The alleged theft of shipping containers loaded with new Liberian currency would be comical if it were a movie but is heartbreaking to Liberian citizens struggling to get by in a poor country.
It was also a reminder that the promises of new president George Weah to stamp out corruption are far from being fulfilled.
The shipping containers held $104 million (U.S.) and had departed from Sweden where the currency is printed. Some say the money never arrived. Some say it arrived but was never recorded.
Justice Minister Frank Musah Dean cleared the current administration. “Initial findings indicate that the containers and bags of money allegedly arrived between November 2017, prior to the inauguration of the current government, and August 2018.
Liberian Information Minister Nagabe suggested it was stolen while Finance Minister Samuel Tweh denied money was even missing. “I’m saying there is no missing money,” Tweh insisted on local radio. “No one is looking for billions of [Liberian] dollars.”
The reported theft of an astronomical amount of money has dominated talk radio, Facebook groups, social media and this week triggered a citizen protest under the banner “Bring back our money!” The humiliating scandal followed President Weah to the U.N. where he is attending the General Assembly.
Still, he was able to hold bilateral talks with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with an eye toward increasing the modest level of trade between the two countries.
Whispers among the Weah administration that former president Ellen Sirleaf Johnson was guilty of something heated up tensions between the parties. A list of 15 “persons of interest” now bars Sirleaf’s son Charles, the deputy governor of the Central Bank in the current administration, from travel.
In a media interview, Madam Sirleaf said she was angry and shocked by rumors of stolen funds which she dismissed as fabrications. “There’s no missing container, no missing money,” she declared. “I am certain whatever my administration did was in accordance with the law and the constitution and no money is missing.”
“The government must go back to the media and say that the investigation (by the Central Bank) is concluded and the evidence and facts are known, they must go back to the media and correct it.”