US sanctions Liberian officials over high-ranking corruption

The US has imposed sanctions on three high ranking Liberian officials, including the managing director of the National Ports Authority (NPA).

The US Department of the Treasury named Minister of State for Presidential Affairs Nathaniel McGill, Chief Prosecutor Sayma Syrenius Cephus and NPA managing director Bill Twehway. The three, the US said, were involved in “ongoing public corruption in Liberia”.

“Through their corruption these officials have undermined democracy in Liberia for their own personal benefit,” said Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson.

McGill, also the chief of staff to President George Weah, has paid bribes and received bribes, the US said. He manipulated public procurement and has used government assets for personal gain, it continued.

The official also “made off-the-books payments in cash to senior government leaders and organised warlords to threaten political rivals”.

The US went on to say Cephus had received bribes from alleged criminals in order to drop cases. The prosecutor has shielded money laundering and blocked investigations into members of the government, it continued.

Twehway has diverted $1.5 million in vessel storage fees from the NPA to a private account, the US said. He is also accused of creating a company to which he awarded a contract for loading and unloading of cargo at the Port of Buchanan.

Worsening corruption

The sanctions prevent the three from dealings with US citizens, including property. Financial institutions are also prevented from dealing with those sanctioned.

“All three of these individuals have contributed to Liberia’s worsening corruption,” said the US Department of State. “These designations reflect our commitment to implementing the United States Strategy on Countering Corruption and to partnering with the Liberian government and people to help the country chart a better course forward.”

A report from Enact, in June, said problems in Liberia were mounting. “Corruption, unconnected from larger political goals, has become increasingly brazen,” the report said.

Liberia will hold elections in late 2023. President Weah is due to run for re-election.

The country is offering blocks in the Harper and Liberia basins through a direct negotiation process. This closes on November 30 this year.

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