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U.S. Financial Intelligence Services Concerned about US$25 million unaccounted for in Liberia

New York – In the wake of financial and budgetary scandals and the lack of accountability in Africa, international financial security experts say there are possible reasons to fear that the US$25 million dollars which the Liberian authorities claimed its finance ministry infused into the country’s economy without any trace and accountability during its inflationary saga probably fell in the hands of Hezbollah financiers in West Africa .

In early 2018 when the newly inaugurated administration of the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) led government of former international soccer star George Manneh Weah assumed office, investigative news broke out that the Liberian treasury printed an estimated LD 16 billion of its local currency.

Even though the country’s central bank said, the notes were never missing at all.

“Records from Crane Currency of Sweden, which was contracted to print the money, showed that Crane delivered 15.5 billion Liberian dollars through Freeport and Roberts International Airport between 2016 and 2018,” Nathaniel Patray, the Central Bank of Liberia governor, told a press conference last week. “All these monies were logged by the CBL (Central Bank of Liberia) and delivered into the reserved vaults of the CBL.”

During the heat of the money-printing saga, Liberia’s former president Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf furiously denounced the accusation, refuting the allegation that her administration was responsible for the printing of the local banknotes.  Current President George Weah has since launched a special presidential committee made up of representatives from political circles and the civil society and together they invited invited the US FBI to take part.

Finance Minister Samuel Tweah

Adding more fuel to the saga and the inflation it created, President Weah had allegedly ordered the infusion of US$25 million dollars from the Liberian treasury into the economy in a bid to curb the rising foreign exchange rate (the Liberian dollar has fallen 20% against the US dollar this year). To date, commercial banks operating in the country have no record of how that money was disbursed or which businesses benefited.

Authorities at the nation’s finance ministry said it gave the monies directly to “Money Changers” in the streets without providing a list of proof of who those money changers are.  To date, nobody knows where the money disappeared to, and Liberia’s lawmakers have no clue either.

One U.S. Treasury official who spoke on condition of anonymity said, “when a country has an excessively corrupt and dysfunctional legislature like Liberia, transparency, and accountability become non-existent.”

Concerns abound for the infused US$25 million dollars because Hezbollah’s operatives are posing as businessmen in several West African countries, including Liberia, hustling for globally accepted foreign currency such as the U.S. dollars to conduct their affairs internationally.

Liberia’s Ministry of Finance

In a published article entitled, Hezbollah’s operations in West Africa – Blogs – Jerusalem Post in the Jerusalem Post by Rob Dyer, it said that several terror groups’ financial agents own and operate businesses in Africa which they use to fuel resources to their terror networks.  These groups also use an informal economic setting and medium such as black-market money exchange activities to secure foreign currencies.

Because of these reasons, the U.S. Treasury and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) are actively engaged in investigating money laundering and other forms of financial transactions, especially those outside of the United States, beginning with the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on New York City.

To understand the FBI’s role abroad, it is essential to look at how the bureau changed in the wake of the September 11 attacks in 2001. After those attacks, the FBI moved away from its traditional role of investigating domestic crime to a new focus on counterterrorism and intelligence gathering. This transition has been widely documented and is openly accepted by the bureau itself. According to an FBI report on its counterterrorism program after 9/11, an illegal financial transaction is one primary tool used by terror groups to keep them operational.

Therefore, some in the United States and Liberia want a full accounting of the US$25 million dollars the Liberian administration claimed it infused into the economy.  Popular Liberian talk radio show host, businessman and political commentator Henry Pedro Costa in a letter to the country finance ministry challenged the Minister of Finance and Economy Planning Samuel D. Tweah to provide information including the names of those “money changers” who received the funds from the treasury.  To date, the Liberian administration has been unable and unwilling to provide said information.

A top U.S. counter-terrorism says this presents a need for the U.S. Treasury and the FBI to launch a money laundering and terrorism financing investigation, holding the Liberian treasury and finance ministry to account.

For more details on Hezbollah’s financiers’ activities in Africa, read JPOST article by Rob Dyer.

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Ben Mabande

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

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