Liberia's former transitional president, Gyude Bryant, is out on bond after being arrested Tuesday morning on charges of economic sabotage. He is accused of embezzling more than $1 million during his two-year rule. His successor, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, has made fighting corruption one of the major priorities of her presidency. Naomi Schwarz reports from VOA's regional bureau in Dakar.
Liberian Solicitor General Tiawan Gongloe confirmed Gyude Bryant had been arrested.
"He was charged with economic sabotage which under our laws is a misuse of public money, misdirection of revenue, just misappropriation of public funds, of converting it from public purpose to your own use," he said.
The arrest is the culmination of an investigation that began last year. An audit conducted by the Economic Community of West African States had accused several top officials in the interim government of misusing public funds, but Liberian investigators took their time compiling evidence.
Gongloe says the charge is a first-class felony.
"So if he is found guilty, he [runs] the risk of being jailed for a maximum period of 10 years and restituting the amount that he is charged of converting to his own use: $1.4 million," he said.
Mr. Bryant, a businessman, was chosen by regional and Liberian mediators to lead the interim government after Charles Taylor was forced from power in late 2003. His two-year rule ended in 2006 when Ellen Johnson Sirleaf won democratic elections.
Gongloe says the arrest of Mr. Bryant shows the current government's commitment to fighting corruption.
"The fact that Mr. Bryant, who was chairman of the transitional government, has been arrested and brought before court for abuse of public office by committing economic sabotage should send a clear signal that there is no one above the law," he said.
The solicitor general says this is an important step to show Liberians and the international community that the country, resource-rich but seriously impoverished, is moving forward after more than a decade of civil war.
Local journalist Prince Collins says Liberians were eager to learn what would happen next in the case.
"Everyone in Liberia is listening to the radio," he said. "All are following the arrest of Gyude Bryant. There are a lot of people around the residence of Gyude Bryant to watch the scene."
He says most Liberians support Ms. Sirleaf in the fight against corruption, although some of her political opponents say it is going too far.