MONROVIA, Montserrado â€“ The technical committee of the President Investigation Team tasked with investigating the circumstances around the allegedly missing billions in new banknotes has released its report to the public, recommending that all current Liberian dollar banknotes (new and old) be removed from the market and replaced.
The team was commissioned by President George Weah to investigate the circumstances involving the printing and importation of banknotes from January 2016 to August 2018. A parallel effort sponsored by USAID had released a report conducted by Kroll Associates on February 28.
Alex Cuffy, a member of the investigation team and head of the Financial Intelligence Unit, presented the summaries of the findings at the Ministry of Informationâ€™s regular press briefing on February 28. The full report was released on the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commissionâ€™s website on March 2.
The government-commissioned report concluded that no money was missing during shipment into the country â€“ the report verified that all new banknotes printed and imported in the country were received by the Central Bank of Liberia and placed in their vault. The USAID-sponsored report had reached a similar conclusion.
However, the government report noted that the Central Bank did not follow the proper procedures and law in getting printed bills authorized.Â While the printing and importation of L$5 billion were authorized by the National Legislature through a resolution issued by both lower and upper house, the Central Bank awarded the contract to Crane Currency even before the authorization was received from the legislature.
Additionally, the legislature never authorized the additional L$10 billion that was printed in 2017. Instead, the report noted that the Central Bank had relied on letters from the chief clerk of the House of Representatives and the secretary of the Senate, in addition to a resolution from its Board of Governors. Neither individuals nor the board has the authority to approve printing and importation of money, the report noted.
The report also noted that there was L$146,250,000 in banknotes printed in excess of the L$5,000,000,000 authorized by the National Legislature in 2016. Additionally, Crane Currency received an overpayment of US$401,469.58 more than specified by the contract it had with the Central Bank. The Bank had no documents justifying the overpayment.
A similar situation occurred with the printing of the additional L$10 billion. In that case, the report said an additional L$359,750,000 was printed. Again, Crane received an overpayment of US$433,898.14, outside the terms of the contract.
The report also addressed the â€œmop-upâ€ exercise instituted by the government to limit increasing inflation, noting that there were no standards in place to ensure that only legitimate banking institutions and licensed foreign exchange bureaus or sale auction. As a result, the process may have been used as a platform for â€œillegal business dealers to clean their illegal money,â€ the report noted.
Particularly concerning in the report was the findings that some businesses received significantly lesser amounts than was reported by the Central Bank. For example, Union Local Forex Bureau, located on Carey Street, received a total of US$5,500 when the Central Bankâ€™s records show that it received US$161,900.
While the report recommended legal actions against Charles Sirleaf, the former deputy governor;Crane Currency, the former executive governor; Dorbor Hagba, the director of finance and banking; and two other Central Bank employees, Richard Walker and Joseph Dennis, the report recommended no action against Finance Minister Samuel Tweah or the current Central Bank executive governor Nathaniel Patray. Both men headed â€œmop-upâ€ exercise. Instead, the report recommended that a forensic investigation of the exercise be conducted, citing the temporal and financial constraints of the report.
Feature photo by Ida Reeves