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Justice Minister Recuses Himself

Amidst huge public outcry, Justice Minister Cllr. Frank Musa Dean has recused himself from the investigation commissioned by President George Weah into the acquisition of the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL) Block 13 by the Broadway Consolidated/Peppercoast (BCP) and its subsequent sale to Exxon Mobil.
According to Cllr. Dean, the decision to recuse himself is based on the fact that he served as President and Chief Executive Officer of NOCAL between 2004 and 2006.
The Justice Minister added that he has obtained an approval from President Weah to recuse himself from the investigation.
In making this recusal, Cllr. Dean stated categorically for the record that all oil blocks between 2004 and January 2006 were awarded pursuant to the companies’ compliance with NOCAL’s full disclosure requirement, under penalty of law.
The Justice Minister, also Attorney General of Liberia, noted that his recusal is intended to avoid any semblance of conflict of interest and to ensure that the investigation is characterized by transparency and integrity.
The decision comes after Justice Minister Dean was tasked by President Weah to determine the veracity of the latest Global Witness report involving ExxonMobil and former Liberian government officials.
The Justice Minister was instructed by the President to investigate reports of alleged grave acts of corruption on the sale of Oil Block 13 to U.S. petroleum company ExxonMobil.
President Weah gave Minister Dean two weeks to get a preliminary report before his desk.
The President was quoted as saying that if illegality (corruption, wickedness) is determined, those culpable will bear the full weight of the law and therefore urged all to cooperate.
Information Minister Lenn Eugene Nagbe said the Government of Liberia (GoL) is in receipt of information from several international groups, including Global Witness (GW) and The Wall Street Journal, alleging grave acts of corruption on the part of several former government officials relating to the sale of Oil Block 13 to Exxon Mobil.
He said although President Weah has already commissioned a general concession review, including concessions in the oil sector, these allegations of bribery and misuse of office are deeply concerning.
The new Global Witness investigation released shows Exxon’s 2013 purchase of Liberia’s Block 13 oil license likely enriched former government officials who may have illegally owned the block. The state oil agency NOCAL also made unusual, large payments to senior government officials who authorized the 2013 deal.
Global Witness calls on the Liberian Government to investigate those involved in Exxon’s 2013 oil deal for corruption or wrongdoing.
Block 13 was originally awarded by NOCAL in 2005 to Liberian-Anglo company Broadway Consolidated/Peppercoast (BCP). In 2007, the block was ratified by the Liberian legislature through bribery.
But Global Witness’ evidence shows that the company was likely part-owned by former Lands, Mines and Energy Minister Jonathan Mason and former Deputy Minister Mulbah Willie. Mason and Willie are suspected of granting the oil block to a company in which they held interests while they were also ministers in 2005, which was illegal under Liberian law.
Exxon knew that Block 13 was originally awarded through bribery and that its purchase of the oil block could enrich former officials who might have been behind BCP.
In a PowerPoint presentation obtained by Global Witness, Exxon wrote that it was interested in purchasing the oil block despite its “concern over issues regarding US anti-corruption laws.”
Undeterred by the corruption red flags, Exxon went ahead with the deal anyway. Global Witness’ evidence shows that it structured the transaction in a way to skirt US anti-corruption laws by using a Canadian company – Canadian Overseas Petroleum Limited (COPL) – as a go-between to buy the block.
“It’s appalling that an oil giant like Exxon would buy up an oil block they knew was tainted by corruption,” said Jonathan Gant, Senior Campaigner at Global Witness. “This kind of morally dubious corporate behavior is particularly shocking in a country like Liberia where endemic corruption continues to rob people of opportunities.”
If Mason did own BCP shares when Exxon bought Block 13, he would have received a share of the US$68.5 million Exxon paid BCP. Willie died in 2012, so any money he was owned would likely have gone to his estate.
There is also evidence that Adolph Lawrence, who became a Representative in 2012, held a BCP ownership interest in 2011. If Lawrence continued to hold this interest when Exxon bought 2013, he also would have broken the law and may have received part of the money Exxon paid BCP.
COPL has, saying its due diligence showed that there were no legal problems with the deal, stated that Mason did not hold shares in BCP, shareholders certified they held no interest for others, and that it received legal advice on its anti-corruption and anti-money laundering obligations.
The company stated that Lawrence resigned from a job he held with BCP in 2011 and that any money he received was reported to the Liberian Government.
“Liberia’s attempts to stop corruption have failed – most notably the Sable Mining bribery debacle,” said Gant.
“It is time for President George Weah to show that he is a reformer and task the Ministry of Justice and Anti-Corruption Commission to investigate immediately.”
Global Witness has also seen evidence that shortly following the authorization of the 2013 Exxon deal senior Liberian officials were paid “bonuses” of:
• NOCAL CEO Randolph McClain
• National Investment Chairman Natty Davis
• Finance Minister Amara Konneh
• Mining Minister Patrick Sendolo
• NOCAL Board Chair Robert Sirleaf. Sirleaf, who is the son of then-President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, was reportedly working pro-bono at the time.
• Justice Minister Christiana Tah
Robert Sirleaf was reportedly working pro-bono at the time. However, he too received a payment of US$35,000.
The evidence shows that these payments were associated with the Exxon deal. The payments were probably made from the same bank account into which Exxon had recently deposited part of its bonus to NOCAL, although there is no evidence that Exxon knew about them.
All officials have denied that these payments were bribes, stating that they were authorized by NOCAL’s Board of Directors as bonuses for negotiating a good deal with Exxon.
Global Witness’ Exxon investigation was made possible by information published by the Liberian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (LEITI), an independent agency that publishes annual reports of payments made by companies to the government. Without this information, Global Witness would not have started researching Exxon’s 2013 deal.

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