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Liberian Government Denies Allegations of Corruption and Bribery in High Places

The Liberian government is denying allegations that some current and former officials in President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's government have been receiving bribes from an American who heads the Liberian International Ship Corporate Registry (LISCR) in order to get a renewal of the contract without competitive bidding.

A slew of emails have sufficed on the Internet alleging that former minister of public works, Willis Knuckles and current minister of state for presidential affairs Estrada Bernard, who is reportedly married to President Sirleaf's sister received bribes from Yoram Cohen to have the ship registry contract renewed.

If true, the individuals involved would have violated both U.S. and Liberian laws.

Liberia's Minister of Information Lawrence Bropleh told VOA the government of President Sirleaf is a law-abiding government.

"This government's intention is to follow the rules and to follow the law. This government said emphatically that it has no knowledge of what has been purported to have been exchanges in emails between several persons alleging that certain government officials of Liberia had been paid money in connection with the current LISCR negotiations. The government said emphatically that it is not a part of this and in fact is ordering some serious investigations surrounding this," he said.

If the allegations are true, they would have violated the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which makes it unlawful for a U.S. person and certain foreign issuers of securities to make a payment to a foreign official for the purpose of obtaining or retaining business.

Bropleh said the Liberian government would seek the cooperation of the US government in addition to the Liberian government's own investigation, to fully probe the allegations.

"What the government has done and intends to do is to request the provider of the email service and all the required information surrounding the emails, especially what we called the criminal nature of the allegations that are contained therein and also, in concert with the government of the United States seek help in trying to ascertain the originality of these emails because the individual involved also is a United States citizen.

Bropleh said the Liberian government intends to also name an independent special Prosecutor to maintain the integrity and independence of the investigation.

"Based on the recommendation of our minister of justice for maintaining the integrity and independence of the investigation, the government has determined that further any probe being carried out by the ministry of justice, it would request the Supreme Court of the Republic of Liberia to designate an honorable, and a highly respectable counselor of the Liberian National Bar Association to act as an Independent Special Prosecutor to investigate the legal component of the allegations," he said.

In a two-paged press release, the Ministry of Justice said that in addition to other concerns, the allegation impugns the integrity of the Sirleaf government and distracts from the governments current committed drives against corruption

But Bropleh said there is no evidence that President Sirleaf or those closed to her have been bribed.

"First I can say to you, as a government spokesperson but additionally as someone who understands the modus operandi of this government and the vision and integrity of this president, is that there is no iota of truth to declare that the president or those closed to the president have been bribed in the negotiations of the LISCR contract," Bropleh said.

He said the investigation would also look into whether emails could have been doctored. But Bropleh said the government is not saying the doctoring was done by the Liberian journalist who published the exchanges on the Internet.

"Let me say very emphatically that the government is not saying that the journalist who first put this on the Website or announced this is the party responsible for the emails. What the government is saying is that if it is found that there are people who have doctored this in violation of the law, then the fullest penalty must be applied," he said.

The allegations of Liberian government officials receiving bribes come at a time when the ordinary Liberian is barely surviving in the face of rising food and fuel prices.

Bropleh said President Sirleaf would not rest in contempt until every Liberian has a better life.

"This is the president who has hastened the pay of the civil servants from 800 Liberian dollars to 70 US dollars in less than two years. This president's desire is to reduce poverty and improve the wellbeing of the Liberian people," he said.

In a statement, the Liberian justice ministry said the Liberian government was "suspended any further negotiations on the LISCR Agreement pending the completion of the investigations so that the agreement is in no way perceived as being tainted."