Corruption and shortsightedness: the weak link for Liberia’s role in a global terrorism financing

LONDON––Over the years, Liberia has been spared terrorist attacks but remains vulnerable due to corruption, the lack of patriotism, short-sightedness, and greed within the Liberian political and economic leadership. While there exists a real, growing threat of regional terrorism due to the operational presence of known terrorist groups in West Africa, the Liberian government is allegedly encouraging would-be financiers of terror groups worldwide to use the country as a means for fund sourcing under the pretext of investments.

An eyewitness account and recent documented revelations that some officials of the present Liberian government have granted several illegal government contracts with serious national and international security implications to middle-easterners largely associated with supporting terror groups remain worrisome to global security analysts in Western nations, notably the UK, Canada and the United States.

The most notable of these contracts is the airport ground handling business deal reached between the Liberian government and a Jordanian group without any due diligence.  The group never existed as a business but was registered in Liberia under the name “Flying Liberia” in order to handle all essential ground handling activities at the Roberts International Airport, the gateway to Liberia’s international skies.  The implication is that terror groups can now have easy access to any and all international flights from and to Liberia via the Roberts International Airport.

The building where all the alleged deals take place to grant access to foreign business owners without due deligence

A top former Homeland Security Department’s official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the stupidity of those signing such bad deals in Liberia is that they are essentially preventing any Western flight from flying to Liberia, especially U.S. and European jetliners.

Experts on terrorist financing say the largest source of terrorists’ income is the illicit drug trade. Many terrorist groups have supported themselves through other illegal commerce as well.  In his book, Illicit, Moisés Naím explains that the terrorists behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing raised money by selling counterfeit t-shirts on New York City’s Broadway, and the perpetrators of the 2004 Madrid train bombings sold counterfeited CDs and trafficked drugs to support their activities. In 2002, federal agents broke up a methamphetamine ring in a dozen U.S. cities that, according to officials, funneled proceeds to Hezbollah.  Hezbollah and other terror groups are also believed to have generated revenue through counterfeiting scams.

Liberia’s Ministry of Finance

Other terrorist organizations attempt to operate legitimate businesses, which generate their own profits and can also be used as a front for money laundering. Ties to terrorism have been found amid the trade of livestock, fish, and leather. Businesses involved in agriculture and construction have also been found to support terrorism. In 2001, the New York Times reported that Osama bin Laden owned and operated a string of retail honey shops throughout the Middle East and Pakistan. In addition to generating revenue, the honey was used to conceal shipments of money and weapons.

Several regions and countries in Africa have provided haven for terror financiers.  Angola has served as a refuge for international terrorist financiers.

According to the U.S. intelligence sources, members of Hezbollah who reside in Angola have used Angolan businesses to finance the terror group. Further, the U.S. government has identified Angola as a transit and destination point for illegal drug trafficking from South America.

For example, financiers of the Lebanon-based, Iranian-backed terrorist group have resided in Angola, using Angolan businesses to aid in financing Hezbollah. In March 2017, U.S.-designated Hezbollah financier Kassim Tajideen was arrested in Morocco on an INTERPOL warrant and extradited to the United States on charges of fraud, money laundering, and violating global terrorism sanctions regulations. Prior to his arrest, Tajideen had lived in Angola since 1990, operating a business empire that he used to contribute tens of millions of dollars to Hezbollah. Tajideen’s Hezbollah financing network included three of his businesses in Angola—Golfrate Holdings Lda, Afri Belg Commercio E Industria Lda, and Grupo Arosfran Empreendimentos E Participacoes Sari—all of which the United States designated as terrorist entities in December 2010. Other Hezbollah financiers continue to reside in Angola.

In 2017, the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (‘OFAC’) designated six individuals and seven entities operating in the financial network of Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based military and political organization.  The designations were made under Executive Order 13224, which targets ‘terrorists and those providing support to terrorism or terrorist acts.

Four Lebanon-based individuals were also designated: Jihad Muhammad Qansu, Ali Muhammad Qansu, Issam Ahmad Saad, and Nabil Mahmoud Assaf, as well as Iraq-based Abdul Latif Saad and Muhammad Badr-Al-Din. All are believed to be acting for or on behalf of Hezbollah member and financier Adham Tabaja or his company, Al-Inmaa Engineering and Contracting.

The seven designated entities in West Africa and the Middle East are Sierra Leone-based Blue Lagoon Group Ltd and Kanso Fishing Agency Ltd; Ghana-based Star Trade Ghana Ltd; Liberia-based Dolphin Trading Company Ltd (DTC), Sky Trade Company and Golden Fish Liberia LTD., and Lebanon-based Golden Fish S.A.L.

‘Hezbollah is a terrorist organization responsible for the death of hundreds of Americans,’ said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.   The Trump Administration is determined to expose and disrupt Hezbollah’s networks, including those across the Middle East and West Africa, used to fund their illicit operations.’

In 2001, Douglas Farah of the Washington Post researched and exposed how the terrorist network led by Osama bin Laden reaped millions of dollars in West Africa from the illicit sale of diamonds mined by rebels in Sierra Leone, according to U.S. and European intelligence officials and two sources with direct knowledge of events, “Al Qaeda Cash Tied to Diamond Trade,”

Investigators in the United States and Europe are still trying to determine how much money al Qaeda derived from its dealings with diamond dealings criminal sects in the sub region.

Few months ago, the UK said terrorists are likely to try to carry out attacks in Liberia. As seen in Mali, Côte D’Ivoire and Burkina Faso, terrorist groups continue to mount attacks on beach resorts, hotels, cafés and restaurants visited by foreigners.

So, why is the Liberian government awarding contracts to individuals and groups that its officials have no clue about?  It’s a time that those in leadership in Liberia understand global issues, especially terror acts and work to prevent it.  In order to better combat terrorism and terrorism financing, Liberia will need to fully enforce its own counterterrorism policies and increase the resources devoted to monitoring and countering terrorism financing as well as empowering local Liberian businesses.

This would also require that Liberian lawmakers exercise real oversight and desist from corruption and complacency or else Liberia will be sold soon.

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Michael Harrington

Michael Harrington is a researcher and senior contributing reporter with Globe Afrique Media.
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