One of the candidates in Liberia’s 2017 presidential election who had been affected by U.S. sanctions since 2003 says he’s thankful to President Barack Obama for lifting the measures.
Businessman Benoni Urey, a past associate of former President Charles Taylor, said he’s grateful to President Obama not for himself but for other Liberians, some of whom he said had been sick but could not travel abroad to get treatment because of the sanctions.
In lifting the sanctions last week, President Obama said Liberia had made advances to promote democracy and hailed the orderly development of its political, administrative, and economic institutions. He cited Liberia’s two consecutive democratic elections (2005 and 2011), the conviction of former president Charles Taylor and what he called the diminished ability of those connected to Taylor to undermine Liberia’s progress.
Urey was sanctioned by the United Nations in 2000 for his alleged role in arms procurement for Charles Taylor’s rebels and his relationship to Taylor. He denies any role in arms procurement, saying the U.N. investigated the matter for 15 years and “found no magnitude”.
“Why would Benoni Urey, a peace-loving citizen of Liberia who has never really been involved in war, who doesn’t know what arms and ammunition is, why would I get involved in purchasing arms and ammunition?” he said.
Urey said he simply carried an order given him by Charles Taylor’s finance minister to pay out a certain amount of money.
“He said the president of Liberia has directed him to instruct me to transfer $620,000. Who am I? The finance minister calls me and gave me a directive. I just wrote a letter to my Comptroller and I said by order of the president as communicated to me through the finance minister, you are hereby instructed to instruct our agent to transfer the money. Where did I go wrong,” Urey asked.
Urey said President Obama lifted the sanctions because he wants to help the country and Liberians move forward.
“I want to thank President Obama for giving Liberia another chance. The lifting of the sanctions is not about Benoni Urey. The deputy minister of finance – Juanita Neal, who happens to be the niece of President Sirleaf -- she’s been sick suffering from cancer for almost 10 years and she has been refused a visa to go to America. Hopefully she will get one in a few days and maybe her life can be saved,” Urey said.
But some Liberians said Urey is confusing the lifting of the sanctions with freedom from prosecution for any alleged crimes that may have been committed during Liberia’s 14 year-old civil war.
For example, Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) has recommended that Urey be prosecuted for economic crimes.
Urey said if it can be proven he committed economic crimes then he should be prosecuted in a court of law.
He said the allegation he committed economic crimes was based on fraudulent information supplied to the TRC by an individual who, he said, did not exist
“He claimed that I shipped 100 containers of rubber out of Liberia. The capacity of the little rubber factory I operated in Gbarnga (central Liberia) in five years could never ship 100 containers of rubber out. These are some of the misinformation and propaganda that people continue to spread. But we believe the American government investigated and found no magnitude in it,” Urey said.
Urey said it’s time for Liberians to put the past behind them and move their country forward. He said if elected, he will concentrate on the future, not the past.
“This whole attitude about prosecuting everybody in previous governments, refusing to give Liberians jobs because of their political affiliation, we need to discontinue it. If we continue to do that, God will not bless us and we will not move this country forward,” he said.
He said "It’s time for all Liberians, irrespective of their tribal or political affiliation to come together to move the country forward.”