Sirleaf's son, others charged over Liberia bank scandal


Monrovia (AFP)

Five once senior figures at the Liberian Central Bank, including the son of long-serving former president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, were charged Monday with criminal conspiracy and "economic sabotage" following a probe into a banknote printing scandal.

A Monrovia court ordered former deputy governor Charles Sirleaf, ex-bank head Milton Weeks and bank official Dorbor Hagba to be held in jail pending the scheduling of their trial.

Another two suspects still being sought face similar charges over their handling of billions of Liberian dollars.

The crowded court heard that between 2016 and 2018, Sirleaf "purposely with wicked and criminal intent connived and conspired with other officials" to print local currency but also pocket some of the proceeds.

Judge Kennedy Peabody said Sirleaf would be charged "with the commission of economic sabotage, misuse of public money, property or records and theft and or illegal disbursement and expenditure of public money and criminal conspiracy."

"Charles Sirleaf and his accomplices Milton Weeks and Dorbor Hagba, including defendants Richard Walker and Joseph Dennis who are at-large, are criminally liable (for) ... Liberian dollar banknotes brought into the country which cannot be accounted for by them."

President George Weah separately expressed thanks to the country's partners, especially the United States, for helping with the investigation.

"I wanted the Liberian people (to) know that we are transparent," the president said in a statement.

"Whatever happens from (the) findings, we will follow it because in the process of getting information, a lot of things do come out," he added.

"When everything is done, I hope Liberia will be in peace and people will not take to the streets again."

Weah announced the probe in September into the handling of some 16 billion Liberian dollars ($99 million, 87 millions euros) destined for the central bank.

What exactly happened to the money remains unclear, with a report by the US investigative agency Kroll Associates saying the money arrived at the central bank but that there were failings at each stage of the process.

One of the world's poorest countries, Liberia has been struggling with rampant corruption which Weah vowed to combat when he took office a year ago.

Sirleaf, the first elected female head of state in Africa, was president for 12 years.

She gained widespread praise for stable governance following back-to-back civil wars which killed an estimated quarter of a million people.

In 2011, she was joint winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.