President George Weah has directed Justice Minister Musa Dean to investigate top former officials including ex-president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s son Robert Sirleaf in connection with Global Witness report alleging corruption.
The UK based natural resource and governance watchdog said in its March 29, 2018 report that the officials received irregular payments from US oil firm ExxonMobil.
The officials include former NOCAL CEO, Randolph McClain; former National Investment Commission chairman, Natty Davis; former finance minister, Amara Konneh; former lands and mines minister, Patrick Sendolo; former NOCAL board chairman, Robert Sirleaf; and former justice minister, Christiana Tah. The officials received US$35,000 each.
Although President George Weah has already commissioned a general concession review, including concessions in the oil sector, these allegations of bribery and misuse of office were deeply concerning, Information Minister Eugene Nagbe said in a statement Saturday in Monrovia.
The Attorney General will investigate the matter and submit a preliminary report to the President within two weeks, the statement said.
“The president said if illegality is determined, those culpable will bear the full weight of the law. He urged all to cooperate.”
In its report, Global Witness said ExxonMobil acquisition of Liberia’s oil basin (Block 13) was fraught with corruption, undermining U.S. anti-corruption laws.
Former Finance and Development Planning Minister Amara Mohammed Konneh has urged the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL) to release to the public the full list of everyone who received bonus payment from the Exxon negotiation.
Konneh agreed he received the money but rejects claims it is a bribe.
I did not at any time solicit or receive money or favor from corporations or individuals seeking relationship with the Government of Liberia, he said.
“The Board of Directors of NOCAL decided it would be fitting to organize a bonus package for all of those who worked hard and long to pull off this deal.”
1. Liberia’s Block 13 was originally awarded to a company called Broadway Consolidated/Peppercoast (BCP) by the Liberian oil agency NOCAL in 2005, and then ratified by the Liberian legislature in 2007. BCP was a Liberian-Anglo company likely owned by Jonathan Mason and Mulbah Willie, who were Mining Ministers in 2005. Global Witness suspects that these officials illegally granted themselves the oil license while holding office, despite Liberian law prohibiting state officials from owning oil licenses. Illegal bribes were later found by a Liberian Government audit to have been paid by NOCAL to Liberian legislators so they would ratify Block 13 for BCP in 2007. Exxon was aware that the 2007 ratification was facilitated by bribes (which the company called “payments”), and suspected that former Liberian officials likely owned the block.
2. When Block 13 was sold in 2013, Exxon obtained 83 percent of the block. Canadian Overseas Petroleum Limited (COPL) obtained 17 percent of the block. The transfer of Block 13 was structured in a way that 100 percent of the block was first transferred from BCP to COPL, and then COPL transferred Exxon its share. Exxon stated in a PowerPoint presentation obtained by Global Witness that it wanted to structure the transaction this way “due to” its US anti-corruption concerns.
3. Exxon has not responded to Global Witness inquiries regarding the Block 13 deal. COPL did respond, stating it was “aware of the allegations concerning Peppercoast’s minority shareholders.” However, the company’s due diligence “found credible evidence that the allegations of impropriety were entirely false,” including that former Liberian officials held Peppercoast shares, and took steps to ensure only the company’s named shareholders received payments. Additionally, COPL stated that the Block 13 deal was structured as a two-step process because the Liberian Government wanted to sign a new oil license with Exxon and COPL rather than amending the license originally awarded to Peppercoast. Three of the officials who received payments from NOCAL in 2013 also responded to Global Witness: National Investment Commission Chairman Natty Davis, Justice Minister Christiana Tah, and NOCAL Board Chair Robert Sirleaf. All three stated that the payments they received were bonuses authorized by NOCAL’s Board of Directors for negotiating a good deal for Liberia. Tah and Sirleaf also stated that all other oil agency staff had received bonuses.
4. The Cardin-Lugar anti-corruption provision, Section 1504 of Dodd-Frank, requires US-listed extractive companies like Exxon, Chevron, and several Chinese oil majors to publish details of the hundreds of billions of dollars they pay to governments around the world in return for rights to natural resources. Section 1504 has inspired 30 other countries around the world – Canada, Norway, the UK, and the other 27 members of the European Union – to adopt laws requiring their oil, gas, and mining companies to disclose project-level payments they have made to governments.