CorruptionIn the News

Liberia’s finance minister, others likely to face U.S. money laundering charges by FBI

NEW YORK, USA––As Liberia’s economic crisis worsens and budget shortfall looms, the country’s finance minister, Samuel Tweah and others are closer to face US money laundering charges for failing to account for $25 million United States dollars which the Liberian government claimed it infused into the country’s economy to address inflation.

Sources say there is also outside push from interest groups for the United States government to restrain international development support to Liberia unless President George Manneh Weah and his government institute broad-based changes and hold accountable violators of wrongdoing and officials who have abused their positions to amass wealth as well as those found to have committed economic crimes and human rights violations.

The issue of the $25 million United States dollars emerged during a recent report on an alleged missing $16 billion Liberian dollars from the country’s central bank.

The report said Liberia’s central bank illegally ordered three times the number of banks notes it had been authorized to print and for which officials at the bank and the country’s ministry of finance cannot account for.

U.S.-based international investigative firm Kroll Associates authored and commissioned the report after news of the missing money first emerged last September.

According to the Kroll investigation, the bank notes arrived in Liberia between 2016 and 2018.  However, officials at the central bank failed to properly document what was done with them and where the banknotes went to.

The report indicated that most of the bank notes are believed to have been put into circulation without the authorities removing and destroying the old bills they were designed to replace.

Western concerns on Liberia’s economic crisis appear to focus more on the so-called “infused 25 million United States dollars” as well as the $15 and the half billion Liberian dollars because most of the individuals involved in looting Liberia’s wealth and resources have some direct and indirect ties to the United States.  Others frequently convert their illegal wealth and use it in transacting international businesses and investments.

Money laundering is defined as the process of making illegally-gained proceeds (i.e., “dirty money”) appear legal (i.e., “clean”). Typically, it involves three steps: placement, layering, and integration. First, the illegitimate funds are furtively introduced into the legitimate financial system.

In response to mounting concern over money laundering, the Financial Action Task Force on money laundering (FATF) was established by the G-7 Summit in Paris in 1989 to develop a coordinated international response.

A top financial intelligence source in Washington, DC who spoke on condition of anonymity because a convert investigation is underway in Liberia and since money laundering is considered an international crime, said, “criminals and others laundered money because they tried to conceal the origins of money obtained illegally by passing it through a complex sequence of banking transfers or commercial transactions.”

 Implementing such strategies is generally called money laundering. The sources said, after money has been laundered it can be used for legitimate purposes.

He said the fact that the Liberian officials at the finance ministry and the central bank failed and/or refused to provide information and documentation to Kroll Associates regarding the $25 million United States dollars during the company’s investigation into the alleged $16 billion Liberian dollars saga signals a need for serious concern, especially so since the $25 million is US legal tender or banknotes.

According to the website of the Financial Action Task Force, money laundering can occur practically anywhere in the world and poses a serious threat to the good functioning of a financial system, both national and international.

Generally, money launderers tend to seek out countries or sectors in which there is a low risk of detection due to weak or ineffective anti-money laundering programmes. Because the objective of money laundering is to get the illegal funds back to the individual who generated them, launderers usually prefer to move funds through stable financial systems.

The United States and other developed nations as well as the FATF believe the integrity of the banking and financial services marketplace depends heavily on the perception that it functions within a framework of high legal, professional and ethical standards. A reputation for integrity is one of the most valuable assets of a financial institution.  Therefore, any evidence of the lack of such perception or complicity will have a damaging effect on the attitudes of other financial intermediaries and of regulatory authorities, as well as on ordinary customers.

In addition to the efforts by the FBI and Interpol to deal with money laundering, the U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) pursues corrupt foreign officials who plunder state coffers for personal gain and then attempt to place those funds in the U.S. financial system.

According to ICE, since the inception of the Foreign Corruption Investigations Group, the agency has initiated more than 394 investigations, made 216 criminal arrests, secured 277 indictments and seized more than $153.5 million associated with foreign corruption.


Former Senegal’s Foreign Minister Cheikh Gadio charged by US for corruption and mone laundering

In November 2017, the United States charged a former Senegalese foreign minister Cheikh Gadio, 61, with violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, international money laundering and conspiracy, according to the U.S. Justice Department in a statement then.  Gadio was arrested in New York.

In April 2017, a former government minister, Mahmoud Thiam, in Guinea went to trial in New York on U.S. charges that he laundered $8.5 million in bribes he took.


Former Senegal’s Mines Minister Mahmoud Thiam charged by the US for corruption and money laundering
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Ben Mabande

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

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