The Liberian government over the weekend arrested an influential Lebanese businessman for his role in the sale of a consignment of iron. George Haddad was picked up late last Friday for interrogation into his role in the sale of a reported 10 million dollars worth of iron ore shipped through the Port of Buchanan during the regime of the National Transitional Government of Liberia. Until earlier this year, Haddad was the chief importer of rice into Liberia.
Lawrence Bropleh is Liberia’s minister of information. He told VOA Haddad was temporarily released Sunday to the custody of the Lebanese community in Liberia pending further investigation.
“Mr. Haddad was released yesterday evening to the custody of the president of the World Lebanese Culture Union who has taken the responsibility to have Mr. Haddad return to the NBI (National Bureau of Investigation). The investigation continues. It’s not a closed investigation. Mr. Haddad has been told not to leave the country. He’s still being investigated,” he said.
Bropleh said the government has not charged Haddad with any crime, only that he is being investigated.
“Like I said, the investigation is continuing, and at a particular point in the investigation, it may be determined that the government has all of the pieces of evidence that it needs to come up with a charge. If not, then the government would tell Mr. Haddad thank you for cooperating, but we feel at this point in time that there’s nothing here for us to charge you with,” Bropleh said.
The information minister said Haddad is not the only person being investigated by the government concerning the iron ore sale.
“This is not just an investigation that concerns Mr. Haddad. This is an investigation that concerns many other personalities. For example, the former minister of Lands, Mines and energy, Dr. Mason, has been cooperating with this investigation because he was the one who was Lands, Mines and Energy minister at the time that the iron ore in Buchanan was sold,” he said.
Bropleh said the iron ore in question was sold through the Port of Buchanan during the regime of the National Transitional Government of Liberia headed by then chairman Gyude Bryant.
“Mr. George Haddad has been taken in by the National Bureau of Investigation linked to the sale of iron ore in Grand Bassa County, in Buchanan, during the transitional government of Charles Gyude Bryant. Mr. Haddad served as a middleman in brokering that deal between the government of Liberia and the company that bought the iron ore,” Bropleh said.
He said the government wants to know how much the iron ore was sold for.
“There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the sale of that iron ore as to how much it was sold for, whether there was fair market value. There has been independent international organizations that have questioned whether or not the Liberian people received the resources from the sale of that resources,” he said.
Until earlier this year, Haddad was the sole importer of rice into Liberia before that monopoly was broken up by the government. Bropleh said the government is not on a witch-hunt against Haddad.
“No not at all. If that were the case then the government would have gone after Mr. Haddad and many of his other businesses. No, this is not the case, and the government did not deny Mr. Haddad from importing rice. What the government did was to follow the rules and to see that Mr. Haddad had an unfair advantage; literally a monopoly in the importation of rice, and the government cannot accept a monopoly in the importation of rice. This is not a witch-hunt; this is not getting back at him. He has many other businesses, from rock crushing business and many other businesses, and the government has not tamper with that, he said.
Bropleh also said Haddad’s arrest had nothing to do with whether the government considers Haddad to be involved in other activities that the government deems to be destabilizing.
"At this point in time Mr. Haddad was picked up linked to the sale of the iron ore in Buchanan. And that is why we are investigating him,” Bropleh said.