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August 27, 2008

Liberia suspends renegotiation of LISCR deal

The Liberian Government has suspended negotiations on renewal of the contract of LISCR (Liberian International Ship and Corporate Registry) to operate the Liberian maritime program, according to a statement by the Liberian Ministry of Justice.

The negotiations will remain suspended during investigations of allegations of bribery that appear in a slew of purported emails posted on a website covering African affairs.

The emails appear to indicate that current and former Liberian officials--including one with family ties to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf -- took payments from an LISCR official to have the ship registry contract renewed.

Such payments would breach both Liberian law and the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

A statement from Liberia's Executive Mansion says that the President has directed the Ministry of Justice to expeditiously conduct a thorough investigation into the matter, with the view of establishing the authenticity of the purported email exchanges. The mandate of the Ministry of Justice is to first establish the authenticity of these emails and the second step will be to address the results of those findings. The President has also directed the Ministry of Justice to request the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia, in consultation with the Liberia National Bar Association, to designate an Independent Special Prosecutor to probe the legal implications of the allegations and make recommendations on the necessary actions to be taken by the Liberian Government.

"As a full investigation is being conducted to unearth the whole truth about this matter, the Executive Mansion wishes to make it clear that the Office of the President at no time gave license to any third party to serve as negotiator or go-between and hereby wishes to establish a clear line of demarcation between the Office of the President and the allegations in the purported email exchanges," says the statement. "The Executive Mansion is particularly and gravely concerned about references to Her Excellency as well as to other high Government officials in the purported email exchanges and will leave no stone unturned to ensure that the truth is unveiled and the perpetrators prosecuted in keeping with the laws of Liberia."

The statement adds that the "matter has also been brought to the attention of the U.S. State Department. The Government of Liberia has solicited the support of the Department in getting to the bottom of the matter."

The Ministry of Justice statement says that the negotiations with LISCR are being suspended as "the Government believes this action o be necessary so that the agreement is in no way perceived to be tainted."

The Ministry of Justice says that "if the emails are authenticated by the various investigations, including those which the Government of Liberia will be requesting of the Government of the United States, the responsible persons and any persons adjudged to have committed violations of the laws of Liberia will be fully prosecuted."

It adds that "if the results of the investigations show that this was part of a scheme, that the emails were doctored, and that they were initiated by persons seeking to defame the government and impeded the development strides it is making, appropriate legal and other actions will be taken against them."

Meantime, Liberia's opposition Liberty Party is calling on President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to request the International Contact Group on Liberia (ICGL) to constitute an independent commission of inquiry, consisting of jurists from ICGL countries, to investigate the allegations.

The National Chairman of Liberty Party, Israel Akinsanya said that "an investigation sponsored by, and under the auspices of the Government of Liberia under the prevailing circumstances would not be credible, and would only be a travesty of justice."

He noted that while this matter is being investigated, the Liberty Party recommends that the Government of Liberia issue a statement to shipowners ensuring the stability of the corporate and maritime program.

Mr. Akinsanya said it is incumbent upon President Sirleaf to ensure that the maritime program, that has taken more than half of a century to build is not destroyed under her watch. "If the allegations are proven true, the culprits must be punished, but the maritime program must be saved," he said.

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