AIRRT Braces To Recover US$4.6 Billion “Swindled” From State Coffers
The Asset Investigation, Restitution and Recovery Team (AIRRT) has embarked on the mandate given by President George Weah to investigate, seek restitution and recover over US$4.6 billion missing assets that were allegedly embezzled from state coffers.
The alleged monies were revealed in audit reports of the General Auditing Commission (GAC) and the Liberia Anti- Corruption Commission (LACC).Speaking Friday August 2, 2019, at a special press conference at the Ministry of Information on Capitol Hill Monrovia, the Chairman of the AIRRT, Cllr. Arthur Johnson, disclosed that the team is drafting a Bill to be presented to the National Legislature for the establishment of an Economic and Corruption Crime Court in Liberia to fast track corruption cases in the recovery of the US$4.6 billion.
“We are going to make sure we have a bill before the National Legislature for the establishment of the Economic and Corruption Crime Court. And that court will be a fast track court that will have the understanding of the frequency on which we are moving,” Johnson noted.
He stated that as part of the strategies for the recovery of the amount in question, the asset recovery team has also invited an international financial criminal forensic investigation firm called the Grant Thornton to assist with the recovery of the US$4.6 billion assets that were allegedly taken out of Liberia.
Grant Thornton is the world seventh largest professional services network of independent accounting and consulting member firms with a total revenue of about US$5.45 billion and 53,000 employees around the world as at 2018.
According to the Chairman of AIRRT Cllr. Johnson, Grant Thornton has recovered assets in more than 65 countries around the world, including Nigeria, adding that the institution won the firm of the year for 2018/2019 in assets recovery.
Johnson revealed that Grant Thornton officials have met with President Weah and the asset recovery team in Liberia, stressing that the 2018/2019 firm of the year has expressed interest in working with the Government of Liberia through the asset recovery team to identify and engage in a systematic forensic criminal investigation, transnational crime, cyber crime and money laundering, which have been welcomed by the President.
He stated that the asset recovery team is “a very rich team” when it comes to expertise, citing that the team comprise of investigators, active practicing courtroom lawyers, who are charged with the responsibility of identifying, locating and investigating assets in value or liquid that belongs to the Government of Liberia, but was embezzled by unscrupulous individuals for their personal use in and out of the country.
“This team has a component of investigators most of whom have 25 to 30 years experience in national security and investigation, intelligence gathering and analysis, financial crime intelligence operation and investigation and also lawyers who have understanding of the criminal procedure law and substantial due process of the criminal justice system,” he indicated.
The AIRRT official explained that his team and Grant Thornton have come to one understanding regarding payment for their services that will be rendered in the process of investigating, restituting and recovering assets for Liberia.
“They have assured the President and AIRRT that they will assist to identify the assets, and the team will work toward repatriating the assets. And when the assets are been repatriated to Liberia before they can be paid.
“They have also volunteered to help Liberian investigators as well as the prosecutors for an intensive training in contemporary criminal justice investigation out of Liberia very soon,” Cllr. Johnson narrated.
He assured the public that the team will be objective in the execution of its mandate, citing that “This team, because of the purpose of its function, is guided by the core principles of professionalism and objectivity will not accuse anyone who is not a subject of an investigation or a previous investigation that has alleged or held a person accountable of.”
Meanwhile, Cllr Johnson disclosed that AIRRT is presently investigating a case involving several expenditures made by the Government of Liberia up to 2018 that amounts to US$500 million and more than L$1 billion through the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP).
Also, Johnson said the Minister of MFDP during those transactions was Amara Konneh, emphasizing that the investigation team maintains and sustains its position on the basis of the evidences before it.
He noted that the expenditures were made to vendors in both USD and LRD, lamenting that the investigations have established that the monies were never paid to vendors.
“Some of the vendor payments were understated and the variances could not be accounted for. We have evidence; we have the cheques and the accounts numbers, including the summary of payments and the names of purported individuals and institutions that were alleged to have received those amounts,” he explained.
Johnson said the investigations have established that MFDP printed its own cheques instead of the Central Bank of Liberia cheque, which is the legitimate cheque that is to be used by line ministries and agencies.
The AIRRT Chair admonished former Minister Konneh to talk to a criminal lawyer who will educate him on how to proceed with the allegations levied against him by the Government of Liberia.