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Growing frustration with Liberia amongst policymakers in Washington, D.C., and at the United Nations in New York

WASHINGTON, DC ––There is a growing sense of frustration among policymakers and international friends of Liberia with the country’s current leadership and government and this could pose a serious problem for President George M. Weah and some senior officials within his government.

What is more, is that these people all agree that their concerns focus on the lack of responsible governance and the growing atmosphere of hostility, corruption and insensitivity on the part of the Liberian administration.  These, they say, are concerning and serious.

One senior fellow at the Brookings Institution said Liberia has lost a sense of legitimate governance and international credibility since former Liberian president, Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, left office and turned over to President George M. Weah.

Liberians voted for change in 2017 but opposition say Liberia has become worse now than they thought it was under the past government of Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

For more than a year now since President Weah took leadership of Liberia, the country continues to tread downward spiral with one bad and inconceivable news story after another.

There is also an impression amongst policymakers and most international friends of Liberia as well as donor institutions, that the Liberian president and his government can no longer be the voice of a free and democratic Liberia which seeks economic prosperity and development because of the government’s apparent inability to lead properly.

 One official said Washington is much more carefully looking now to what is happening in Liberia, mainly now that rights are being abused and corruption and illicit financial dealings are becoming more and more prevalent and are being discussed in the United States.

A big thing that concerns most international policymakers and friends of Liberia is also the attacks against free speech, especially the intimidation and harassment of the Liberian media as well as the current lack of critical thinking in the administration to improve the social and economic conditions of the country.

One former official at the United Nations said President Weah, who has strong social ties to and in the U.S. should avoid being earmarked by authorities in the United States because that could complicate matters for he and his family personally, either as president or in his post presidency.

The U.S. government has resulted to punishing and is historically known for sanctioning and detaining corrupt current and former leaders of other countries.

Former President Yahya Jammeh of The Gambia and international businessman Dan Gertler, implicated in corrupt mining and oil deals in the Democratic Republic of Congo, were among 13 individuals added to a United States Department of Treasury’s list of those subject to imposed economic sanctions under the government’s Magnitsky Act.

Former Gambian brutal and corrupt dictator Yahya Jammeh with the Holy Quran in his hand as he headed for disgrace and failure during his reign as president.

The U.S. Treasury is also freezing their assets and imposing travel bans.  These actions send a message that there is a steep price to pay for misdeeds and the abuse of power.

“At the direction of President Trump, Treasury and our interagency partners will continue to take decisive and impactful actions to hold accountable those who abuse human rights, perpetrate corruption, and undermine American ideals,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in announcing the sanction some time ago.

Jammeh, currently exiled in Equatorial Guinea, was forced out of office some two years ago after losing the 2016 Gambian presidential election and defiantly refusing to leave for months.

The sanctions determined by the U.S. Treasury are based on more than two decades of human rights violations in the Gambia that included extrajudicial killings of political opponents and widespread repression targeting journalists, rights advocates and others.  

According to Treasury’s records, The Gambia’s former intelligence director, Yankuba Badjie, has also been named to the new list of sanctions.

Meaning officials working in the current Liberian government need to be careful in whatever they do as part of their duties.

Former President Jammeh is also being sanctioned for corruption, including the withdrawal of at least USD$50 million of state funds from The Gambia, the Treasury department said in its release.

In a related development, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) also listed 12 business entities including Kanilai Group International, a Jammeh-registered business investigated in The Gambia for ties to some $35 million missing funds from the country’s social security pension funds.

For his part, Dan Gertler has a close relationship with former President Joseph Kabila of the DR Congo.  Information gathered from the U.S. Treasury says Gertler used his relationship and connections to amass a fortune on minerals and mining rights.

“As a result, between 2010 and 2012 alone, the DRC reportedly lost over $1.36 billion in revenues from the underpricing of mining assets that were sold to offshore companies linked to Gertler,” the U.S. Treasury said.

Also subject to new sanctions was Benjamin Bol Mel, a financial advisor to South Sudanese President Salva Kiir. For a complete list of the additions and the rationale for their inclusion, see this link.

With all these actions, President Weah and his associates should be extremely careful because nothing is out of the reach of international scrutiny, and no one wanted by the international system can go or walk free, especially if U.S. interest and attention are drawn to such activities.

Hundreds of Liberians in the U.S. say the Weah government has shown no engagement in or concerns for their U.S. Immigration plight, especially so when job opportunities are non-existent and economic, security, and social conditions back home in Liberia are terrible.

There are also unconfirmed reports that the U.S. may be looking at individuals with U.S. citizenships in Africa who are amassing wealth, engage in corruption, money laundering and are avoiding or under-reporting federal taxes in the United States.

To date, there has been no reasonable explanation for a purported US$25 million dollars said to be infused in the Liberian economy to curb inflation.  The fact that the funds cannot be properly accounted for and especially since a normal channel was not used to ‘disburse’ the funds which were intended to buy back ‘damaged Liberian legal tender or monies’ from the streets raise concerns about money laundering and terror-financing concerns since the funds involved U.S. currency which is wanted by terror groups in supporting and carrying out transnational crimes.

John Wilkins, a tax accountant and former federal employee in the metro- Washington, DC areas said,  if the Treasury Department includes tax issue, several prominent African officials and business people with U.S. ties would seriously be compromised and affected because most of them evade paying taxes and for those who travel to the U.S. to file their annual taxes returns, they largely under-report their income and wealth.

According to the records from Internal Revenue Service of the U.S. Treasury, a tax fraud is a general term which can trigger many different laws found in Title 26 (the Internal Revenue Code) and Title 18 of the United States Code (or “USC”). The core distinguishing feature of tax fraud is a taxpayer’s intent to defraud the U.S. government by not paying taxes that he or she knows are lawfully due.   

Tax fraud can be punishable by both civil (i.e. money) and criminal (i.e. jail time and money) penalties, with the civil violations primarily in Title 26 and the criminal violations principally in Title 18, respectively, of the USC.  For example, a taxpayer can commit tax fraud and be punished with civil penalties under 26 USC § 6663, without being charged with criminal tax evasion.  

Tax evasion is a subset of tax fraud.  “Tax evasion” is typically used in the criminal context, as in someone who is charged with the crime of tax evasion in violation of 26 USC § 7201.  Tax evasion usually entails a deliberate act of misrepresentation of taxable income to the IRS.  Common examples of acts which could result in a charge of tax evasion are not declaring all your income, deliberately overstating expenses or deductions, or failing to file tax returns when you have taxable income to avoid detection.

The IRS has a program that encourages and protects people who report suspected Tax Fraud and Tax Evasion.  One does not need to have documentary evidence to report Tax Fraud or Tax Evasion.

The IRS Whistleblower Program applies to more than just cases involving tax evasion and tax fraud.  Pursuant to 26 USC § 7623, the IRS can pay an award for information about ANY underpayment of tax.  It does not matter if the underpayment is due to evasion, fraud, an aggressive or negligent application of the law, or even an innocent mathematical error or mistake.  

Wilkins said several Africans could become prime culprits for Tax Fraud or Tax Evasion under U.S. tax laws because of their social ties to the country either by naturalization, residency, business and other ties.

Moreover, in the last few months, diplomatic cables and media reports from Liberia have not be favourable.  Based on these reports, especially international and local media reports and research suggest that the current Liberian government is also becoming very repressive and lacks transparency and accountability.  With such attitude, the Liberian government and officials are risking chances of being under serious scrutiny.

There has been no official word from the Liberian government and the presidency on these issues. n

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Ben Mabande

Ben Mabande is a researcher and senior contributing reporter with Globe Afrique Media.

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