The Global Magnitsky Law Must Not Be a Toothless Bulldog

New Thinking—with Joe Bartuah

Mr. Nathaniel Falo McGill

The screaming newspaper headline was incredibly outrageous: “3 Counties to Petition McGill for Senate—Say They Will Repay Him for His Good Deeds.” Substantively, the newspaper reported that President George Manneh Weah’s former Presidential Affairs Minister, Nathaniel McGill, a guy stained with a blight of U.S. sanctions, would be petitioned in by three of Liberia’s 15 counties to run for the Senate, because some elements of those counties perceive the super-rich ex-presidential affairs minister as a philanthropist whose “humanitarian assistance”, they believe, ought to be reciprocated with a political largesse as a senator.

Upon seeing the headline and reading the newspaper story, I just exclaimed, “Oh, so he’s now a man of the people!” I’m just wondering whether Grand Kru County will follow those shameless elements of those three counties in petitioning McGill, too, so as to enable President Weah showcase his “unconditional love” for his beloved ex-Presidential Minister. What’s about Montserrado? Perhaps all the 15 political subdivisions should petition McGill to herald him as another emerging political celebrity and then all the CDC fanatics and criminal worshipers can subsequently initiate a sort of lottery or raffle among themselves, to determine which county emerges as the first place winner in getting McGill’s blessed senatorial nod. After reading about all the clamoring for McGill’s attention, perhaps to get a piece of his ill-gotten pie, I’m reminded of an ancient parable in Yarwin-Mehnsonon, which loosely translates like this: “If you advise a fool to be wise, who will you laugh at?”

Certainly, while such an outrageous headline about an internationally sanctioned ex-government official, a self-declared thief or “rogue” becoming another political celebrity overnight is obviously shocking, it’s not surprising at all, especially in today’s Liberia, because when a known kleptocrat like McGill is awash with millions and millions of dollar—an oasis of shady opulence in a pernicious desert of poverty and deprivation, why should anyone be surprised about hundreds of people in three counties scrambling for crumbs at the feet of this extremely affluent guy? That’s one of the obvious tragedies of the ongoing troubling scenario in Liberia. It is troubling because the downtrodden victims of callous economic crimes become so pauperized, so destitute that they’re forced to abandon whatever principles they might have had and basically adopt sycophancy as a new avocation, in their desperate search for crumbs. Because of that, gullible victims begin to be cheerleaders of their tormentors, instead of loudly denouncing them.

As a result, villains are portrayed as victors, while scoundrels are paraded as some sorts of saints. It’s not surprising because when a society is systematically debased to the detriment of the vast majority of the people, most people tend to lose their scruples, aimlessly chasing shadow rather than substance. Of course, having been in this political theater for a while, some of us have seen those unconscionable political theatrics in the past. Do you still remember the heartless “You killed my, you killed my pa, I will vote for you” chants? Yes, that was during the 1997 election, but six years later when U.S. President George W. Bush declared “Charles Taylor must go”, all the “You killed my ma” fanatics froze and Taylor was disgracefully evicted from the Executive Mansion.

Because I know that the United States of America generally says what it means and actually means what it says, that’s why I have come at this crucial point in time to humbly appeal to the Government of the United States of America, to decisively act on one of its foremost transnational laws—the Global Magnitsky Human Rights and Accountability Law on behalf of, and in the best interest of the vast majority of the Liberian people.

On August 15, 2022, when the U.S. Government, through its Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), imposed sanctions on three top officials of the George Weah regime—Nathaniel McGill, Syrenius Cephus and Bill Twehway—Mr. Brian Nelson, the Treasury’s Under-Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence unequivocally noted at the time that the three men were designated for sanctions “for their involvement in ongoing public corruption in Liberia.” Moreover, the U.S. Government further alleged, “Through their corruption these officials have undermined democracy in Liberia for their own personal benefit.”

For many ordinary Liberians who have for years been shackled by the hellish scourge of unbridled corruption over the years, the application of the Global Magnitsky law came as a timely saving grace, as a redemptive transnational piece of legislation that has the potential to make a positive difference in their lives, if and only if the United States Government can muster the courage to robustly enforce, or apply it to the letter. The Magnitsky law is potentially redemptive for downtrodden Liberians, because the current batch of rulers in absolutely don’t believe in the rule of law. Dastardly fueled by ignorance and arrogance, corruption in Liberia has not only reached its dead end, but has also become deadly, because President Weah and his cohorts erroneously believe that they’re above the law and so, they absolutely have no inclination to obey the laws of the country they’re currently ruling. That is why they have inordinately adopted a cavalier mentality and brazenly resorted to all sorts of unscrupulous practices, squandering public resources and blatantly intimidating those who care to differ with impunity to the detriment of the Liberian people.

As Nathaniel McGill shamelessly disclosed in Gbarnga last August, just a few days before he and other mega-criminals were slapped with sanctions, those Weah regime clowns strongly believe that now is their opportunity to steal, rather than a privilege to serve the Liberian people. When McGill declared that past government officials in the Ellen Sirleaf administration had also stolen public funds and allegedly carried their money abroad, but he and his accomplices were investing theirs in building luxurious houses in Liberia, President Weah, who had also constructed at least 47 ultra-luxurious buildings and a “Jamaican Resort” for himself in the very first year of his regime, was not concerned about McGill’s outrageous comments; he treated his Presidential Affairs Minister’s justification of massive criminalities within his closest orbit as a business as usual episode.

The mere fact that President Weah did not feel uncomfortable, let alone outraged, to publicly rebuke his closest cabinet minister and thereby dispel McGill’s highly distorted notion of public stealing for personal “investment”, logically implies that egregiously acquiring personal wealth at the expense of the poor masses is essentially the modus operandi of his regime. It was against the backdrop of such unconscionable “Yes, we steal and build fine houses and so, shut up” scenario that the United States Treasury Department activated the Global Magnitsky Human Rights and Accountability Act on August 15, 2022. Named in honor and memory of the late Sergei Leonidovich Magnitsky, an eminent Ukrainian-born Russian tax lawyer and a topnotch auditor, who was bludgeoned to death at the prime age of 37 in 2009 by a heartless Russian dictatorship while languishing in Russian prison for legally, patriotically doing his job in exposing corrupt Russian officials who were close to Vladimir Putin, the world has been very receptive to this promising transnational law, because anti-corruption activists believe that if vigorously enforced, the Magnitsky law will help to tame some of the pro-corruption beasts who are currently gloating with impunity around the world.

In his sanction statement against Nathaniel McGill, Syrenius Cephus and Bill Twehway on August 15, 2022, U.S. Under-Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, Brian Nelson unequivocally lamented, “Corruption has long undermined Liberia’s democracy and its economy, robbing the Liberian people  of funds for public services, empowering illicit actors, degrading the business environment, and damaging rule of law and effective governance in the country.” He added, “Through their corruption those officials have undermined democracy in Liberia for their personal benefit”, noting that the three men were designated “for their involvement in ongoing public corruption in Liberia.”

It’s amid such gloomy backdrop of international disgrace that McGill, one of the notorious trio of mega-criminals is using his ill-gotten wealth with the conspicuous acquiescence of his “Benevolent Dictator” buddy—President George Manneh Weah—to intentionally tantalize, manipulate and hoodwink destitute elements of the poor masses in order to catapult himself back to the political center of gravity as a senator. McGill has been orchestrating his bogus popularity to showcase himself as a political celebrity; his aim is to impress the United States embassy near Monrovia and ultimately the U.S. Government that in spite of the sanctions they had imposed on him and other scoundrels, he’s a sort of “redeemer” or “the chosen one” for the destitute folks in those three counties. He wants to be perceived as “a man of the people”, a sort of foolhardy enterprise in futility.

My plea with the U.S. Government is that as the world’s foremost super-power with transcendent tentacles that are well-known for their far-reaching prowess, it should not allow morally bankrupt, perversely soulless, pathological criminals within the Liberian society, already known for their inverted values, to make unwarranted mockery of the Global Magnitsky Human Rights and Accountability law. Public policy experts are often quick to remind policymakers about the “unintended outcomes” of the policies they continually make.

In the specific case of the Global Magnitsky sanctions imposed on the three kleptocratic Weah regime officials on August 15, 2022, the United States Government should not allow those shady individuals with no remorse of conscience to circumvent, flout or pervert its law as a paradoxical badge of honor in seeking higher elective positions, because allowing those criminal elements to use tiny portions of their wealth and lob themselves into higher legislative positions will not only erode the confidence of the poor masses in this particular transnational law, but it will also compound their despondence that all avenues to seeking legal redress to the socio-economic quagmire unleashed by their corrupt compatriots, which have shackled their progress over the years have reached a dead end, with no relief in insight. Besides that, if the Magnitsky law is allowed by the U.S. Government to become a diplomatic asterisk in Liberia, those kleptocrats and their accomplices will weaponize the self-inflicted sanctions imposed on them and seek to further victimize the downtrodden masses as well as their political opponents.

Let us all remember that when the sanctions were imposed, Liberians jubilantly demonstrated on the streets in support of more sanctions; they commended the U.S. Government for its action and some even described it as overdue. If those pathological criminals remain in government, they’ll perniciously target and further victimize those who supported, or are still supporting the sanctions. I don’t think that the intent of the U.S. Government was to sanction McGill and others as a ploy to expose patriotic Liberians who are outraged by the heartless stealing in the Weah regime and then abandon them at the mercy of their nefarious conquerors.

Moreover, since the Weah regime came to power about five years ago, not only that the nation has witnessed an astronomical peak in rampant corruption, but there has also been a terrifying rise in very suspicious, highly mysterious killings, which in many instances, tend to punctuate those episodic corrupt acts. For example, after a container of about 16 billion Liberian dollars reportedly being transported from the Freeport of Monrovia to the Central Bank between Ashmun and Street in downtown Monrovia inexplicably “disappeared” in thin air and President Weah personally took $US25 million liquid cash from the same Central Bank of Liberia to “mop up excess liquidity” in the economy, in late February or early March 2019, Mr. Matthew J. Innis, the Deputy Director of the Micro-Finance Bureau at the Central Bank went to work and never returned.

The Police later deposited his dead body at a local funeral home and claimed that he had been a victim of a “hit and run” accident. The fact is that Mr. Innis, who had occupied a crucial supervisory role at the Central Bank, was set to testify before an international investigative team sent to Liberia by the U.S. Government in the wake of the unprecedented disappearances of those huge sums of money.

Then of course, from October 3rd to 10th in 2020, four leading Liberian government auditors died under deeply mysterious circumstances. Gifty Lama, Albert Peters and George Fahnbutu of the Liberia Revenue Authority were the first three victims. In the case of Ms. Lama and Mr. Peters, their lifeless bodies were found on October 3, 2020 in a vehicle on Broad Street, as if their assailants were trying to send a horrific message to those who were still resisting their indiscriminate graft system, while George Fahnbutu was killed on the S.K.D. Boulevard. In the case of Mr. Emmanuel Barthan Nyeswa, Director-General of the Internal Auditing Agency, his agency had just completed a thorough audit of how the Weah regime had expended the money poured into the country by donors to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic five days earlier when his lifeless body was found in his yard on October 10, 2020. Moreover, a highly respected preacher, son of the late President Tolbert, Rev. William Richard Tolbert, III whom President Weah had retained from the Ellen Sirleaf administration as Liberia’s Peace Ambassador, was gruesomely murdered by unknown persons on November 1, 2021, as if a wicked mission accomplished by paid assassins.

It’s against such gloomy, horrific experiences in the past five years that the sanction statement issued August 15, 2022 against Nathaniel McGill, the undeclared ringleader of the notorious trio and President Weah’s closest cabinet minister, did not only accuse the presidential affairs boss of using government funds “to run his own projects”, but the American Government poignantly revealed that McGill had also “organized warlords to threaten political rivals.” In other words, McGill, who is already rotten rich, thanks to his unhinged corruption, is also in cahoots with warlords—notorious killers—whom he utilizes “to threaten political rivals.”

In my candid opinion, the revelation that McGill has an organized group of ex-warlords who are at his command to strike his political rivals at his behest underscores the extreme danger, risk and vulnerability McGill and his accomplices pose to the Liberian society and the nation’s democratic process. Since they are already known for their shady, nefarious deeds which undermine democracy, allowing them to participate in the country’s fragile democratic process would be tantamount to further empowering them to further victimize the Liberian people with impunity. The United States Government must decisively act now to save the Liberian people.

If allowed to seek elective offices, those unscrupulous men will weaponize the Magnitsky Law to further victimize the poor Liberian masses and also covertly resort to all sorts of pernicious deeds against their political opponents as a revenge for expressing their support for the sanctions. That is why it is imperative for the United States Government to thoroughly evaluate its sanctions against Liberian government officials, because in that part of the world, the value system of the ruling regime tends to be upside down.

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