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Journalist Joel Cholo Brooks’ Lawyers Disparaged Tony Lawal’s $10m Lawsuit

Journalist Joel Cholo Brooks

UNITED KINGDOM—-Reports emanating from Liberia say lawyers representing the legal interest of Journalist Joel Cholo Brooks, publisher of an online newspaper, and former Liberia’s correspondent for the BBC’s Focus On Africa,  have disparaged a ten million United States dollars lawsuit filed against the veteran journalist at the Civil Law Court by a Nigerian, Liberia-based fraudulent businessman,  Tony Praise Lawal who has allegedly colluded with some Liberian officials in stealing and laundering more than $18 million US dollars from the Liberian government into private foreign accounts.

Lawal, who runs several bogus companies in Liberia including the utopia Praise Glory Lawal (PGL) Construction Company has filed an Action of Damages for Libel case against Journalist Brooks for exposing a corruption saga in which he (Lawal’s company) colluded with some Liberian officials in exploiting the Liberian government of more $18 million US dollars for construction contracts never fulfilled.

Most recently published series of articles referencing documents from the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC).

In one of the documents, the LACC urged the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP) to deny payments to the Praise Glory Lawal (PGL) Construction Company until what the LACC described as “The ongoing investigation surrounding circumstance leading to the award of the contract to the PGL Construction Company valued at Five Million United States Dollars” was verified.

According to the LACC’s document, dated May 13, 2015 and signed by the agency’s Program Manager/Enforcement Division, which are in the possession of Globe Afrique, GNN Liberia and several Liberian local dailies,  the agency said it had keen interest that “Result from our preliminary investigation suggested that the PGL Construction Company had allegedly received additional one million nine hundred thousand US dollars to rehabilitate the Brewerville–Bopolu road.”

Moreover, reliable sources and the documentation from the LACC point out that the contract was awarded to Lawal’s company without “submission of a Bill of Quantity (BOQ) to the Ministry of Public Works.”

Present condition of one of the roads for which Lawal obtained millions of dollars from the Sirleaf’s government

In view of these allegations and based on documentation provided from the LACC against Lawal’s bogus construction company, journalists from conducted an independent inquiry in order to verify the allegations from the LACC and other sources.

During an assessment and research visit, the journalists also discovered a 5-page document from the Ministry of Finance & Development Planning (MFDP), describing the poor and unprofessional performance of Praise Glory Lawal Construction Company on the so-called rehabilitation work it claimed had been done on the Brewerville –Bopolu road.

The MFDP noted in its report: “PGL is registered under Code F4100 which is for the construction and renovation of buildings, instead of roads and railways.”  According to the MFDP, this statement in the PGL Company’s registration documents undermines and contradicts the rationale behind why the Ministry of Public Works would award road construction contracts to the company.

In another development, findings dated June 27, 2017, also revealed the Verification Committee’s disappointment as to why more road construction contracts were awarded to PGL Construction Company, a non-Liberian owned business that did not bring in its own resources.

According to verification team, “Physical verification established that from Kpo Hill to Bomnoma, there is no clearing of vegetation on the side of the road. From Gandima to Bopolu there is no evidence of clearing of vegetation. We verified twenty-three bridges and eight drainages; out of the eight, six are untouched, there were two drainages constructed by the Company (PGL) with incomplete wing walls causing erosion that undermines the culverts. Bridges on this road are still in a deplorable state, meaning that they were not improved by the Company in accordance with the contract. Approaching Winnie Town, the culverts were poorly done which is resulting in the overflow of the water.”

The government’s Verification Committee membership comprised Ezekiel Korva; acting director of the Accounting Service Unit; Steve Joe, director of the Physical Audit Unit; Juvenal C. Pearson, assistant director of Physical Audit Unit; Gabriel B. Nyenpan, II, Senior Compliance Auditor; Patrick S. Jackson, Senior Compliance Officer; and Sando Adams, Compliance Auditor.

Excerpts of an LACC ‘s report on Lawal’s PGL Construction.

From all indications, PGL defaulted in its contracts agreement signed with the Liberian Government to rehabilitate roads in rural Liberia and leeward counties. Apart from that, the company lacks the expertise and professionals to handle and manage architectural and construction works as well as project management.

The company’s founder and CEO is a former Nigerian military officer who served as an infantry officer in the West African peacekeeping force, ECOMOG, in Liberia.  During his peacekeeping days, he allegedly established strong ties with influential and corrupt Liberians who Globe Afrique’s research has discovered to be using him as a front to launder money out of Liberia in their interest.  These include some members of the president’s family and cronies.

Besides,  PGL Construction Company was set up to renovate homes, not roads. However, Lawal, according to sources, used his connection with influential people close to the Liberian presidency and various government agencies, particularly at the Ministry of Public Works to secure multi-million dollars construction contracts that he and his company have no prior experience and expertise in carrying out.

Present condition of another road for which Lawal obtained millions of dollars from the Sirleaf’s government

Reliable sources and research revealed that Lawal’s PGL Company is a front and vehicle for some corrupt government officials and influential individuals.  These people continue to protect Lawal by using their power and influence in the country.

Meanwhile, residents of the areas where the roads supposed to be renovated are calling on the Liberian government and President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf for explanation and answers but so far, the Liberian presidency which has, over the years, said, corruption was “public enemy number one” has gone AWOL on the Lawal’s corruption saga.

Alphonso Davies, a Liberian engineer based in Florida says he wonders as to why President Sirleaf has not authorized the Special Presidential Taskforce to investigate Lawal and his company. He also expressed disappointment with the country’s Ministry of Justice for failing to act in these cases.  He questioned the integrity and competence of Justice Minister Frederick Cherue in fulfilling his duties and responsibilities as Liberia’s attorney-general after seeing and hearing about all those corruption allegation and looting of the national wealth by foreigners used by some officials of the Liberian government.

Emily Niminie in Columbus, Ohio, said, she believes “If Tony Praise Lawal was a Liberian stealing the Liberian people’s money, President Sirleaf would have set up another task force to burn him in hell. But now that it is someone from another country who perhaps is connected to people close to the president she wouldn’t.”  Emily added, “God will reward Madam Sirleaf for suffering and pains she has caused the Liberian people over the years.”

Alexander Tugbeh in New York, said, “President Sirleaf probably knows about Lawal and his company’s activities and so she cannot do anything.  But it is sad that in a country where kids are dying from hunger and others are unable to attend school, we have a president so callous and really wicked like this.”  Tugbeh said, “Everything and anything Madam Sirleaf does is all about her and nothing else.  She will go down in history as the worst president Liberia ever had.”

Many Liberians in the diaspora expressed absolute disappointment in President Sirleaf.  Most of them said she has not done the country any good if all these allegations are true.

Tracy Momolu, a Liberian female student in New Jersey said considering these allegations and the recent actions and activities of the Liberian leader, especially the way she handled the presidential elections, she has let the women and girls of Africa down.  Adding, “This is not a woman, mother and female leader any young lady or girl needs to look up to.   She is a miserable and selfish individual who has ruined the country for her she and her family selfish interest.  Why isn’t saying anything or taking serious action in this fraudulent case where a non-Liberian gets away with millions of dollars from the Liberian treasury?”

Meanwhile, few international human rights groups and media advocates in the United States and Europe are concerned about the physical well-being and security of journalist Joel Cholo Brooks, considering reports that Lawal once plotted to assassinate a Liberian businessman and yet was let go by the Liberian government to walk free.

Moreover, considering that individuals who have served as whistleblowers against officials and the Liberian government in the past were assassinated in mysterious ways, the advocates are therefore calling on foreign and diplomatic missions near Monrovia to warn the Liberian government against any action that would cause harm to journalist Brooks and all Liberian journalists in the discharge of their duties.

It can be recalled that Michael Allison, a US citizen and attorney, who blew the alarm against corruption and bribery involving the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL) and Mr. Harry Greaves, another US citizen and political critic, who alerted U.S. authorities about sensitive regional security information regarding the conduct of the Association for Constitutional Democracy in Liberia (ACDL) and the start and implementation of the Liberia civil war as well as the ongoing corruption spree in Liberia, were both assassinated mysteriously.

According to several advocates, the Liberian government and President Sirleaf will be held accountable should any harm is caused to the personnel of the LACC investigating the Lawal’s corruption saga and also to journalist Joel Cholo Brooks who is reporting events surrounding the case.  The advocates plan to reach out to the Committee to Protect Journalist and several international human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International to send research teams to Liberia.  The advocates are calling on President Donald Trump and the US Congress as well as the US State Department to place Liberia on the list of failed state and consider serious foreign policy actions to assist the Liberian people.

Meanwhile, the management of GNN Liberia and journalist Joel Cholo Brooks planned to initiate a counter lawsuit against Tony Praise Lawal and his company for defrauding the Liberian people.

Some members of the Liberian diaspora community in the United States, Canada, the UK and Australia said they will also form various groups to bring a lawsuit against Tony Praise Lawal and all those suspected of being involved in the corruption saga, whether they are in Liberia, the United States or Europe.

Another group of American and British activists is forming a movement to help Liberians in the diaspora identify the residences, assets and other properties of corrupt Liberian officials. The group includes some former assistant U.S. federal prosecutors and experienced private investigators. The spokesperson for the formative group told Globe Afrique that their work will be global, tracing stolen wealth and assets belonging to former and present Liberian officials.  The spokesperson, who chose to remain anonymous for now to prevent interference in their formation process, said, they will commence full operation beginning February 2018 to trace all assets belonging to Liberians with the view of recovering stolen wealth.

Most recently, Nigeria, another West African nation recovered more than $100 million dollars in stolen wealth from former Nigerian officials.  But this was successful because the Nigerian judiciary assisted and remained uncorrupted in the process.  Something that some analysts say would be expected from the Liberian judiciary if impunity is to end in the commission of financial and economic crimes in Liberia.

The American and British activist group believes by exposing the homes and other assets of former and present Liberian officials in the US, Canada, and Europe as well as calling for the seizure of those assets, Liberia will stand to benefit.

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Paul Stevens

Paul Stevens is a researcher, media issues analyst and senior contributor with Globe Afrique.
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