Justice Minister Frank Musa Dean poses a major conflict of interest risk and should not head the investigation into Exxon’s Block 13 purchase.
April 2, 2018, Washington, DC – Global Witness welcomes 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 of office” 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.
Notes to editor:
- On March 29, 2018, Global Witness released its investigation
into Exxon’s 2013 purchase of Liberia’s Block 13 oil license. You can read our
press releases here and here.
- Block 13 was originally awarded by NOCAL in 2005 to Liberian-Anglo
company Broadway Consolidated/Peppercoast (BCP). In 2007, BCP’s Block 13
license was ratified by the Liberian legislature through bribery. Minister Dean
was no longer the President of NOCAL at this time. Global Witness’ evidence
shows that, in 2005, BCP was likely part-owned by former Mining Minister
Jonathan Mason and former Deputy Minister Mulbah Willie. If so, it would have
been illegal for them to benefit from the award of the block.
- Exxon, BCP, and Mason did not respond to Global Witness’
inquiries regarding the Block 13 deal. One company involved in the deal,
Canadian Overseas Petroleum, did respond. It stated that the company was
"aware of the allegations concerning [BCP’s] minority shareholders."
However, it said that the company’s due diligence “found credible evidence that
the allegations of impropriety were entirely false,” including the allegations
that former Liberian officials held BCP shares, and that the company took steps
to ensure only the company’s named shareholders received payments.
- Shortly following the authorization of the 2013 Exxon deal,
six senior Liberian officials were paid “bonuses” of US$35,000 by NOCAL – more
than doubling their annual salaries. Three of these officials responded to a
Global Witness request for comment: 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 the work they had put into
negotiating the Exxon deal. Tah and Sirleaf also stated that all other oil
agency staff had received bonuses.
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