Liberia seeks trial of UK national over carbon deal

MONROVIA (Reuters) - Liberia is seeking to prosecute a British citizen for bribery in a proposed carbon deal that would have given him control of a fifth of the West African country’s rainforests, the government said.

The civil-war ravaged country will also investigate a former government minister and has dismissed several officials in the forestry authority over the case, according to a statement from the presidency issued late Tuesday.

Liberia began investigating the accord to grant 400,000 hectares of rainforest to British firm Carbon Harvesting Corporation in July after governance watchdog Global Witness said the deal involved fraud.

The accord would have allowed CHC to sell carbon credits from the vast area of forest to companies seeking to offset their emissions on international carbon markets.

CHC’s CEO Michael Foster was arrested by British police in June and was subsequently released without charge.

Liberia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Justice has been instructed by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf “to start the process of extradition of Mr. Michael Foster of Carbon Harvesting Corporation (...) for prosecution under the bribery laws of Liberia,” according to the statement.

It was not clear whom Foster is accused of bribing.

The statement also said that former interior minister Ambulai Johnson would be investigated by the justice ministry for potential prosecution.

Several officers in the forestry authority had been sacked, it said.

CHC spokesman Mike Swift said Foster had yet to receive a copy of the Liberian statement.

“Upon receipt Mr Foster will be able to consider the content with his legal advisors and respond accordingly,” he said.

The company issued a statement on its website in August saying CHC is opposed to bribery and corruption and “is committed to working wherever possible to erase any illegal activities in Liberia or any other country.”

Liberia is one of the world’s poorest countries and struggling to recover from a decade-long civil war that left its infrastructure in ruins.

Reporting by Alphonso Toweh; Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Giles Elgood