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Verdier, Koffa and Cherue Mum on US$18 Million Road Construction Scandal

Photo: Justice Minister Fred Cherue, President Sirleaf, and SPTF Chairman Fonati Koffa

LIBERIA, WEST AFRICA –Prosecutors and anti-corruption agencies in Liberia are dumb-founded about an alleged corruption case involving $18 million United States dollars siphoned out of the country into what sources described as the “personal saving accounts of influential and well-connected Liberians.”

Globe Afrique has uncovered an organized corruption scandal involving an ex-Nigerian soldier, Tony Lawal, who along with certain Liberians in high places set up bogus companies to obtain government contracts, funds and launder money outside of the country.

Tony Lawal, left, shakes hands with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

According to Globe Afrique’s research and analysis (GARA) initial information gathering, one of Tony Lawal’s businesses, Pealat Construction Company, without any bidding process, secured an unsolicited contract worth an estimated $18 million United States dollars to carry out a purported road construction work in Bomi and Gbarpolu counties, linking Bela Yallah with other bigger towns in the western region of the country.

Lawal, who served as CEO of the faked construction company, used about half a million United States dollars for office, used construction equipment as well as storage and operations center in the Liberian capital, Monrovia.  The rest of the funds was laundered outside of the country into foreign banks accounts of select individuals, leaving vulnerable Liberians in more abject poverty and hardship in Bomi and Gbarpolu counties where road inaccessibility has become a major issue and concern for farmers, traders, commuters, and others.

Lawal, who has no background in engineering, has since fled Liberia to his native country Nigeria.  When Globe Afrique uncovered the details of the case and traced Tony Lawal, his spokespersons cast the responsibility for the company’s inability to fulfil its contractual obligation on some Liberian officials, including Mrs. Jennie Johnson Bernard, the chairperson of the John F. Kennedy Medical Center’s board of directors and Liberian public healthcare delivery system, and elder sister of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Lawal’s spokespersons in Nigeria also accused some officials of the Liberian ministry of public works and the Public Procurement and Concession Commission as well as agents within the Central Bank of Liberia and the finance ministry as being a part of the failure because they too shared in the scandal.

James Verdier, chair, LACC

According to the spokesperson, “When a contract is awarded and officials take almost 90 percent of the funds, what do you expect to happen.  Mr. Lawal owns the company but majority of the contracts funds went to Liberians in positions of power, with authority and influence.”

Since Globe Afrique uncovered these irregularities and issued several publications, the leadership of the Liberian ministry of justice headed by Justice Minister Fred Cherue, the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LAAC) headed by Chairman James Verdier, and Special Presidential Taskforce (SPTF) to investigate high-level corruption cases and scandals headed by Chairman J. Fonati Koffa have remained mum and non-existent regarding the suspected public theft case.

Estrada Bernard and his wife Jenine Johnson Bernard seated at the front

Even both the Liberian Senate and House committees with oversight on public works as well as on the public procurement and concession are AWOL on the scandal.  The main concern or question is: why hasn’t the LACC, the Ministry of Justice and overly aggressive Special Presidential Taskforce taken any concrete action on this information?

Globe Afrique has attempted on several occasions to reach out to Mrs. Jennie Johnson Bernard who is believed to be currently visiting the United States and living at her porch residence in Long Island, New York but no avail.

Mahmud Thiam, ex-Guinean mining minister jailed in New York for economic crimes committed in Guinea

Meanwhile, ‘Kleptocracy tour’ intends to partner with Globe Afrique in uncovering stolen wealth from Africa and how it is used to purchase luxury properties abroad.

The ‘Kleptocracy tour’ comprises anti-corruption campaigners in the British capital who recently organized a bus tour designed to expose money-laundering by foreigners, mainly African officials, and their family members.

Recently, a Guinean ex-mining minister, Mahmud Thiam, was arrested and sentenced in New York for embezzling over $7 million United States dollars from his country through kickbacks.

A top foreign policy official told Globe Afrique that by exposing and going after the assets of Africans who have stolen from their people will address the issue of corruption.

According to sources in the White House, US president Donald J. Trump, Sr. has begun entertaining the willingness in curtailing the migration of stolen wealth from Africa by enforcing accountability and various forms of legal and policy processes, including the denial of visas and residency to officials accused of economic crimes in Africa.

In a recent public speech, Trump referred to African leaders and bureaucrats as “stupid” and “criminals.”   Saying, ‘They steal from their people and countries and bring the money here (USA) to buy things and live well.”

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Ben Mabande

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