UBA Ghana says there’s no $4m account in name of Liberian government official on US sanctions list

Nathaniel McGill

An official of UBA Bank Ghana says there is no bank account in the name of a Liberian government official on a list of politicians sanctioned by US authorities.

Henry Nii Dottey, Head, Marketing & Corporate Communications of the bank, was responding to enquiries from Ghana Business News following the break of news in Liberia that Nathaniel McGill, a Minister of State for Presidential Affairs and Chief of Staff to President George Weah, one of three Liberian government officials who have been sanctioned by the US Department of the Treasury for corruption has had his bank account in Ghana holding $4 million frozen.

The three officials have since been suspended by President Weah.

Monday August 15, 2022, the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced that it has designated three Liberian government officials Nathaniel McGill, Sayma Syrenius Cephus, and Bill Twehway for their involvement in ongoing public corruption in Liberia.

According to the notice, these officials were designated pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13818, which builds upon and implements the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act and targets perpetrators of serious human rights abuse and corruption around the world.

“Through their corruption these officials have undermined democracy in Liberia for their own personal benefit,” said Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson. “Treasury’s designations today demonstrate that the United States remains committed to holding corrupt actors accountable and to the continued support of the Liberian people,” the Department said.

The news reports indicated that the accounts were frozen in response to the US sanctions, but Dottey said this morning August 19, 2022 that the bank has no account in the name of McGill.

The US government is accusing McGill of bribing business owners, receiving bribes from potential investors, and accepting kickbacks for steering contracts to companies in which he has an interest.

He is also said to have manipulated public procurement processes in order to award multi-million dollar contracts to companies in which he has ownership, including by abusing emergency procurement processes to rig contract bids.

“McGill is credibly accused of involvement in a wide range of other corrupt schemes including soliciting bribes from government office seekers and misappropriating government assets for his personal gain. He has used government funds allocated to other Liberian government institutions to run his own projects, made off-the-books payments in cash to senior government leaders, and organized warlords to threaten political rivals. McGill has received an unjustified stipend from various Liberian government institutions and used his position to prevent his misappropriation from being discovered. McGill regularly distributes thousands of dollars in undocumented cash to other government officials for government and non-government activities.

McGill is being designated for being a foreign person who is a current government official who is responsible for or complicit in, or who has directly or indirectly engaged in, corruption, including the misappropriation of state assets, the expropriation of private assets for personal gain, corruption related to government contracts or the extraction of natural resources, or bribery,” the US authorities said.

Sayma Syrenius Cephus who is the current Solicitor General and Chief Prosecutor of Liberia is said to have developed close relationships with suspects of criminal investigations and has received bribes from individuals in exchange for having their cases dropped.

According to the US authorities, Cephus has worked behind the scenes to establish arrangements with subjects of money laundering investigations to cease investigations in order to personally benefit financially.

“He shields money launderers and helps clear them through the court system and has intimidated other prosecutors in an attempt to quash investigations. Cephus has also utilized his position to hinder investigations and block the prosecution of corruption cases involving members of the government. Cephus has been accused of tampering with and purposefully withholding evidence in cases involving members of opposition political parties to ensure conviction,” they said.

He is therefore, being designated for being a foreign person who is a current government official who is responsible for or complicit in, or who has directly or indirectly engaged in, corruption, including the misappropriation of state assets, the expropriation of private assets for personal gain, corruption related to government contracts or the extraction of natural resources, or bribery.

Bill Twehway who is the current Managing Director of the National Port Authority (NPA) is said to have orchestrated the diversion of $1.5 million in vessel storage fee funds from the NPA into a private account.

He is also said to have secretly formed a private company to which, through his position at the NPA, he later unilaterally awarded a contract for loading and unloading cargo at the Port of Buchanan. The contract was awarded to the company less than a month after its founding.

Twehway and others used family members to obfuscate their own involvement in the company while still benefitting financially from the company.

“Twehway is being designated for being a foreign person who is a current government official who is responsible for or complicit in, or has directly or indirectly engaged in, corruption, including the misappropriation of state assets, the expropriation of private assets for personal gain, corruption related to government contracts or the extraction of natural resources, or bribery,” the US authorities said.

The US authorities have therefore ordered that all property and interests in property of these politicians that are in the United States or in the possession or control of US persons must be blocked and reported to OFAC.

“In addition, any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 per cent or more by one or more blocked persons are also blocked. OFAC’s regulations generally prohibit all dealings by US persons or within the United States (including transactions transiting the United States) that involve any property or interests in property of blocked or designated persons,” the Department said.

Additionally, the US authorities said, persons that engage in certain transactions with the individuals and entities designated may themselves be exposed to sanctions or subject to an enforcement action. Furthermore, unless an exception applies, any foreign financial institution that knowingly facilitates a significant transaction for any of the individuals or entities designated could be subject to US sanctions.

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

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