Monrovia — The corruption scandal surrounding the mysterious disappearance of over US$200,000 from a saving account at the United Bank for Africa (UBA)-Liberia intended to improve the wellbeing of agents of the Executive Protection Service (EPS) appears to be far from ending due to the new twist of case which is being investigated by the Liberia National Police (LNP).
Headed by Mr. Trokon Roberts, the EPS is an elite group of armed men and women providing security for the President, Vice President, Speaker and all VIPs in the Executive. They also provide security for foreign guests visiting the country.
For sometimes now, the agency has been entangled into a corruption scandal and a calculated ploy to implicate and hold liable some Board and Management Team Members of the agency’s Development Fund which has backfired, bringing the institution to public disrepute.
In June 2018, over 800 agents of the EPS adopted a constitution under the banner “Executive Protection Service Employees’ Development Fund” to afford them the opportunities to accumulate saving and create credit facilities for themselves, from which they can obtain loans for productive and provident purposes at a fair interest rate of 5%.
The Fund was managed by a Team of five (5) persons and its activities were being monitored by a team of three Board Members as Observers and Auditors.
Those who headed the management team were: James Helb (Chairman), Alex Togba (Co-Chair), Tony Morris (Credit Manager), James Paye (Financial Secretary) and Joseph Weah (General Secretary). The Board members were: Esther P. Chea (Chairperson), Emmanuel Wesseh and Stephen Morgan.
Those comprising of the management team and board were elected by agents of the EPS, who are referred to as shareholders under the Fund.
Section 1 of the constitution adopted by the agent states that: “In order for the EPS Employees Development Fund to achieve its intended goal and objectives, the sum of US$20 is charged as monthly due per member and it is to be deducted from all agreed member monthly salary check by the Comptroller of the EPS and transferred to the Fund’s Bank Account through its Management Team.”
Since then, more than US$400,000 has been deposited in the Fund’s account at the UBA. The Fund Account number # is: 53010550002258 with title: EPS Employees Development Fund.
Last year, the Chairman of the Development Fund James Helb absconded the country after it was established that over US$$200,000 was illegally and surreptitiously withdrawn from the account at UBA.
Helb was the A signatory to the account, while Alex Togba and James Paye were the remaining.
For more than a year now, the case has dragged at the LNP. It is being investigated by Assistant Police Commissioner for Criminal Investigation, Intelligence and Interpol Affairs Prince Mulbah.
Addressing a news conference at the EPS’ headquarters on Capitol Hill in Monrovia on Thursday, November 30, Mr. Mulbah disclosed that the LNP launched a probe into the matter following a complaint filed by the EPS, through its Director Trokon Roberts.
He noted that the main suspect James Helb absconded the country and is now residing in Accra, Ghana.
According to him, the LNP has been working with the National Central Bureau (NCB) of Interpol to ensure the arrest and deportation of the suspect.
Mr. Mulbah maintained that though Liberia has a “good standing” with Interpol, the LNP remains concern on why suspect Helb has not been arrested and turnover to the LNP.
He pointed out that preliminary investigation conducted by the police shows that suspect Helb used an agent of the EPS identified as Agatha Sayee to carry out transactions along with an employee of the UBA identified as one Maude to withdraw huge sum of money from the account.
“James Helb is still not being arrested. For whatever reason from our counterparts, we don’t know. What we are lacking is the right to vote as a country when it comes to Interpol because from 2004, Liberia owes them some money and we need to pay. Helb’s case has become a nightmare for us and so, we are now applying all frantic efforts with our friends in the sub-region to see how we can arrest Helb to be brought back to Liberia.”
Subpoena the bank
Mr. Mulbah further pointed out that the LNP will request the court to subpoena UBA Liberia to provide necessary information that would help bring the case to a logical conclusion.
He said court action would compel the bank to provide information on how monies are withdrawn from the Fund’s account, which has three signatories.
“Is it that one of the three signatories can withdraw in the absent of the other two? If not, why would the bank allow one person to carry on transaction? From our end, we will do everything legally to bring this case to a logical conclusion because it borders on the integrity of people in leadership. We have embarked on engaging the court to subpoena the bank to give us all necessary information to inform us how we draw down this case. The question is who is authorizing withdrawal in the absence of the others?”
Delay in investigation
Mulbah blamed the delay in the investigation to dashed hope and confidence in counterparts in the sub-region to bring Helb back to Liberia to face prosecution.
According to him, the investigation cannot be concluded and forwarded to court for prosecution of those involved or linked in a timely manner due to the absence of Helb from the ongoing probe.
He noted that the LNP remains confident that Helb would be apprehended and turned over for investigation.
Meanwhile, Mulbah has stressed the need for coordination and cooperation between countries to safeguard the various regions.
Also speaking, EPS Director Trokon Roberts claimed that his administration cannot be held liable because, it does not steer the day to day affairs of the Fund.
He recalled that he ordered an audit of the Fund when he realized that monies were being deducted from his salaries without any notification of being cleared from a loan of US$10,000 he took from the Fund.
He claimed an internal audit conducted on the Fund shows “a lot of discrepancies that administration and all of the shareholders didn’t know about.”
“At this crucial time in the history of Liberia, it’s very unique that we do the right thing here. For the past one year, there has been too much noise about the EPS Employees Development Fund. They have their set by-laws and constitution which states that the administration of the EPS has no direct impact on the day to day management of the fund. They have their signatories and if any money should be moved from there they do what they supposed to do.”
“I put a stop to deduction of agent salaries and asked that they collect the outstanding to see the way forward. 70% of the money the group collected was divided. I was away and instructed them what to do with mine.”
Director Roberts pointed out that the decision taken by those managing the Fund to purchase 40 acres of land unknown to shareholders was unearthed during the audit process.
He said though the move appears to be in the interest of the agents, the withdrawal of the money from the Fund’s account at UBA came as a “surprise” because the body was not aware.
According to him, only those heading the management team, including the Board can better explain on the manner and form in which the decision was derived at to purchase the land for the agents.
Director Roberts alleged that the internal investigation conducted shows that the 40 acres of land purchased for the agents belongs to the family of James Helb, the prime suspect in the case.
“The reason why I called you today, we are transitioning and some of us have distinct character. I am not going to leave this and then go away and the noise remains here. The administration has no direct interference in the day to day running of that thing (Fund). What we could do is what we’re doing now; it’s what we did for the audit. “
He emphasized that his administration acted orderly by calling on the police to further investigate the matter, a move which also prompted the involvement of Interpol.
“My immediate lieutenants and I are nowhere involved with this thing (scandal). If you will hold us because we head the institution; we did the most appropriate thing to conduct an audit, report the case to the Minister of Justice and the Liberia National Police.”
Forwarding case to LACC
Director Roberts pointed out that in keeping with its mandate to play a supervisory role and prosecute offenders when the need arises, the administration of the EPS will now forward the matter to the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) for further probe.
“After this meeting, we will be doing a formal letter to the LACC. I called there already and they are going to give me the most appropriate person to deal with on that matter. We are going to do what we have to do.”
He said it remains important to finalize a comprehensive investigation on the scandal, especially during this transition period.
According to him, UBA Liberia remains a stakeholder in the case and as such, it should be asked the hard questions surrounding the saga.
“The bank issued a statement to us; when the case got heated we went back and the first and second statements didn’t coincide. The money was not something that one could put in suitcase and run away. From our own internal investigation we established that the land belongs to his (James Helb’s) family. Some people among them bought land. The collection of the money and other things were done by people who had the capacity in their midst to do it. Administration was not clothed with the authority to do that.”
Director Roberts further denied reports that administrative cuts from agents’ salaries were being sent to the development fund account which is under investigation.
He, however, admitted that cuts from agents’ salaries go to the agency’s contributions for bereavements, illnesses and others involving agents.
“If an agent does not come to work, we don’t have a withholding or detention cell here. We do administrative cuts and those funds go to athlete and there are countless of athlete things that are done. Most times we get incapacitated in allocating funds for special operations and other things.”
Director Roberts disclosed that as it stands, the administration of the EPS is only aware of James Helb being the prime suspect until the ongoing investigation can prove otherwise.
He noted that presently, administration does not know the actual amount in the bank account of the development fund, as the payment of the balance 30% to all agents remains outstanding.
About 70% payment has already been made to all agents of the EPS.
He encouraged aggrieved agents to abandon any plan of staging a protest ahead of the inauguration of the President and Vice President-elect Joseph Nyuma Boakai and Jeremiah Koung and await the actual information surrounding the matter.
“There is no way, under any law that the EPS administration can be liable. We followed the rules and we did the right thing.”
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Publish date : 2023-12-01 15:19:03