Shipping containers carrying $104 million in bank notes have gone missing in Liberia

“Stop. How much?”
Liberia’s president George Weah
“Stop. How much?” Liberia’s president George Weah
Image: Reuters/Tiksa Negeri
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It was brazen even by Liberian standards. Shipping containers carrying the equivalent of $104m in Liberian bank notes, ordered by the Central Bank from printers in Sweden and China, arrived at Liberia’s port and then vanished.

The news broke in local paper Front Page Africa on Monday. Since then members of president George Weah’s government have been trying to cast blame on the previous administration of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. The former president, who handed the reins to Weah in January, gave a fiery rebuke to the allegations.

“It is most unfortunate that the GOL would give false information that wickedly impugns the reputation of past officials and by extension the country itself,” Sirleaf said in a phone call.

The notes, which are the equivalent of  5% of Liberia’s gross domestic product, were ordered by Sirleaf’s administration in 2016. Lenn Eugene Nagbe, the government’s spokesman and Cllr. Frank Musah Dean, attorney general, told reporters the containers had arrived in November, while the Sirleaf administration was still in office. But leaked shipping documents from the port show the containers were cleared in February and March of this year, after the new administration had taken over.

The government has launched an investigation. Fifteen officials, including Charles Sirleaf, the former central bank government and son of the former president have been barred from leaving the country.

Alexander Cummings, the former chief administrative officer of Coca Cola Co., who heads the opposition Alternative National Congress, demanded an independent investigation and warned the flood of new notes into the market would exacerbate the economic downturn. “You’ve excess money going after goods and services. Inflation is going to increase. The price of everything is going to up.”

Liberians are reeling from this latest scandal. The Liberian dollar has fallen 20% against the US dollar since Weah took office and inflation is already spiking making life difficult for ordinary Liberians..

Confidence of international resources investors, a priority of the Sirleaf administration, has been shaken by one scandal after another. For example when it was revealed that finance minister, Samuel Tweah, paid $16,000 to upgrade his business class seat to first for a flight to the to the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in Beijing. The country failed to meet its Extractives Investment Transparency Initiative deadline this month, resulting in the country’s suspension from the group. Then Tweah revealed a $2.5 billion deal with China for access to “some” of Liberia’s resources leading opponents to question whether the government had the technical knowledge to value the resources in question.

In July, representatives from the World Bank, EU, US and European countries took the unprecedented step of sending a joint letter urging Weah not to complete a deal with Turkish power company Karpower that they said would risk crippling the power grid that the stakeholders had invested hundreds of millions in rebuilding. In June the legislature approved two loan deals totaling $957 million—one from a Burkina Faso-based EBOMAF SA Company, a second from a private Singapore-based firm Eton Finance—more than doubling the country’s debt. World Bank and IMF officials have warned the government they are risking relationships with international financial institutions.

It’s been a rough start for president Weah, the former FIFA Player of the Year. It is seriously straining the support of his many fans who had high expectations for his government. It has international observers worried once again about this fragile country.

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