February 28, 2019 / 8:18 PM / a year ago

Liberian central bankers arrested after probe into missing millions

MONROVIA (Reuters) - The son of Liberia’s former president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was one of two central bank officials detained on Thursday after the release of reports detailing widespread alleged malpractice at the regulator in a currency scandal that has gripped the nation.

FILE PHOTO: A Liberian demonstrator holds a sign during a protest in Monrovia, Liberia September 24, 2018. REUTERS/James Giahyue/File Photo

The investigations were launched last October following the suspected disappearance of newly printed notes worth $100 million destined for the Liberian central bank - the equivalent of around 5 percent of the west African nation’s gross domestic product.

While the results of probes showed on Thursday that the cash had been delivered to the central bank’s vaults, they also threw up evidence of alleged central bank wrongdoing.

“Kroll has identified discrepancies at every stage of the process for controlling the movement of banknotes into and out of the (central bank),” the risk consultancy said in its report that had been commissioned by the United States at the request of the Liberian government.

A Liberian government report, also released on Thursday, found that notes worth $16.5 million remained unaccounted for and said the bank’s management “deviated from conventional best practices.”

After their publication, Justice Minister Musa Dean told Reuters that those responsible would face prosecution.

Hours later, police had surrounded the central bank and detained deputy central bank governor Charles Sirleaf and director of banking Dorbor Hagba, taking them both away in handcuffs. A police spokesman confirmed their detention.

Representatives of Sirleaf, the son of Nobel Peace Prize winner Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and Hagba could not immediately be reached for comment.

The scandal has saddled President George Weah with his biggest crisis since he took office a year ago with politicians and civil society groups across Liberia calling for reform and greater transparency.

The U.S. embassy said the Kroll report had identified systemic weaknesses at the central bank and “shortcomings in Liberia’s fiscal and monetary management processes that are longstanding and continue to the present day”.

The central bank did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Reporting by James Giahyue; Writing by Cooper Inveen; Editing by Alessandra Prentice, Alison Williams and James Dalgleish

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