MONROVIA, Liberia – Cash strapped Liberia struggles to identify ghost beneficiaries of the estimated US$34.5 million dollars siphoned from lease proceeds paid by the United Nations Peacekeeping and Monitoring Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) for the Pan Africa Plaza Building over a period of 12 years.
The Pan African Plaza in Liberia is a prime government real estate in the Liberian capital Monrovia. The building was constructed during the administration of the late Liberian President Samuel K. Doe, Sr. as part of the bilateral ties between Libya and Liberia under the auspices of the Libyan African Investment Company (LAICO).
The Libyan African Investment Company (LAICO) was launched in 1990 under provision No. 660 of the Libyan government and was later acquired by the Libya Africa Portfolio (LAP) in 2006, with a share capital of 992,912,800 Libyan Dinars.
As a state-owned corporation, that replaced the dissolved, state-owned Libyan-Liberian Holding Company (LLHC) as owner/manager of the Pan African Plaza, in which the Governments of Libya and Liberia hold 50-50 interests, proceeds from the building rental should go into the revenue of the Liberian government. However, such proceeds have not gone into the Liberian government revenue since 2006 but rather into the personal bank accounts of certain unnamed individuals connected to the UP-led Liberian administration until 2018, and prior to that, to the Gyude Bryant’s interim government.
This all allegedly began when Mr. Jacques Klein, then the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in Liberia in 2003 – 2006, and head of UNMIL while searching for rental offices for UN Peace Keepers and other UN agencies, negotiated a lease agreement with the purported “owners” of the Pan African Plaza.
Upon signing the so-called leased agreement, UNMIL allegedly started paying US $2.8 million per year, amounting to a total of US $34.5 million dollars by the end of 2018.
From mid-2003, the interim government of Chairman Gyude Bryant allegedly used part of the leased funds to support the activities of the transitional government until presidential elections were held in 2005, leading to the inauguration of the Unity Party (UP) –led government.
According to ongoing investigations, former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in 2006 took the following actions regarding the Pan African Plaza Building as president:
- Dissolved the 100% Libyan-financed Libyan-Liberian Holding Company (LLHC) and took complete control of its assets, the Pan African Plaza, the 8-story building at 1st Street, Sinkor, Monrovia; and
- Then established a new company, the Pan African Real Estate Corporation (PAREC), seemingly, owned by some unidentified companions of Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf & company but also governed by non-disclosure (of identities of shareholders) contract.
This was confirmed by Ms. Leigh Robinson, Head of UNMIL Public Information Office, who wrote in a response to a prior investigation that “UNMIL rents the Pan African Plaza (PAP) from the Pan African Real Estate Corporation (PAREC), a company registered under the laws of Liberia. Amongst other things, the Government of Liberia is a significant shareholder in PAREC. .UNMIL has rented PAP since 2006. The rent that UNMIL pays to PAREC is governed by contractual confidentiality – which is yet to be known.
The ongoing investigation revealed that the Pan African Real Estate Corporation (PAREC), which replaced the dissolved Libyan-Liberian Holding Company, had its offices at “N/N 7th Street, Sinkor.”
In 2018, an email from Liberia Revenue Authority’s (LRA) Communication & Public Affairs Manager, D. Kaihenneh Sengbeh, read: “This property (Pan African Plaza) is not in compliance with its real estate tax liability nor withholding on rent. The building is currently occupied by UNMIL, and it is difficult to access the premises by enforcers to enforce the tax laws. This challenge/impediment is attributed to the reference to the Geneva Convention of 1946 on the work of the UN and their diplomatic immunity.”
To date, the private ghost receivers of the US$34.5 million dollars from the leased funds deposited by UNMIL remained unidentified as Liberia faces significant economic problems.