LIBERIA: ALL MINING CONTRACTS TO BE INVESTIGATED BEFORE HANDING OVER

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Outgoing Liberian President George Weah has criticized his government and some advisers for duping him in order to benefit from the mining industry’s largesse. Before the new head of state takes over, he is trying to shed light on the highly sensitive case of ArcelorMittal, Solway Mining and HPX. Washington is keeping a close eye on the issue.

George Weah, who lost to Joseph Boakai in the second round of Liberia’s presidential election, is concerned about the maneuvering of some of his ministers involved with the mining sector.

According to the Pan African magazine Africa Intelligence, the Liberian President has instructed his legal adviser, Archibald Bernard, to shed light on a number of sensitive issues, starting with the controversial transfer of an iron ore license from Swiss-based Solway Mining to steel giant ArcelorMittal.

“Justice Minister Frank Musah Dean is expected to initiate an internal investigation requested by Solway Mining, which is led by Dan Bronstein, and its UK lawyers from Signature Litigation. However, the investigation is unlikely to get anywhere. Over the summer, Dean signed most of the deeds in favour of the group headed by Lakshmi Mittal and his son Aditya Mittal, without apparently worrying about the risk of the mining license transfer being illegal under Liberian law.” Africa Intelligence says.

Weah seems suddenly anxious to settle this matter before handing over power on 24 January. He is counting above all on Bernard, his legal adviser, one of the few members of his inner political circle whom he still trusts.

One of the most sensitive issues to be resolved is the traceability of the $17.5m supposedly paid by ArcelorMittal to the Liberian state for the Solway license.

Weah and Boakai are now questioning where this money went. They have begun to work together to ensure a smooth transition and continuity in the management of strategic issues. Finance Minister Samuel D. Tweah Jr, who orchestrated the operation, is suspected of mismanaging the funds.

“For its part, the steel giant and its subsidiary ArcelorMittal Liberia (AML) are also in the hot seat because of probable compliance failure and possible compromising behaviour by some of its executives. One of those executives is James Kollie, the AML person in charge of relations with the Liberian government. He is also the brother-in-law of the finance minister. AML has declined to respond to specific questions from Africa Intelligence, stating that “ArcelorMittal always acts with the highest levels of integrity everywhere we operate in the world”. Africa Intelligence indicated.

The Mittal group, in view of the change in power and for fear of prosecution, may now negotiate the return of the mining license wrested from Solway. It is also expected to relinquish its monopoly on the railway line linking the mining area in Nimba County to the port of Buchanan.

A report by a presidential committee set up by Weah had recommended a “multi-user” railway, allowing other miners, including Solway and Robert Friedland’s High Power Exploration (HPX), to use the line (AI, 25/04/23).

The report was harsh on ArcelorMittal, which was accused of neglecting to undertake the necessary maintenance work on the rail line that was estimated to take at least nine months. Since then, a new incident occurred in early November on the line, which has seen several fatal accidents in recent years.

Weah is no longer concealing his anger with his government, which he accuses of deceiving him to take advantage of the situation. His anger is tinged with fear, as the threat of new targeted sanctions from the US Treasury Department looms large in early 2024. In addition to attempts to obstruct democracy, Washington has documented alleged corruption and the facilitation of illegal activities via Liberia involving leading political figures. Ministers, advisers and Weah’s running mate turned vice president, Jewel Taylor, are all in the crosshairs (AI, 29/09/23).

Joe Biden’s administration, including his Africa adviser Judd Devermont, and State Department diplomats are keeping a close eye on developments in Liberia. Washington takes a positive view of this peaceful handover of power. It has been irked by Weah’s inability to take strategic decisions and curb the alleged corruption of his closest advisers. As a result, in recent months he has been deprived of support from the United States, which discreetly favoured Boakai in the presidential race.

Boakai met regularly with diplomats at the US embassy in Monrovia and with State Department officials in Washington. He has already pledged to break with the tradition of a state “used as a predatory tool by and for a few to the detriment of the majority of the people”. His closest adviser is his son, Joseph N. Boakai Jr. He is a former senior official at the Liberia Maritime Authority (LiMA, AI, 29/09/23), which is headed by Lenn Eugene Nagbe, and has a wide range of contacts in both the public and private sectors in the US, Europe and West Africa. He is now in charge of the most strategic projects, including those in the mining sector, which attracts the lion’s share of foreign investment.

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