Nigerian Accuses President Sirleaf’s sister in Liberia’s $18 Million Scandal

Mr. Estrada Bernard, legal adviser to President Sirleaf and his wife, Janine Johnson Bernard, elder sister of President Sirleaf

WEST AFRICA – Outgoing Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is eulogized as one of greatest African female leaders the world has ever known but her reign as president of Liberia seems to be demoralized day after day as allegation of corruption, public theft and money laundry continue to gnaw Liberia’s social and political fabric in close-knit areas under her watch.

Some former and current officials of the Sirleaf-led government as well as friends, cronies and family members have evidently become richer by plundering the people’s money in connivance with non-political foreign actors and forces that range from Lebanese business people to other West African deals makers who have grown to the extent of dictating terms to the Liberian Governments.

Globe Afrique’s research and analysis team, in recent months, uncovered the theft of $18 million United States dollars siphoned out of Liberia from the coffers of the Liberian government through bogus road and related construction contracts under the auspices of a Nigerian owned company, Pealat Construction Company, run by a former Nigerian soldier, Tony Lawal.

Lawal, who served in the Economic Community of West African States Peace Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) forces in Liberia, has since escaped from the country back to his homeland of Nigeria.

Ex- Nigerian soldier Tony Lawal

Ongoing research revealed that Lawal, with no background in construction or architectural engineering, was a good friend of Ms. Janine Johnson Bernard who happens to be the older sister of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Lawal allegedly used his well-connected relationship and connections in high places to run several illicit financial dealings in Liberia, including money laundry and drug smuggling.

Revealing information suggests that Lawal was initially used as a conduit to launder stolen funds from Liberia with highly placed and well-connected Liberians involved in several government-related contracts that were never either implemented or completed. To facilitate the corruption and money laundry operations, Lawal and his Liberian benefactors established several pseudo enterprises to give legitimacy to the transfer of funds from Liberia.

As the theft ring grew and more resources became available for personal possession, Lawal and his benefactors organized Pealat Construction Company, of which Lawal was the CEO. The company was then awarded a total of $18 million United States contract in multiple installment for road construction purposes, notably the Bella Yallah road in the Gbarpolu and Lofa counties region as well as other road networks in Bomi County.

To disguise the theft operations, Pealat Construction Company used an estimated $500,000 United States dollars to purchase used construction equipment – machine and vehicles – as well as rent an office space and operational location. The rest of the funds disappeared into what seems to be personal individual accounts while Lawal, and Pealat Construction Company, with support and guidance from the highly placed Liberian benefactors got on the hunt for new government–related contracts to launder more public funds from the country until Globe Afrique’s initiated inquiry caught Lawal’s attention, hence leading to his flight to Nigeria.

As Globe Afrique’s team ongoing investigation continues to pursue Lawal, his spokespersons are now accusing highly connected Liberians as being fully responsible for the breakdown of the company and the disappearing of the funds awarded for contracts.

According to the Lawal’s camp, Mrs. Janine Johnson Bernard, the older sister of President Ellen Johnson and some other prominent Liberians are part owners of his purported companies, including the Pealat Construction Company, he ran while in Liberia. The Lawal’s camp is accusing Mrs. Janine Johnson Bernard as the person knowledgeable in accounting for and knowing where the remaining $17.5 million United States dollars is.

Globe Afrique challenged Lawal to substantiate his claims and accusations against Mrs. Janine Johnson Bernard and some officials he has referenced. Lawal’s camp said the ministries of finance and public works as well as the Public Procurement and Concessions Commission are responsible as well. Globe Afrique also requested that Lawal provides documentary evidence and also return to Liberia and speak with the country’s anti-corruption commission, but he has refused to do so through his spokesperson, citing serious security concerns.

According to Lawal’s spokesperson, “How can Mr. Lawal return to Liberia when some of the main people who took the money are fleeing the country themselves?”

Adding, “In fact, information we have received is that Mrs. Janine Johnson Bernard and her husband as well as the entire family have left Liberia and are now living in Long Island, New York where they own a posh residence,” the spokesperson continued.

Globe Afrique is trying to contact Mrs. Janine Johnson Bernard either in Long Island or in Anchorage, Alaska where the couple has a son who works as a licensed medical practitioner. Unconfirmed sources informed Globe Afrique that Mrs. Janine Johnson Bernard and her family are considering relocating from Long Island, NY to Alaska to maintain exclusive privacy.

To obtain the facts and the other side of the story Globe Afrique is seeking a public response from Mrs. Janine Johnson Bernard and officials of the Liberian ministries of finance, public works as well as the country’s Public Procurement and Concessions Commission. Until then, Globe Afrique will continue to consider Lawal’s revelations as accusations and allegations with serious interest.

Meanwhile, Globe Afrique urges the Liberia’s anti-corruption commission, the Special Presidential Taskforce on Corruption headed by Cllr. Fonati Koffa as well as the Liberian senate and the House of Representatives to initiate investigations into the $18 million United States scandal involving Mr. Tony Lawal and others.

This amount of money could have provided needy support to critical institutions and communities throughout Liberia. On the flip side, the number of poor Liberians for whom life is a daily struggle, this level of economic crime is disturbing despite the attractive rhetoric doled out by the outgoing Liberian president and her international public relations firms regarding progress made in Liberia and in the lives of Liberians.

Since 2006, Liberia has experienced an unprecedented political corruption in which individuals connected and closed to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf have been accused. Political corruption is the use of power by government officials, friends, family members of leaders and cronies for illegitimate private gain. While forms of political corruption vary, it largely includes bribery, extortion, cronyism, nepotism, patronage, graft, and embezzlement.

Corruption may facilitate criminal enterprise such as drug trafficking, money laundering, and human trafficking, though it is not restricted to these activities alone.

Worldwide, bribery and bogus contracts alone are estimated to involve over 1 trillion US dollars annually. A unrestrained political corruption, as we have seen in Liberia, is known as a kleptocracy, literally meaning “rule by thieves.”

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Paul Stevens

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