Liberian President George Weah is facing a backlash over how he has handled corruption accusations made by the United States against three top officials.
Weah suspended the officials, including his chief of staff and the country’s chief prosecutor, earlier this month over corruption allegations tied to multi-million dollar contracts and at least $1.5 (€1.5 million) in diverted public funds.
But the affair continues to make headlines in Liberia, where opposition leaders and human rights groups are demanding the officials be dismissed and are calling for a wider corruption investigation into other members of the government.
The situation threatens Weah’s support a year ahead of presidential elections, set for 10 October 2023.
US corruption accusations
On 15 August, the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control imposed sanctions on Nathaniel McGill, the Minister for Presidential Affairs, who serves as chief of staff, accusing him of having having bribed business owners and accepted bribes.
The Office said McGill misappropriated government assets “for his personal gain” and “organised warlords to threaten political rivals”.
Sayma Syrenius Cephus, Liberia’s solicitor general and chief prosecutor was also sanctioned, after being accused of receiving bribes for dropping cases and having “developed close relationships with suspects of criminal investigations”.
The head of the National Port Authority, Bill Twehway, is also accused of having diverted $1.5 million (€1.5 million) of vessel storage funds into a private account.
The sanctions mainly involve freezing the officials’ US assets.
McGill and Cephus have responded with letters to Weah, with McGill denying some accusations and decrying others as “vague”.
Cephus said he rejected and denied all accusations.
Weah struggling to keep campaign promise
Weah, a former football star for AC Milan, Chelsea and Manchester City, had pledged to fight corruption before he took office in 2018.
But he has struggled to fulfill his election promise, blaming the lack of progress on the situation he inherited from predecessors.
Corruption is endemic in Liberia. In a 2022 report, the US State Department cited widespread and “pervasive government corruption” in Liberia as a constraint to investment and development.
In its 2021 corruption perceptions index, the watchdog Transparency International ranked Liberia 136th out of 180 countries.
The US has a strong relationship with Liberia, which was founded by freed slaves in the 19th century, before the American Civil War, and American authorities have played an important role in holding Liberians accountable both for corruption and crimes tied to the country’s two civil wars.
Given the strong relationship with the US, sanctions are likely to have a real impact.