IMF Concludes Economic Review Mission To Sierra Leone

Freetown, Sierra Leone – May 7, 2019: The International Monetary Fund (IMF) just concluded a Review Mission to Sierra Leone in West Africa and has published a report of its findings:

Sierra Leone Finance-Minister Jacob Jusu Saffa
Sierra Leone Finance-Minister Jacob Jusu Saffa
  • The Sierra Leone authorities and IMF mission concluded discussions, ad referendum, on economic policies to pave the way for consideration by the IMF Executive Board of the first review under the ECF-supported program.
  • Continued actions to mobilize revenue and manage public finances remain key priorities to reduce public debt and create fiscal space for investing in people and infrastructure.
  • Stepping up structural reform efforts will be crucial to managing fiscal risks, ensuring greater accountability, and diversifying the economy for the benefit of all Sierra Leoneans.

 

An International Monetary Fund (IMF) mission, led by Karen Ongley, visited Freetown during April 23-May 7, 2019 to conduct the first review of the Extended Credit Facility (ECF) arrangement approved by the Executive Board on November 30, 2018.

At the end of the visit, Ms. Ongley issued the following statement:

“The economic landscape in Sierra Leone remains challenging. Yet, the authorities navigated these difficulties well in the year since taking office, helping to stabilize the economy. Real GDP looks set to pick up this year to 5.1 percent, thanks in part to the resumption of iron ore mining. After peaking above 19 percent last September, inflation moderated to 17.5 percent in March and is projected to continue tracking down over 2019.

“Faced with serious constraints on budget financing, the authorities kept the budget in check through stronger‑than‑programmed revenue performance and spending well below the budget. As a result, the overall deficit narrowed from 8.8 percent in 2017 to 5.8 percent in 2018. However, delays in donor receipts and uneven liquidity in the banking system, posed challenges for deficit financing and monetary policy, and impacted program performance.

“While program performance is broadly on track, slower than expected progress on structural reforms reflects the magnitude of policy challenges. Nine of the ten quantitative targets were met for end‑December 2018 and end‑March 2019. However, the Net Domestic Assets of the Bank of Sierra Leone (BSL) at end‑December 2018 exceeded the program target (performance criterion), partly due to BSL’s credit to government and continued foreign exchange market sales to stem depreciation of the Leone. Moreover, three of five structural benchmarks—the forensic audit of the BSL, developing a strategic plan for the two state-owned banks, and a strategy for clearing domestic arrears—have been delayed, as the underlying issues are proving to be more complex than anticipated.

“With this in mind, the Sierra Leonean authorities and the mission reached understandings, ad referendum, on economic policies aimed at enhancing accountability in managing public resources, diversifying the economy and promoting more resilient and inclusive growth. The authorities’ commitment to mobilizing domestic revenue and improving expenditure management to achieve a gradual reduction in the deficit will help ensure that public debt returns to a sustainable path. Notwithstanding pressures on the budget, the authorities will safeguard poverty-reducing spending and other priority spending under the Government’s National Development Plan. Limiting the recourse to domestic financing will also reinforce the BSL’s objective of bringing inflation down to single digits by the end of the program. Maintaining a flexible exchange rate system and increasing foreign exchange reserves will boost resilience to economic shocks.

Sierra -Leone
Sierra -Leone

“The authorities have calibrated their policies to address longstanding vulnerabilities, but this also requires maintaining policy discipline and stamina. Notwithstanding their ambitious revenue goals, the program reflects a more cautious revenue assumption as a buffer to deal with fiscal risks, such as reliance on donor financing, the large outstanding stock of domestic arrears, and high prospective debt service payments. Stepping up efforts on the structural reforms underpinning the program is crucial to the goals of managing fiscal risks and ensuring greater accountability for the benefit of all Sierra Leoneans.

“The IMF’s Executive Board is expected to consider first ECF review by end-June 2019. Completion of the review would make available SDR 15.56 million (US$ 21.5 million), bringing total disbursements under the program to about SDR 31 million (US$ 43 million).

“The mission met with Vice President Jalloh, Minister of Finance Jacob Saffa, Deputy Minister of Finance Patricia Laverley, Governor of BSL Kelfala Kallon, Finance Secretary Sahr Jusu, other senior government and BSL officials, representatives of the financial sector, civil society, and development partners. Mr. Kingsley Obiora, Alternate Executive Director representing Sierra Leone, also joined the concluding meetings.

“The mission wishes to thank the Sierra Leonean authorities for their warm hospitality, and the constructive and rich discussions during our visit to Freetown.”

Source: IMF Communications

U. S. Sanctions Liberian Flagged Shipping Company

A shipping entity connected to the South American Government of Venezuela and with offices in Liberia has been sanctioned by the Government of the United States.

U. S. Pres. Donald J. Trump

The U.S. is locked in a bitter diplomatic spat with the Nicolas Maduro government in Venezuela which it describes as “illegitimate” and has, instead, recognized, the leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, Mr. Juan Guaido who has declared himself interim President.

Pres. Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela

As part of pressuring the Maduro Government, the Trump Administration, through the Treasury Department, slapped Specially Designated Nationals And Blocked Persons (SDN) economic sanctions on the state owned oil company and two international companies that are engaged in the transport of Venezuelan oil.

Petroleos de Venezuela is the country’s state-run oil company.

Venezuela National Oil Company

The Maduro Government is kept afloat by the proceeds of the country’s oil shipment and sale and Washington is working to strangulate the Government.

The Venezuelan Company operating out of Liberia is Ballito Bay Shipping Incorporated with an address at 80 Broad Street in Monrovia.

The address listed for Ballito Bay Shipping is tied to the Liberia International Ship And Corporate Registry (LISCR, LLC), a private U.S. owned and globally operated company that manages Liberia’s lucrative ship registry.

LISCR Offices

LISCR,

The LISCR Trust Company (“the Registered Agent”) on its website says, “ it has been appointed by the Government of the Republic of Liberia to serve as a sole registered agent for all Liberian non-resident corporate entities. The principal role of the Registered Agent is to receive filing instructions, issue annual invoices, notices, etc. and to provide a registered office address for receiving service of process, or legal notices, on the entity’s behalf. The Registered Agent can also serve as the official depository for any document that a Liberian entity voluntarily records outside the public register.

The Registered Agent’s address for all non-resident Liberian entities is 80 Broad Street, Monrovia, Liberia…”

The Liberian Government receives fees collected by LISCR which are deposited in its account at the Federal Reserve in New York.

The identification number of Ballito Bay Shipping with the International Maritime Organization (IMO) is 5804961.

Crude Tanker Despina Andrianna

The Despina Andrianna vessel owned by Ballito Bay Shipping Incorporated is part of the Liberian registry and is engaged in transporting Venezuelan oil to Cuba.

West African Journal Magazine tracked the Despina Andrianna crude tanker and the vessel’s global position currently has it sailing in the Caribbean to an unknown destination.

The sanctions prohibit any citizen of the U.S. or entity from transactions involving Ballito Bay.

The LISCR will now be restricted from further business with the named company in the Liberian registry which it manages , according to the terms of the U.S. sanctions.

Liberia Business Registry Application Form

On its website, the LISCR notes, “…A non-Liberian corporation can re-domicile into Liberia and will become a Liberian Corporation upon filing the application with required attachments, including the Articles of Incorporation of the corporation as a Liberian corporation. The corporation will continue its existence as a Liberian corporation; the existence date of the re-domiciled corporation is the date of incorporation of the corporation in the jurisdiction of its origin.

Liberian nonresident domestic corporations are governed by provisions of the Business Corporation Act, The Associations Law, Title 5, as Amended, of the Liberian Code of Laws Revised, (the “BCA”).

Under Liberia’s Business Corporation Act, Ballito Bay Shipping would be considered a “Foreign Corporation” which is

(o) “Re-domiciled” doing business for profit in Liberia.

It is unclear if Ballito Bay Shipping Incorporated which is registered with the Liberian Business Registry (LBR) at the Ministry of Commerce or Liberia National Investment Commission

There are eight (8) other shipping companies with Liberian flagged ships tied to Iran and Hizballah that are sanctioned by the US Government and listed on the Treasury Department’s SDN, according to the Office of Asset Control (OFAC).

West African Journal Magazine has reached out to LISCR Trust for comment on its future relationship with Ballito Bay Shipping Incorporated.

By Our International Affairs Correspondent

West African Journal

Liberia: Central Bank and Govt Locked In “War of Words”

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – March 5, 2019: The Swedish based currency manufacturing company involved in the biggest financial scandal in the West African country of Liberia is pushing back strongly against Economic Sabotage charges by the Liberian Government.

Crane Currency
Crane Currency

In a 13 – page consolidated response to the charges, a copy of which is in the possession of the West African Journal Magazine, Crane Currency explained that it negotiated and entered into two currency printing contracts on May 6, 2016 and July 28, 2017 with the Government of Liberia through representatives of the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL).

According to the company, “Crane entered into both contracts in reasonable reliance on the CBL’s apparent authority to lawfully award and enter into the subject contracts. At all points, Crane worked with officials from the CBL to enter into and perform under the contracts and to agree all changes in writing. Each contract was subsequently amended by mutual agreement in writing between the aCBL and Crane to include the delivery of additional over-produced banknotes and to reflect changes in CBLs shipping requirements9e.g.) by overnight rather than by sea, to accommodate the CBL’s accelerated schedule.) All changes were memorialized in exchanges of letters, emails and invoice statements…,” the company said.

On April 1, 2019, the Government of Liberia, through its Department of Justice, issued a statement in which it said that it “… categorically rejects claims made by Crane Currency in a statement issued on March 21, 2019, that it has not been charged with any crime in Liberia. To the contrary, Crane Currency and officials of the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL), both current and past, were charged and indicted on March 4, 2019 for Economic Sabotage, Criminal Conspiracy and Criminal Facilitation, in the printing of excess Liberia Dollar Banknotes…”

Crane Currency said it fulfilled contractual agreement to the CBL as set out in the two contractual delivery agreements and in documented proof for the printing of additional banknotes which the Liberian Government is alleging in its indictment. The total contractual payment to Crane for the printing for the banknotes was $15,867,270.43 (Fifteen Million, Eight Hundred and Sixty Seven Thousand, Two Hundred and Seventy Dollars and Forty Three cents). In denying any impropriety in the fulfillment of its contractual obligation to the CBL, the currency printer disclosed that the 2016 Contract contained the following:

Denomination Quantity (pieces)
L $5 15,000,000
L$10 10,000,000
L$20 10,000,000
L$50 20,000,000
L$10 26,250,000
L$500 2,000,000
Total $83,250,000

Crane further disclosed in its statement that the original 2017 Contract contained:

 

Denomination Quantity (pieces)
L$5 6,000,000
L$10 35,000,000
L$20 50,000,000
L$50 15,000,000
L$100 50,000,000
L$500 5,740,000
Total 161,740,000

Crane is insisting that, “The agreements in writing for additional ‘good banknotes’ increased these originally contracted quantities to the totals actually delivered, as set out in the consolidated response…” and provided copies of signature pages for the two contracts with the CBL.

Liberia Justice Minister Counselor Frank Musa Dean
Liberia Justice Minister Counselor Frank Musa Dean

But the Liberian Government, in its statement, held that, “During the investigation by the Presidential Investigation Team (PIT), the airway and seaway bills, along with the packing lists clearly established that Crane printed 18.6 billion Liberian dollars banknotes, over the 15 billion Liberia dollar banknotes it was contracted to print…” At issue in the biggest financial scandal is the question of who authorized senior bank officials to amend the contract for the printing of additional banknotes totaling $18.6 billion LD.

“The Ministry of Justice also states that Crane Currency’s claims that it did not print and deliver excess Liberian Dollar Banknotes to the CBL is not supported by the facts, as contained in the Reports of The Presidential Investigation Team (PIT) and Kroll Associates, In (Kroll). These claims by Crane are totally without merit, not made in good faith, not supported by the records at the CBL and Crane Currency’s own records, submitted to the PIT and Kroll, ” the Government of Liberia said.

But Crane Currency rejects the PIT REPORT SECTION 5.2.2d and says after conducting its own forensic examination, it was able to identify areas where shipping records do not support the conclusions made in the PIT report. “Crane has conducted a forensic examination of Packing Lists (produced by Crane to notify the customer of what is in the shipment leaving the prints works), Air Way Bills (produced by the Airline to record what should be transported) and Air Cargo Manifests (produced by the Aircraft crew to record what has actually been transported on a particular aircraft)…”

In its attempt to explain the discrepancy in the shipping data, Crane said, “…for the 2017 Contract, the PIT report counts deliveries by two Brussels Airlines flights that were in fact canceled. As a result, the report double counts deliveries (the flights that were canceled and the flights that actually happened) and overstates the total number of banknotes delivered to Liberia by 2,645 (Two Million, Six Hundred and Forty Five Thousand) Liberian Dollars. Records of Air way and sea way bills were included in Crane Currency response to buttress its assertion that it undertook the two contracts as agreed.

Between 2016 – 2018, a total of twenty shipments which included the physical movements of Liberian banknotes to the CBL were conducted. There were six shipments for the 2016 Contract; 2 by air and 4 by sea and 14 shipments for 2017 Contract: 7 by air and 7 by sea. On the question of whether the CBL received the twenty shipments of banknotes, Crane Currency explained that freight company would be the entity to confirm delivery to the destination in Liberia.

Accused and Indicted Liberia Central Bank Officials
Accused and Indicted Liberia Central Bank Officials

A former Executive Governor of the Bank Milton Weeks and a current Deputy Charles Sirleaf along with another CBL official Dorbor Hagba were arrested and jailed shortly after the release of the Kroll and PIT forensic reports and implicated in the overprinting. They are free on bail pending trial.

“The Ministry of Justice wishes to emphasize that after receiving Crane Currency’s reaction to their Reports, both Kroll and PIT have stated that they stand by their Findings regarding the printing of excess Liberian dollar Banknotes by Crane Currency,” the Government of Liberia said.

The big financial scandal has damaged confidence and reputation of the Government of Liberia and Central Bank. The case goes to trial in May at the Criminal Court C in Monrovia.

It is unknown if Crane Currency will appear to answer the charges laid by the Government of Liberia.

By Emmanuel Abalo

West African Journal Magazine

Liberia: CBL Quietly Appoints New Executive Director

Monrovia, Liberia – April 3, 2019: The Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) has a new Executive Director.

Jay Gbleh-bo Brown of CBL
Jay Gbleh-bo Brown of CBL

He is a bank insider who was promoted from the position of Deputy Director of Insurance in the Regulations and Supervision to the position of Chief of Staff equivalent to the rank of Executive Director.

A press statement issued on Tuesday by the country’s Central Bank says Mr. Jay Gbleh-bo Brown has held other positions at the bank including Deputy Director for Policy & Regulation (2017), Assistant Director – Regulations & Supervision Department (2015-2016), and Bank Examiner (2009-2014).

Mr. Brown has also served as Chair of the Financial Inclusion Working Group and represented CBL at various regional and international meetings, including the statutory meetings of the West African Monetary Zone and the IMF/World Bank Spring.

The CBL says his duties will include ensuring “that all meetings, programs and other activities of the Executive Governor are properly arranged, and appropriate follow-ups made, while as Deputy Officer-in-Charge for Operations, he has the authority to co-sign with the Officer-in-Charge for Operations on CBL’s operational and administrative matters.”

Building of Central Bank of Liberia (CBL)
Building of Central Bank of Liberia (CBL)

The appointment of the Bank official follows the disastrous recruitment attempt earlier this year of a ruling Congress For Democratic Change (CDC) party political appointee Hamed Sifonic , formerly known as Sidiki Fofana.  He was appointed as Executive Director.

But the West Africa Journal Magazine, through extensive investigation, discovered Sifonic submitted fraudulent academic credentials to the Management of the Central Bank which also conducted its due diligence Since Sifonic was still in his probationary period, the Bank quietly revoked his appointment. The position had been vacant since until now with the appointment of the new Chief of Staff and Deputy Officer-in-Charge for Operations Mr. Brown.

The Liberian Central Bank’s image has been battered by a major scandal which it still trying to recover from. Two individuals, including a former Governor and a current Deputy, were indicted, arrested and detained briefly following the release of two forensic audits in which they were allegedly implicated. Former Bank Governor Milton Weeks and Deputy Governor Charles Sirleaf are out on bail pending prosecution by the Government of Liberia.

The new Bank official Mr. Brown’s appointment takes immediate effect, the press statement said.

By Emmanuel Abalo

West African Journal Magazine

 

Liberia Cancels $80K Lobbying Contract With US Based Firm; Owes Firm Owner

New York, New York USA – March 14, 2019: A lobbying and public relations agreement with a New York based government and public relations firm in the United States has been unilaterally cancelled by the Government of Liberia.

The Friedlander Group Logo
The Friedlander Group Logo

In an interview on Thursday with West African Journal Magazine, Mr. Ezra Friedlander, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and founder of the Friedlander Group, disclosed that he no longer represents the Liberian Government and that his representation ended in the first quarter of 2018.

According to Mr. Friedlander, he was informed by former Liberian U.S. Ambassador Lois Brutus that the Government of Liberia was no longer interested. An agreement between the Liberian Government and the Friedlander Group was signed on February 5, 2018.

The agreement stipulated that the “ Friedlander Group will organize the establishment of the Friends of Liberia Congressional Caucus that would act as the “voice” of the nation of Liberia in coordination with the Embassy of Liberia to provide, translate and highlight the Pro-Poor Agenda of the Government of Liberia.”

Part of the effort of the lobbying agreement stated, “ It is discussed and agreed that the Caucus Chairs will extend an invitation to by the Caucus as well as facilitate an official White House invitation to President George M. Weah to visit Washington on a State, official or working visit by mid-year 2018…”

Friedlander CEO Ezra Friedlander and Former US Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton - File PhotoThe CEO of the Friedlander Group said his organization had begun lobbying work and even established a bi-partisan group of Congressional Caucus known as “Friends of Liberia” and that a date, hall and time of the announcement of the launch was scheduled to be made in Washington DC when he received word from the Liberian Embassy to halt everything. Mr. Friedlander said it was explained to him that the decision of the Liberian Government to halt the official launch of the Caucus was due to “technical issues” such as inability of members of the Liberian Senate to attend due to visa issues in Liberia.

Influential bi-partisan members of the U.S. Congressional Caucus would have organized meetings with their Liberian counterparts, as part of the lobbying efforts which were to be undertaken by the Friedlander Group, the agreement said.

He said he was only paid $20,000 out of the $80,000 agreed payment and the Government of Liberia has refused to pay the balance after abrogating the contract. Mr. Friedlander said he decided not to pursue legal suit against the Liberian Government because of his deep admiration for the people and country.

According to the CEO of the Friedlander Group, during negotiations for the lobbying contract, former Ambassador Brutus explained that Liberia was not an affluent country and needed help on the contract fee and the two parties settled on a fee of $80,000 for the duration of the contract which was for a year and half of lobbying work beginning in 2018.

He dismissed any assertion that the contract was worth millions of dollars.

Mr. Friedlander said his firm would have engaged the U.S. Government on the Deferred Enforced Departure (DED)expiration which thousands of Liberians are current facing come March 31, 2019. His firm was prepared to make the case to Congressional Caucus members to assist Liberia as part of its “moral obligation”, given the historical ties that both the U.S. and Liberia share.

He said it was his hope that the GOL would re-consider its decision to abrogate the public relations and lobbying contract and re-engage with his firm in-order to begin the process of helping Liberia reach out to influential members of Congress. According to Mr. Friedlander, this was a “missed” opportunity for Liberia.

Ezra Friedlander Meeting Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi.pngLieThe Friedlander Group represents over a dozen profit and non for profit entities in the legislative, world, city, state and federal levels. The firm recently met in Cairo with Egyptian President and current Chairman of the African Union Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi.

According to the Open Secrets.org website, The Friedlander Group in 2018 raked in $71,800 with the highest income from Liberia for $40,000. Documents in the possession of West African Journal Magazine show that the Government of Liberia spent $10.29 million in 2017 and $4.5 million in 2018 on Lobbying efforts in the U.S. but it is unclear what the tangible returns were for the poor West African country for payments of such amounts.

The lack of strategic inroad in the Trump Administration  explains why Liberians have been questioning the “delay” in President Weah’s official visit to the United States since his inauguration in January, 2018. Liberians and supporters of the CDC led government view such a visit as one visible signal of support for the Weah Administration.

The Friendlander Group Documentation
The Friendlander Group Documentation

There were several hints of pending official visit of the Liberian President to the White House last year which ultimately did not materialize and it is unclear when such a visit would occur and under what conditions.

Economic and scandalous financial challenges are now dogging the Weah Administration which is struggling to attract much needed international assistance and investors.

 By Emmanuel Abalo

West African Journal Magazine

Liberia: New Dubai Billionaire Investor Has “Controversial Past” In Ghana

Dubai and Monrovia – March 13, 2019: A would-be investor from Dubai, the United Arab Emirates who is reported by the Government controlled Liberia News Agency (LINA)  on Tuesday, March 12, 2019 to have entered into a Memorandum of Understanding investment agreement with Liberia in the areas of “energy, mining, infrastructures and other crucial sectors” is linked to a report of controversial dealings involving then former Ghanaian President John Mahama.

Sheik Ahmed Dalmook Al Maktoum of Ameri Group LLC

In an investigation conducted by the West African Journal Magazine into the business dealings, it was uncovered that a Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang( VG) reported in November, 2017 that former Ghanaian President John Mahama, in July, 2017, traveled to the southwestern African nation of Namibia to meet representatives of Sheik Maktoum. 

Former Ghana President John Mahama

The paper reported that, “John Mahama brought the two men representing the sheikh to Namibia – seeking to clinch possible energy deals with yet another African nation: Namibia.

This July, Mahama travelled to the Namibian capital, Windhoek, with employees of the “private office” of Sheikh Ahmed Bin Dalmouk al Maktoum of Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

This company now owns the Ameri Group, also known as the Africa Middle East Resources Investment Group LLC.

According to Namibian officials, Mahama claimed he was in Windhoek as an advocate for the African Development Bank.

At a news conference after Mahama’s meeting with Namibian President Hage Geingob, the former Ghanaian leader appeared with two men professionally based in Dubai.

Until now, it has not been officially known who these men were.

But VG can now reveal their identities:

One was Ameri Group CEO Maher Al Alili, who is also CEO of the sheikh’s private office.

Prior Reporting By Verdens Gangs Newspaper

The other was Mustafa Ahmed, who left behind a business card in Namibia embossed with the logo of the sheikh’s office.

…Not until Mahama’s delegation arrived in Namibia were his mysterious companions presented to the Namibian government, according to Aocham:

– The two gentlemen were introduced by Mr John Mahama (as working for) The Private Office of Sheikh Ahmed Bin Dalmook al Maktoum. They were introduced as Mr Mustafa Ahmed and Mr Maher Al Alili. The names of the two gentlemen or the name of the company were not mentioned in the letter from former President Mahama.

– Among his delegation were these two gentlemen, as well as the former ambassador of Ghana to Namibia, Alhaji A. R. Haruna, Aocham adds, then continues:

– Mahama informed President Geingob that he was in Namibia in his capacity as an AfDB (African Development Bank) advocate for African energy self-sufficiency, and brought UAE representatives to Namibia after they identified the country as one of the most attractive destinations for electricity infrastructure investments.

Since July there has been no further contact between the parties.

One of the men, Mustafa Ahmed, denies to VG that he had a role in the Namibia visit.

– I do not work for his highnesses private office,” he says.

– So what happened in Namibia?

– I advise several groups, not just them, he replies.

– Nothing happened in Namibia, so if you want to make a big story, that’s up to you.

– But the sheikh’s logo and your number appear on the same business card. How do you explain that?

– I don’t know what you are talking about. I have nothing to hide. I know him. I have advised him and advise him, but I do not work for him. I do not have an official position with him, insists Ahmed.

A few days later, the company’s CEO, Maher Al Alili, contacted VG and threatened a lawsuit. In 2015 the company had threatened to sue VG for USD 150 million for its reporting on the controversial electrical power deal between Ghana and Ameri Group.

The company said VG had published false claims about Umar Farooq Zahoor, the man who signed the Ameri agreement and is still wanted internationally.

– Who gave you the right to write about Umar? asks Al Alili, the CEO of Ameri Group, by telephone from Dubai.

– If there is anything wrong with the story we have the option of suing you, he says.

– The company does not want to be open with information or grant interviews with the media.

Al Alili nevertheless confirms that he was in Namibia working for the sheikh’s office.

He refuses to comment on Mahama’s ties to the Dubai company.

– You’ll have to ask Mahama about that, says Al Alili.

For seven weeks VG has tried to make direct contact with Ghana’s former president in order to obtain comment.

His special advisor, the lawyer Joyce Bawah-Motare, confirms that Mahama has received VG’s inquiry.

– Of course. Mr Mahama sees any request that arrives. I am telling you he is not available, and that I will get back to you if he becomes available, the special advisor told VG in mid-October.

VG’s many queries have not been well received by the ex-president’s inner circle.

– He has no obligation to give you an interview. You can’t force Mr Mahama to talk to you. Can you force the King of Norway to give you an interview?

The Ameri Group has repeatedly denied that Umar Farooq Zahoor, the man who signed the controversial energy agreement with Ghana in 2015, is a wanted internationally by law enforcement authorities.

That is not the case.

He is still wanted by the police internationally, Norwegian district attorney Carl Graff Hartmann, confirms to VG.

– We have received a response from the United Arab Emirates stating they will not grant our request for the extradition of Umar Farooq Zahoor, he continues.

That means the UAE refuses to turn over the internationally wanted man, who has a Pakistani passport, to Norway.

Zahoor himself has claimed he no longer works for Ameri Group, though VG has disclosed that he still plays a key role in the sheikh’s private office, which owns Ameri Group.

This was also confirmed by a PR officer at the sheikh’s office.

– Yes, he is working there, said Ahmed al Baloushi to VG.

In September, Zahoor travelled to Pakistan with Sheikh Ahmed Bin Dalmouk al Maktoum and CEO Maher Al Alili to further discuss yet another Ameri-related deal with Pakistani company FWO.

 Zahoor has declined to comment on his professional affairs in Dubai.

– He sees no reason to comment on his working relationships or assignments to a Norwegian newspaper, and it is beyond my mandate as a Norwegian defence lawyer to express an opinion about this,” his Norwegian lawyer, John Christian Elden, writes in email to VG on Zahoor’s behalf.

Zahoor also points out that the Ameri-deal is still ongoing in Ghana.”

The African Development (ADB) at the time denied that former President Mahama was representing them in Namibia, according to the Norwegian newspaper. 

As part of the former Ghanaian President’s engagement with associates of Sheik Maktoum, the Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang (VG) also reported in August, 2016 that former Ghanaian Power Minister Kwabena Donkor signed a $510 million dollar deal with one Umar Farooq Zahoor, a Pakistani Norwegian individual from Oslo who the paper alleged “was wanted by Norwegian and Swiss police for spectacular acts of fraud committed the last ten years…”

Former Ghana Power Minister Kwabena Donkor

The paper reported that when it showed a photo of Mr. Zahoor to the Ghanian Power Ministry official, he responded, “I know him; he is the Chief executive of Ameri Group”.

In a press statement issued later the Ghanaian news website Citifmonline reported that, “UAE-based Ameri Group LLC, has rejected claims that its former CEO, Umar Farooq Zahoor, is a criminal who is on the wanted list of Interpol for financial crimes in Norway and Switzerland.”

A statement signed by His Royal Highness, quoted Sheikh Ahmed Bin Dalmook Juma Al Maktoum, Chairman of the Emirati Company and a member of the ruling family of UAE, as saying Umar Farooq Zahoor,  “is not the same person who signed as witness in the Ghana and Ameri power deal.“

The Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang alleged further that Umar Farooq Zahoor is a well-known name among investigators at the Financial Crime Section of the Oslo Police District.

Citifmonline website reported that, “The deal brought ten turbines to Ghana to generate electricity in order to mitigate the power challenges in the country.

However, the Newspaper suggested a possible inflation of the cost of the turbines by more than 200 million dollars, adding that Ghana is paying $510 million for ten power turbines when the market value of the turbines is $220 million”

But the statement from the Ameri Group said Mr. Umar Farooq served as CEO of the company until lst August 2015, but was never a shareholder or a partner of the company, adding that “Mr. Farooq resigned as CEO in order to pursue other bigger business opportunities. Mr. Ziad Barakat was appointed as CEO of the company and is working in this position to date.”

“The tabloid article targets Mr. Umar Farooq, only wrongly portraying him as the owner of the company, but also tries to malign his character. Moreover, it states that Mr. Farooq attempted to swindle the Government of Ghana through this transaction by inflating the price of the contract. A ridiculous claim since the contract was agreed upon by the Ministry of Power and thereafter, ratified by the Ghana Parliament with full pricing transparency.”

“Another falsehood is that Mr. Farooq, on his own caused the transaction to occur. It is a matter of record that the sole owner of the above mentioned company is His Royal Highness Sheikh Ahmed Bin Dalmook Juma Al Maktoum, member of the ruling family of Dubai UAE” the statement added.

Research Documents Compiled

The Ameri Group  company of Sheik Maktoum was apparently angered by the reporting of the Norwegian newspaper and had threatened legal action. 

LINA reports that, “…The agreement covers foreign direct investment in Liberia and further enhances the bilateral relationship between both countries.

During the International Defense Exhibition Conference last month, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheik Mohammed Bin Zayed al Nahyan, said President George M. Weah holds a “special place in the hearts of my compatriots,” while also expressing his country’s interest to explore investment opportunities here…”

President George M. Weah

The Weah Administration is under serious pressure to halt the deteriorating economy and attract foreign investors who can generate much needed hard currency and jobs for Liberians. 

However, attempts to attract investors have been dismal and two major loans from non-traditional lenders ETON and EBOMAF have failed to materialize. 

West African Journal Magazine has not linked Sheik Maktoum to any illegal activity and can report that the allegations contained in the Norwegian Newspaper Verdens Gang  against Sheik Maktoum have been denied.

The UAE Billionaire has termed reporting of The Norwegian newspaper as “unfortunate”. 

With the heightened focus on dealings of the Liberian government by ordinary citizens, and the controversial business history of Sheik Maktoum, from the reporting of the Norwegian newspaper, any formal business deal with the Liberian Government will be heavily scrutinized for probity. 

By Our Investigators In Dubai and Monrovia

West African Journal Magazine

Liberia’s Offshore Accounts May Be At Risk Of Potential Compromise

The West African Journal Magazine is in possession of a document entitled Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) Offshore Accounts Funds Transfer Details which was easily found on a Miinistry of Finance  Revenue page.

Seal of Liberia
Seal of Liberia

The highly sensitive document details the Government of Liberia account information for the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and account details for Credit Suisse Bank in Zurich Switzerland. Details include routing numbers from each account and Swift Codes.

A Swift Code is an international bank code that identifies particular banks all over the work and it is also known as a Bank Identifier Code (BIC).Usually a Swift Code has 8 or 11 characters. West African Journal can confirm the following:

The GOL Swift Code for its Federal Reserve Bank of New York Account consists of 8 characters while that of its account at Credit Suisse consist of 11.

Federal Reserve Bank of New York
Federal Reserve Bank of New York

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York which, according to its website says, “As part of our core mission, we supervise and regulate financial institutions in the Second District. Our primary objective is to maintain a safe and competitive U.S. and global banking system…”

Building of Credit Suisse Bank
Building of Credit Suisse Bank

Credit Suisse based in Zurich, notes on its website that, “Our strategy is to be a leading wealth manager, with strong investment banking capabilities. We seek to follow a balanced approach to wealth management, aiming to capitalize on both the large pool of wealth within mature markets as well as the significant growth in wealth in Asia Pacific and other emerging markets. Founded in 1856, we today have a global reach with operations in about 50 countries and 46,840 employees from over 170 different nations.”

GOL Offshore Accounts
GOL Offshore Accounts

West African Journal Magazine cannot independently verify the offshore accounts document in its possession and has redacted identifiable information as a precaution and to protect the accounts of the Government of Liberia.

But a U.S. based Liberian financial expert with background and knowledge in and of the U.S. Banking and Financial sectors, who reviewed the off shore accounts document, termed them as “legitimate”.

It is unclear if the Government of Liberia through the Central Bank is aware of the exposure of this sensitive information and whether the information contained in its accounts are still valid.

POTENTIAL RISKS TO LIBERIA

Hacking: The exposure and access of the GOL Offshore accounts information are at risk of hacking by shady individuals and institutions who can then drain the entire account of the Government.

Default: The Government of Liberia is at risk of defaulting on payments  its local and international obligations, if its accounts are compromised.

Terrorism: Terrorists seeking access to funds for facilitate their operations could utilize Government of Liberia compromised accounts to wreak death and destruction against Liberians and allies,  including the United States and European countries.

Credit Risk: Liberia could face years of international credit denial and access to conventional loan facilities due to its poor banking systems and management.

Reputational Damage: Liberia’s image could be further tainted as a risk to the international banking and financial management systems to which Liberia’s banking systems are connected.

Mega Financial Loss: Liberia may lose its entire critical offshore revenue from its compromised accounts.

According to another financial expert whom West African Journal Magazine contacted to review the document, the GOL through the Central Bank is now under obligation to adopt sound practices to address the following areas which pose significant risks to the country’s financial systems and management regime.

  1. Establishment of an internationally acceptable an appropriate credit risk environment;
  2. CBL operating under an internationally acceptable sound credit granting regime;
  3. Installation of a new, credible and untainted Finance and Bank Management administration to begin develop international confidence and good will for Liberia and d
  4. Maintenance of the requisite credit administration, evaluation and strict monitoring process to ensure adequate controls at the Central Bank
Finance and Planning Minister Samuel Tweah
Finance and Planning Minister Samuel Tweah

It can be recalled that last December, a fraudster from Sierra Leone attempted to transfer millions of dollars out of the account of the Government of Liberia because he was able to trick the country’s Finance Minister Samuel Tweah into disclosing Government’s swift code and account information.

It is unclear how many senior government officials have system access, security, authority and clearance to Government’s Swift Code and Account information to avoid the potential for theft of Government’s offshore accounts.

Central Bank of Liberia Governor Nathaniel Patray
Central Bank of Liberia Governor Nathaniel Patray

The reputation of the CBL is in tatters following a series of damning scandals including the “missing billions”, the publication of incorrect financial information on its website and the arrest, detention and pending prosecution of some former and current officials for the roles in the “overprinting of banknotes” and the inability of the bank to account for missing monies.

The Kroll forensic audit indicted the CBL for having poor financial and record keeping systems.

Widespread corruption and lack of proper financial defense mechanisms have plagued the impoverished country Liberia for decades.

A second investigation has been ordered by the Liberian President into the “mop-up” exercise during which the country’s Finance Minister Samuel Tweah admitted that about $25 million USD was infused in the Liberian economy using untraceable and un-registered local money changers.

 

By Our Economic Correspondent in Monrovia

West African Journal Magazine