MONROVIA, Montserrado â€“ Justice Minister Musa Dean has recused himself from an investigation commissioned by President George Weah into recent allegations by the U.K.-based corruption watchdog, Global Witness.
The anti-corruption organization published a report that said the acquisition of the countryâ€™s Oil Block 13 in 2013 by U.S oil giant Exxon was a tainted deal that improperly benefitted public officials.
Based on these findings, Global Witness called on the government to investigate current and former officials who may have illegally received the payments, as well as Exxon and the Liberian-Anglo company Broadway Consolidated/Peppercoast to assess whether the companies broke the law, including anti-bribery statutes, and reporting requirements under the Liberian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.
The president instructed Dean to investigate the allegations of bribery and misuse of public office.
According to a Ministry of Information press release, although Weah had earlierÂ commissioned a general concession review, which included the oil sector, the allegations contained in the report were deeply concerning.
In response, Global Witness welcomed the governmentâ€™s concern and pronouncement to launch an investigation into the allegations levied in the report.
However, it warned that conflicts of interest within the Ministry of Justice could undermine the review.
â€œJustice Minister Frank Musa Dean is tasked with heading the investigation, despite posing a clear conflict of interest. Minister Dean was the president of [the National Oil Company of Liberia] in 2005 when the agency awarded BCP Block 13 and was one of the Liberian officials who signed BCPâ€™s contract,â€ it disclosed in a statement issued Sunday.
Global Witnessâ€™ senior campaigner, Jonathan Gant, said while the presidentâ€™s call for an investigation into the oil deal was encouraging, he encouraged the review to be led by an independent investigator, rather than the current Justice Minister.
The group said the investigation must be independent and thorough and asked that the Liberian government hold accountable any individuals or companies that would be found to have broken the law, while also respecting the due process rights of those being questioned.
â€œThe investigation must also be conducted with integrity. For this reason, Justice Minister Dean cannot be involved, given his earlier role,â€ Gant wrote. â€œHe should immediately hand responsibility to an independent investigator who was not attached to the Block 13 award, either in 2005 or 2013.â€
Gant said the recent Global Witness report is Weahâ€™s first test of his promise to fight the countryâ€™s endemic corruption.
â€œCalling for this investigation is a good start. Now the President should ensure it is independent and fair â€“ and it cannot be as long as it is led by Justice Minister Dean,â€ he said.
Meanwhile, the organization is also calling on law enforcement in the U.S., U.K., and Canada to investigate the report.
Dean has said the decision to recuse himself was based on the fact that he served as president and CEO of the National Oil Company of Liberia between 2004 and January 2006.
â€œKindly note that my recusal is intended to avoid any semblance of conflict of interest and to ensure that the investigation is characterized by transparency and integrity,â€ he wrote in the statement.
While he has recused himself, the justice minister, however, noted that all oil contracts awarded between 2004 and January 2006 were done so according to the law. According to him, he obtained the approval of the president to recuse himself from the investigation.
Featured photo courtesy of Zeze Ballah