US sanctions 3 senior Liberian officials for alleged corruption

Nathaniel McGill, Sayma Syrenius Cephus, and Bill Twehway are being sanctioned for their involvement in ongoing public corruption in Liberia, according to the US Department of the Treasury.

The United States has sanctioned senior Liberian government officials Nathaniel McGill, Sayma Syrenius Cephus, and Bill Twehway for their involvement in ongoing public corruption in Liberia, the US Treasury Department announced on Monday.

McGill is Liberia’s minister of state for presidential affairs and chief of staff to President George Weah; Cephus is the current solicitor general and chief prosecutor of Liberia, and Twehway is the current managing director of the National Port Authority (NPA).

“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 in a statement. “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.”

Following the actions by the US, all property and interests in property of the three individuals that are in the US or in the possession or control of US persons must be blocked and reported to the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). In addition, persons who engage in certain transactions with the designed individuals risk also being exposed to sanctions or subject to enforcement action, the Treasury said.

In its statement, the Treasury Department said that corruption has been a long challenge for Liberia’s democracy and its economy, robbing the Liberian people of funds for public services, empowering illicit actors, and destroying the rule of law.

The sanctioned officials

All three government officials are being designated for being foreign person who is a current government official who has engaged in corruption, the misappropriation of state assets, the expropriation of private assets for personal gain, and corruption related to the extraction of natural resources.

The Treasury Department said that during his tenure in government, McGill “bribed business owners, received bribes from potential investors and accepted kickbacks for steering contracts to companies in which he has an interest”.

McGill “manipulated public procurement processes to award multi-million dollar contracts to companies in which he has ownership” and used government funds allocated to other Liberian government institutions to run his own projects. He also made off-the-books payments in cash to senior government leaders, and organized warlords to threaten political rivals, the Treasury said.

Cephus received bribes from people in exchange for having their court cases dropped and has also shielded money launderers and helped clear them through the court system, the Treasury Department said. He intimidated prosecutors in an attempt to quash probes and has been accused of tampering with evidence in cases that involved members of opposition political parties, according to the Treasury’s statement.

Twehway orchestrated the diversion of $1.5m in vessel storage fee funds from the NPA into a private account and formed a private company to which he later unilaterally awarded a contract for loading and unloading cargo at the Port of Buchanan, the Treasury Department said. Twehway and others used family members to obfuscate their own involvement in the company while still benefitting financially from the company, it added.

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