Few criminal minded Liberians officials and their foreign business allies are main beneficiaries of the country’s estimated US$5.5billion gold deposit, a top official in the erstwhile Johnson Sirleaf administration said Wednesday in the capital Monrovia.
Mr. Samuel Thompson who served as Managing Director of the National Housing Authority told reporters that several former and current officials are secret owners and shareholders of gold mining companies thus facilitating tax evasion, money laundering and terrorist financing.
Liberia is losing millions in foreign exchange earnings annually in gold trade due to state sanctioned corruption, he said.
“Avesoro (formerly Aureus Mining) and the MNG gold mining companies are producing and flying significant quantities of gold out of Liberia every week by helicopter while our currency continues to depreciate.
“Although God has blessed the Liberian people with several large gold deposits, we learned from the Panama Papers about the alleged use of “bearer shares” by certain government officials and their cronies, to hide their ownership of gold mining company shares plus other illicit payments in offshore tax havens.
According to the former government officials, the level of secrecy surrounding mining concessions in the country suggests a few greedy and corrupt persons are shortchanging Liberians of significant foreign exchange benefits from natural resources.
“From a combined investment of at least US$500 Million, the IMF estimates that gold exports will average between US$200 to 300 Million every year from the gold mines. This excludes the Hummingbird gold concession that was recently rejected by President Weah for Dugbe in Southeast Liberia,” he said.
“According to Hummingbird’s 2017 financial statements, Dugbe can produce at least 125,000 ounces of gold each year and has at least 4.2 Million ounces. Our gold will generate export revenues of US$ 163 Million every year and the deposits are worth at least US$ 5.5 Billion. Therefore, we highly commend President Weah for his astute and timely decision.”
Thompson who served as economic advisor to the erstwhile National Transitional Government of Liberia said to improve the nation’s investment climate and the present economic situation, President Weah should urgently end the culture of impunity for economic crimes committed against the poor citizens of Liberia by people in positions of authority.
‘We also need to be wiser and more transparent in the way we utilize valuable resources like gold, to significantly -improve our foreign reserves and strengthen our currency. Botswana is a classic example of this,” he added recommending the following:
‘I call on President Weah to set up an economic crimes process to speedily investigate and prosecute those Liberians who have betrayed their country and set us up for continued poverty, suffering and social unrest through the bearer shares. The mandate should extend to all other major economic crimes and should include concerted efforts to retrieve and repatriate the illicit wealth of all those judged guilty.
‘That as a condition for Avesoro and the MNG Group to continue operating the Kinjor and Korkoyah gold mines, they and the World Bank Group which we understand is also a shareholder through the IFC, should be requested to kindly assist the Government of Liberia to investigate and identify the government officials and their cronies who allegedly own the bearer shares in those companies, as well as the equity percentage allocated to Liberian shareholders in the concession negotiations. Furthermore, all such equity percentages identified by the probe should be attached and transferred from those economic criminals into the name of the Government of Liberia.
‘That as a further measure to end the culture of impunity and corruption in the allocation of extractive and other concessions in Liberia, the government should outlaw the use of bearer shares in the capital structure of all corporate entities operating in Liberia.
‘That the Dugbe gold mining concession be restructured into a public-private partnership with the Government of Liberia retaining minimum shares of 49%, with Hummingbird to extract our gold deposits. A wise use of our national heritage will go a long way to improve the foreign exchange reserves of the Central Bank of Liberia and to strengthen our national currency.
‘We appeal to the Government of United States of America and our other international partners to please help Liberia to stamp out the culture of corruption and impunity by prosecuting Liberian economic criminals. Please help us to improve our fragile economic conditions by recovering and repatriating the assets stolen from us by those criminals and held offshore. Please help us to restructure a transparent PPP with Hummingbird to produce gold in the Dugbe region as one of the means to gradually improve and sustain Liberia’s foreign exchange reserves.
‘The United States, Europe and our other traditional partners cannot afford to lose Liberia to growing terrorist and criminal networks due to the damaging effects of corruption, selfish and bad economic governance that have made Liberia a more fragile, vulnerable and poor country despite major international efforts and resources. I believe we all have a common interest in Liberia becoming a more transparently governed, prosperous and stable haven of peace and regional security in West Africa,” the Economist indicated.
Reporting by Alex Yomah