Monrovia, Liberia – April 3, 2019: The Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) has a new Executive Director.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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…”
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.”
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.
Establishment of an internationally acceptable an appropriate credit risk environment;
CBL operating under an internationally acceptable sound credit granting regime;
Installation of a new, credible and untainted Finance and Bank Management administration to begin develop international confidence and good will for Liberia and d
Maintenance of the requisite credit administration, evaluation and strict monitoring process to ensure adequate controls at the Central Bank
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.
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.
Monrovia, Liberia – March 1, 2019: West African Journal Magazine is in possession of the Government of Liberia Final Investigative Report Into The Alleged Printing of Sixteen Billion Dollars Banknotes By Authorities of the Country’s Central Bank.
The 57 page Report is included in its entirety for the convenience and information of our readers.
Monrovia, Liberia – February 18, 2019: The fight against public corruption in the West African country of Liberia appears to be a losing exercise in addition to lackluster support from the George M. Weah Administration.
Liberian President George M. Weah – File Photo
Since it’s inauguration over a year ago, no public official has been prosecuted nor convicted of graft by the Administration. The Liberian Government’s pronouncement of fighting corruption in public service has not been matched with concrete support and funding.
Embarrassing National financial scandals including the alleged “missing 16 billion dollars” from the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) and the bribery and extortion saga at the National Housing Authority (NHA) involving the former head take top manifestations of pervasive graft which are yet to be checkmated by government.
Transparency International (TI) defines corruption as, “…the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. It can be classified as grand, petty and political, depending on the amounts of money lost and the sector where it occurs.”
In spite of his call to his own underlings to comply with law and declare their personal assets, President Weah has yet to hold his officials accountable for their failure to do so. Citizens of the poor West African country are yet to receive confirmation of public officials complying with the law.
LACC James Verdier
According to the country’s Anti Corruption Agency (LACC), “The government of Liberia printed into handbill on June 20, 2014, “An Act of Legislature Prescribing a National Code of Conduct for All Public Officials and Employees of the Government of The Republic of Liberia” in line with the 1986 constitutional requirement to curb certain vices which are inimical to the economic and social wellbeing of our common patrimony. Specifically, Article 90 a) & b) of the Constitution highlight those vices while article 90 c) quoted below echoes the antidote to eradicating them: Article 90 c) “The Legislature shall, in pursuance of the above provision, prescribe a Code of Conduct for all public officials and employees, stipulating the acts which constitutes conflict of interest or are against public policy, and the penalties for violation thereof.” The legislation of a national code of conduct after twenty-eight years, since the coming into force of the Liberian constitution, finally created a legal framework through which the conducts of public officials could be monitored, examined and punished in relation to the use and management of public resources. In Part 10, of the Code of Conduct, it is required that every Public Official and Employee of government involved in making decisions affecting contracting, tendering or procurement, and issuance of licenses of various types sign performance or financial bonds and in addition declare his or her income, assets and liabilities prior to taking office and thereafter:
At the end of every three years;
On promotion or progression from one level to another;
Upon transfer to another public office; and
Upon retirement resignation.”
President Weah’s own asset declaration was held behind closed doors and sealed after; a clear failure to be a transparent example. Public officials have openly ignored the asset declaration law and the President.
“Corruption corrodes the fabric of society. It undermines people’s trust in political and economic systems, institutions and leaders. It can cost people their freedom, health, money – and sometimes their lives,” TI says of the cost of corruption.
The LACC’s Investigations of alleged acts of corruption by public officials or recommendations to the Justice Ministry are oftentimes never started, aborted and abandoned; and where cases are prosecuted, lost in court.
Recently, the head of Liberia’s anti graft agency James Verdier, in an interview with a Radio France International, and in a rather bold move, accused the Weah Administration of “undermining ” the fight against corruption.
“ The experience we’ve had in the first half is a bit terrible because we’ve not had funding. We have actually struggled to actually have this Administration put its stamp behind the stamp of corruption and make some bold statements regarding transparency, accountability and ensuring that we can fight corruption.”
In less than a year and while there has been no public disclosure of his assets, President Weah is facing scrutiny and questions over his massive construction of houses in a poor country.
The country which emerged in 2005 from back-to-back wars in the 1990s is struggling to attract and retain critically needed foreign investors and resources to jumpstart the flailing economy.
In 1980, a violent coup d’etat carried out by non-commissioned soldiers was sold as a radical solution to address “rampant” corruption. The civilian President William R. Tolbert was murdered by soldiers led by former junta head and former President Samuel K. Doe.
Flag of Liberia
Nine years later, another charge of runaway “corruption” was laid as the basis for a rebel insurgency against the Doe Government. The war which quickly devolved into an ethnic conflagration was prosecuted by former rebel turned former a President Charles G. Taylor who was eventually forced out of power by rebels opposed to his government and pressure from the international community.
Taylor is a convicted war criminal serving out his fifty year sentence in prison in the UK.
An estimated 250,000 people lost their lives and nearly 1 million others were displaced internally and externally.
The NHA extortion scandal is still pending prosecution after the accused posted bond and were released. Unconfirmed reports, however, say the suspects have jumped bail and have either fled the country or cannot be found.
During his State of the Nation Address to lawmakers and citizens on January 28, 2019, President Weah disclosed that the Investigation Report on the “missing billions” will be released by USAID by the end of February, 2019.
“If it is established that there has been any willful act of criminality, negligence, or malfeasance by anyone implicated in the reports, the full weight of the law will be brought to bear”, President Weah warned.
Just prior to the inauguration of the Weah Administration in January, 2018 Transparency International (TI), the global organization leading the fight against corruption, advanced several recommendations to the Congress For Democratic Change (CDC) led government to tackle endemic corruption and included the following:
1. Ensure the independence of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) and give it direct prosecutorial power to quickly investigate and prosecute corruption cases.
2. Establish specialised anti-corruption courts for prosecuting corruption without delays.
3. Enact a Corrupt Offences Act to clearly define and provide sanctions for various forms of corruption.
4. Enact a Whistleblower Protection Law to encourage more Liberians to freely report acts of corruption and other integrity-related issues.
5. Require all public officials, including the president, to declare their assets, irrespective of their positions or connections to superiors in government. The government must independently verify and publish these declarations of assets.
5. Review and impartially implement reports and recommendations by integrity institutions in a timely manner, and establish dedicated committees and bodies for investigating fraud and other forms of corruption.
6. Audit the legislature just like any other branch of government or institution that receives public funds. The 52nd and 53rd legislatures in particular should be audited and any recommendations from the audit report fully implemented and
7. Increase financial support to integrity institutions and enable them to properly function.
A year later, the Weah Administration is still delinquent in the adoption and implementation of TI’s recommendations.
IJG Principal Deputy Executive Director Luigi Spera
Last September, the International Justice Group (IJG) announced that it was putting in place a mechanism to ensure that all those in Liberia accused of war and economic crimes, money laundering etc. will be exposed to the international justice system for tough punitive actions, including asset tracking and confiscation, international arrests, trial, and imprisonment if prosecuted and found guilty.
By Our Economic Editor With Contribution From Our Justice Correspondent In Monrovia
Capitol Hill, Monrovia Liberia – February 12, 2019: An investigation conducted by the West African Journal Magazine reveals that, in violation of the Liberian Constitution, the Executive branch of the Liberian Government has failed to provide expenditure reports to the National Legislature since the inauguration a year ago of the George M. Weah Administration.
The specific Constitutional provision Article 34 states that “…(ii) no monies shall be drawn from the treasure except in consequence of appropriations made by legislative enactment and upon warrant of the President; and no coin shall be minted or national currency issued except by the expressed authority of the Legislature. An annual statement and account of the expenditure of all public monies shall be submitted by the office of the President to the Legislature and published once a year…”
Members of Liberia’s Legislature are failing in their Constitutional duty and oversight to hold the President accountable for provision of the reports which are due quarterly. Four expenditure Reports are now delinquent.
Earlier this month and in open protest, a lawmaker from the southeast administrative district of River Gee County Francis Dopoh II, staged, a “walk out” of legislative plenary session at the Capitol. He later fired off a letter to the House Speaker in which he charged that “…the importance of these financial reports are intended to give this Honorable House an understanding of the performances of various budget lines and to help us guide the direction of the government’s fiscal stance…”
Excerpt of CBL 2018 Revenue Publication
The Liberian Ministry of Finance and Development Planning oversees the budget preparation, execution and reporting processes, in close collaboration with the National Legislature; but has failed along with other government agencies to report to the President and National Legislature for over a year.
Meantime, an inside source at the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA), has disclosed that revenue collected over the final quarter of 2018 is still unaccounted for on the books of the country’s central bank.
Last August, the LRA announced that it actually collected USD $41.48 million, well above the USD $33.7 million which it says it targeted for collection. All revenue collected were within Liberia.
The source who is intimately knowledgeable about the non-reporting of millions of USD revenue still do not show as “inflow” or “deposit” from the LRA and no credible system exist at the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) to transparently account for monies received. The Liberian Financial Statistics bulletin published by the CBL for Sept-October, 2018 reveals Revenue and Non-Tax Revenue sources for the Government for the period between July – October showed a total of an estimated USD $24.4 million.
There is no reporting for the period between October – December, 2018 nor any record of the $$41.48 million reported as revenue collected by the LRA.
The LRA says its mission is to “ professionally, fairly, transparently and effectively collect lawful revenues; facilitate legitimate trade and social protection for the people of Liberia.
CPA Aaron Wleh
A Liberian Certified Public Accountant (CPA) Mr. Aaron Wleh, based in Massachusetts the U.S., when contacted, questioned the accounting and bookkeeping regime of Liberia’s Central Bank. “This is not an accounting error. The monies are either at the bank or missing and squandered and must be accounted for And I don’t see where the Bank believes it has an obligation to accurately report on its books,” Mr. Wleh noted.
A Liberian Management scientist Dr. A. Joel King based in New Jersey, U.S. recommended that the CBL initiate a system to report monthly on its revenue sources, balance sheet and statement of cash. “An accurate system of reporting that meets international best practices is needed at the CBL,’ Dr. King said.
Liberia’s economy is under serious stress and the Government has come under heavy criticisms by citizens and international partners for lack of transparency in the management of resources and pervasive graft.
Most major financial defenses are lacking due to lack of technical capacity and infrastructure which are hampering Government’s ability to improve its financial governance system.
Dulles, Virginia USA and Monrovia, Liberia – February 6, 2019: In its continuing investigation, the West African Journal Magazine has found no academic proof that the newly appointed Executive Director at Liberia’s Central Bank Mr. Sidiki Fofana, now known as Hamed Sifonic in Monrovia, holds a professional degree as he claimed. A check with the National Student Clearinghouse in the U.S. could not obtain any verification of academic credentials.
The Virginia based National Student Clearinghouse is the premier organization in the U.S. that prides itself in reporting, research, verification, transcript, and data exchange demands. It says, its mission is, “to serve the education and workforce communities and all learners with access to trusted data, related services, and insights.”
Verification documentation obtained from the National Student Clearing House, which are in possession of the West African Journal Magazine, show that he enrolled as Sidiki Fofana at the Catholic owned St. Joseph’s University on the outskirts of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania the U.S. between January 1, 2016 and May 15, 2018 but did not graduate with any professional degree, “an enrollment only” entry is recorded for him.
A check on enrollment status at University of Phoenix, a for-profit institution of higher learning based in Phoenix, Arizona, that offers classes primarily online, though it also has campuses and learning centres, showed no record of Fofana ever at that institution.
The Human Resource Department of the Central Bank of Liberia sourced the academic background of Fofana after he claimed he attended the two U.S. based schools . This prompted the West African Journal Magazine’sinvestigation into Fofana’s claims that he holds a professional degree.
Fofana who was named to the senior administrative position in January, 2019, at the Bank is a member of the ruling Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) in the very poor West African country which is dealing with difficult economic problems.
The Board of the Central Bank is yet to approve his appointment, although he continues to serve in the capacity as Executive Director. Senior level employees of the Central Bank including the Governor, his Deputy, and those in operational roles, as would Mr. Fofana, are required to be “persons of good standing and unimpeachable character from the business and academic communities with experience and expertise in business, banking, finance , economics and management…” according to the Bank. Fofana has no professional experience or verifiable academic credentials which he brings to the banking sector in Liberia.
Members of the Board of Governors of the CBL who have the final say on approval of the nomination of Fofana include David M. Farhat, Melisa A. Emeh, Kolli S. Tamba and Elsie Dossen Badio.
The position of Executive Director which Fofana is named to is currently not included in the organizational structure of the Bank. It remains a waiting game as observers maintain a vigil on the pending decision of the CBL Board of Governors on Fofana’s appointment.
Contained in the Act to Authorize the Establishment of the Central Bank which was approved in March, 1999 and under the sub-heading, “Oath of Fidelity”, it states that Every Governor, officer, employee or agent of the Central Bank shall take an oath of fidelity and secrecy in the for prescribed by the bylaws…”
The CBL says, “…it regulates, and supervises the financial institutions in Liberia with the aim of ensuring the safety and soundness of the financial system as a whole…”
Fofana was booked on December 18, 2016 in the U.S. and charged with the misdemeanor of Driving Under the Influence with a high rate Blood Level Alcohol (BAC ) of .10 to under .16 detected by a breathalyzer test. In Pennsylvania, “…The first time you are arrested and convicted for drunk driving in the State of Pennsylvania you will receive 6 months of probation and a $300 fine if your BAC was between .08-.99. If your BAC was from .10-.159 you will receive from 2 days to 6 months of prison time prison, a $500-$5,000 fine and a 12 month driver’s license suspension. One drink equals 1.5 ounces of 80 proof liquor (40% alcohol), 12 ounces of beer (4.5% alcohol), or 5 ounces of wine (12% alcohol). Under current Pennsylvania law, (.08 BAC and higher) is legally intoxicated.
Since it was his first offense, he was diverted to an Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) which is a special pre-trial intervention program in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, United States for non-violent offenders with no prior or limited record. Defendants in an ARD program are placed under supervision.
Magisterial Court documentation from the U.S., in possession of The West African Journal Magazine reveal a very serious offense and charge of Retail Theft of Merchandise by Mr. Fofana on May 29, 2018. He initially pleaded Not Guilty on June 19, 2018 and as of November 21, 2018, pleaded guilty in a Magisterial Court in Pennsylvania. Penalty was imposed and Fofana paid $210.25 and the case was closed.
Shortly thereafter, Fofana moved back to Liberia.
As recently as last Friday, Fofana, in apparent denial of the report of his conviction for retail theft and driving under the influence in the U.S., posted the following to his social media account under the name Hamed Fofana: “Egregious” a common word used in my place of work…Those behind me are dull. Now it’s clear where all this is coming from!”, an apparent attempt to counter the report.
Liberia’s Information Minister Eugene Lenn Nagbe offered support to Fofana in a social media post on last Saturday when he wrote, “Shame on all the prophets of doom…our country is progressing…Live with your false rumors, the facts will keep standing in your faces….”
The CBL official has yet to subject himself to media scrutiny or provide clear documentation to refute the report of his conviction for theft of retail merchandise, driving under the influence or proof of academic credentials (professional degree) to occupy the post at the CBL.
By Our Staff Reporter in Virginia, USA and Investigative Correspondents in Monrovia, Liberia
It now appears it is all but certain that a peaceful protest of Liberians will take place on Monday, September 24 in the capital Monrovia.
Liberia’s Justice Minister Frank Musa Dean
Organizers say that they have held meetings with representatives of the Government to finalize details of the peaceful march to demand accountability for the “missing billions” from the country’s central bank.
A Press Statement from the Ministry of Justice all but confirmed the protest march by citizens and asked residents to go about their normal business on Monday.
The Government, in its release, also advised protesters to “…comport themselves within the confines of the law.”
March organizers say their protest will be peaceful and that they intend to deliver their petition to the local offices of the UN, the EU and the US diplomatic mission in Monrovia.
A former bank Governor Milton Weeks last week denied any knowledge of the missing local currency and says he’s committed to cooperating with Liberian authorities in the investigation of the matter.
The Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) has, meanwhile, confirmed that certain documents have been requested by the investigation team and include, Financial Audited Statements dated December 31, 2016, December 31, 2017 and January 1, 2018 from the Bank’s Ghana based external auditors KPMG, Bank vault local and foreign currency cash balances from January 1, 2018 to present and Liberian Government’s foreign reserve balance held with the Federal Reserve Band of New York since January 1, 2018 to present.
The Central Bank, in a recent undated Press Statement signed by its Governor Nathaniel R. Patray III, said it is fulfilling responsibilities by working with the Investigation team with verification of accounts.
President George M. Weah of Liberia
Shortly before departing Liberia on last Friday to attend the UN General Assembly in New York, he said in a statement, “I asked all citizens to be patient and those involved in the investigation to be corporative. I am confident that in the end, we will come to a logical conclusion into the circumstances surrounding this money and if anyone is caught in any financial malfeasance they will be held accountable to the full extent. I can assure you, my fellow Liberians, proper accountability of the money in question is vital to my government’s ability to improve your lives.
As we accelerate our investigation to which I have invited international partners to join in advising us to ensure transparency. Let’s us remain calm and have faith in the process.
I believe that the mandate I received from you is a mandate to end corruption in public service and I remain fully committed to this task. I promise to deliver on this mandate and I will not let you down.”
The President’s statement did little to assuage angry citizens who say their peaceful protest on Monday is intended to send a “loud message” to demand full accountability for the missing money.
Meantime, President Weah is scheduled to address the UN General Assembly on Wednesday, his first since becoming President of the small West African country in January.