Dean said that Sirleaf’s administration did not inform the current government of the initial order, and that an investigation began once Weah became aware of it in August.

Information minister Nagabe told Voice of America on Tuesday there are no records of the containers being collected from the ports, despite several bank staff having written a request for pick-up on March 31. The containers were recorded as having arrived on November 2017 and August 2018.

Central Bank officials did not respond to requests for comment.

Liberia does not have its own mint, and the central bank is the only body with the power to order new currency. Liberia’s government last approved the printing of new notes in August 2016, as the country recovered from a devastating Ebola epidemic.

The missing cash comes as an unexpected blow to Liberia, one of the world’s poorest countries that suffered two civil wars between 1989 and 2003. Ebola struck in 2013, killing thousands over the following three years.

Sirleaf was lauded for cementing peace during her 12 year tenure but was criticized for failing to rein in high level corruption.

Her son Charles, one of three sons appointed to government posts, was suspended from his position as Deputy Central Bank Governor in 2012 during an anti-corruption investigation. But he was re-elected interim central bank chief in February 2016, drawing criticisms of nepotism.

Associated Links

  • VOA
  • Deputy Central Bank
  • Africa
  • Counties of Liberia
  • BBC 100 Women
  • Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
  • Monrovia
  • Liberia
  • Sirleaf
  • Gyude Bryant

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