MONROVIA, Montserrado – In the wake of the alleged disappearance of billions of dollars in newly printed Liberian banknotes, the speaker of the 54th National Legislature, Bhofal Chambers, says former president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is a person of interest.
Speaking in Monrovia on Friday, September 29, Chambers said he believes that the former president can help the Liberian people understand the facts surrounding the printed banknotes.
“When the time reaches, lawmakers will call her,” he added.
Members of the 54th National Legislature are expected to reconvene on October 15 to investigate the case.
On September 13, a local daily reported that agents of the National Security Agency and Liberia National Police had raided the offices of the Central Bank of Liberia in search of information that could lead to the L$9 billion (US$58 million) that went missing from the Freeport of Monrovia on March 31, 2018, after arriving in a container.
The report drew further attention from the public and on September 17, Justice Minister Musa Dean issued a press statement confirming that on August 8, 2018, a presidential investigating team comprising the Liberia National Police, National Security Agency, and the Financial Intelligence Unit had been constituted and mandated to investigate information surrounding the arrival of containers and bags of monies into the country through the Roberts International Airport in Margibi and Freeport of Monrovia.
Dean said initial findings indicate that the containers and bags of money allegedly arrived in the country between November 2017 and August 2018.
“Evidence available to the investigation team has established that the current administration was not informed about the arrival of the containers and bags of monies into the country,” the justice minister said.
Dean further said the investigation is ongoing and active and that information would be released to the public in keeping with the need to preserve the sanctity of the investigation to ensure that professional standards are not compromised.
Government officials have been giving contradictory accounts and the figure of the allegedly missing amount has shifted from L$9 billion to L$16 billion. The figure was again revised to L$15 billion by Finance Minister Samuel Tweah, who blamed the media for distorting the number.
Chambers, the House speaker, said the Central Bank entered into a contract on June 12, 2017 with Crane to print additional L$10 billion in banknotes in Sweden. He denied that the legislature had approved that amount.
“I must say unequivocally that the 53rd National Legislature never gave any authorization to any institution including the CBL to enter into any contract to print additional L$10 billion banknotes,” he emphasized.
“We are only aware of the printing of the L$5 billion,” he said about the April 21, 2016 resolution signed by lawmakers.
However, the former president, Sirleaf, has said that the legislature provided the proper approval for both amounts of money printed.
However, Chambers said her statements needed clarity: “The former president has the right to say what she said but they were not properly guided.”
“I think Sirleaf can help guide the process because it was under her administration that these acts originated,” Chambers added.
However, Chambers did not address a released document that shows that both the chief clerk of the House and the secretary of the Senate requested in July 2017 that the Central Bank “replace the legacy notes (Liberty) completely with the newly printed banknotes so that there will be a single type of Liberian currency.”
The letter further requested that the Central Bank provide the legislature with information on the volume and denominations of the replacement banknotes.
Unlike in 2016, no document has surfaced that contains the signatures of lawmakers who approved the July 2017 decision.
Featured photo by Zeze Ballah