April 2, 2018, Washington, DC – Global Witness Say Its welcomed Liberian President George Weah’s announcement that the government will undertake a preliminary investigation into corruption in Liberia’s oil sector, but warns that conflicts of interest within the Ministry of Justice unit could undermine the review.
President Weah’s announcement followed the release of Global Witness’ recent investigation into Exxon’s purchase of Liberia’s corruption-tainted Block 13 – which is suspected to have enriched former government officials who may have illegally owned an interest in the block through the company Broadway Consolidated/Peppercoast (BCP). Global Witness’ report also found large US$35,000 payments were made to top Liberian officials after Exxon got the block in 2013.
The Government investigation will examine “allegations of bribery and misuse” outlined in multiple recent publications, including the Global Witness report.
Justice Minister Frank Musa Dean is tasked with heading the investigation, despite posing a clear conflict of interest. Minister Dean was the President of NOCAL in 2005, when the agency awarded BCP Block 13, and was one of the Liberian officials who signed BCP’s contract.
“It’s very encouraging that President Weah has called for an investigation into the 2013 Block 13 deal,” said Jonathan Gant, Senior Campaigner at Global Witness. “However, the review must be led by an independent investigator and not by Minister Dean.”
Global Witness calls on this investigation to be independent and thorough, and asks that the Liberian Government hold accountable any individuals or companies that are found to have broken the law, while also respecting the due process rights of those being questioned.
The investigation must also be conducted with integrity. For this reason, Justice Minister Dean cannot be involved, given his earlier role. He should immediately hand responsibility to an independent investigator who was not attached to the Block 13 award, either in 2005 or 2013.
“President Weah has promised Liberians that he will tackle Liberia’s endemic corruption. This is his first major test in office to see if he will make good on that promise,” said Gant. “Calling for this investigation is a good start. Now the President should ensure it is independent and fair – and it cannot be as long as it is led by Justice Minister Dean.”
Global Witness is also calling upon law enforcement in the US, UK, and Canada to investigate.