Monrovia — The deal between the George Weah-led administration and High Power Exploration (HPX) has once again come under the spotlight after Finance and Development Planning Minister Samuel Tweah opened a Pandora’s box on the agreement, linking it to his recent lifetime U.S. visa restriction imposed by the United States Department of State.
In April December 2019, the government signed a Framework Agreement with HPX, Ivanhoe Liberia and SMFG granting HPX a non-discriminatory access to Liberian rail and port infrastructure and identifies HPX’s requirements for the future evacuation of ore from the Guinean Nimba Iron Ore Project. The Framework Agreement was amended in April 2022.
The signing of the Framework Agreement came with a whopping US$30 million from the company to the government of Liberia, which the Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Samuel Tweah, said was necessary at the time to pay civil servants salaries.
In April 2022, Minister Tweah told members of the Senate that the Liberian government was constrained to accept the US$30 million offer from HPX as a signing fee because the government was faced with the challenge of raising civil servants’ salaries for a month at the time.
The Framework Agreement, which came into effect immediately upon the signing, also set out a timetable for detailed negotiations and the implementation of a definitive Concession and Access Agreement for HPX’s infrastructure requirements.
However, HPX has come under scrutiny for its business dealings in Liberia, prompting a closer examination into potential violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) enacted by the United States in 1977.
This suspicion is rooted in a sequence of events:
In September 10, 2021, the Liberian Government officially endorsed the 3rd Amendment to the Mineral Development Agreement with ArcelorMittal.
On or around November 24, 2021, President Weah submitted the signed agreement to the National Legislature, initiating a crucial legislative process.
By December 17, 2021, the House of Representatives (HOR) took a decisive action, leading to the presentation of the agreement to the Liberian Senate. However, the legislative journey encountered complications, raising doubts about the agreement’s ultimate approval.
Around February 9, 2022, the Senate deviated from the House’s stance, necessitating a “reconciliation conference” to finalize the Bill.
On February 15, 2022, the Senate communicated the need for a conference committee to the House of Representives, escalating tensions.
In response to committee setups, HPX intensified efforts to undermine the ArcelorMittal Liberia agreement.
Following the 3rd Amendment’s ratification, the government engaged in negotiations with ArcelorMittal, resulting in a non-refundable US$65 million commitment phased over 12 months.
Anticipating a US$30 million payment upon ratification, HPX proposed an equivalent amount to the Liberian Government if the agreement was rejected.
In a departure from legislative norms, Speaker Chambers orchestrated a closed-door session on March 28, 2022, resulting in a vote to reject and return the ArcelorMittal agreement.
Despite committee appointments, the House of Representatives acts unilaterally, causing dissatisfaction in the Senate.
On March 29, 2022, Speaker Chambers officially notifies President Weah of the HOR’s decision.
On March 30, 2022, HPX introduced an amended Framework Agreement with Liberia, including an additional “UpFront” payment of US$30 million.
On March 31, 2022, HPX executed three separate payments of US$10 million each, sparking suspicions of potential money laundering.
A thorough examination failed to reveal any justifiable reason for HPX’s US$30 million payment, raising questions about its connection to the rejection of the ArcelorMittal agreement.
Considering these developments, several crucial questions arise:
Does the synchronicity between HPX’s payment and the anticipated ArcelorMittal payment raise suspicions?
Can paying funds for a specific purpose be deemed a form of bribery and corruption?
To what extent can an American company, like HPX, legitimately make payments for such considerations in a foreign jurisdiction?
Do HPX’s actions contravene the provisions of the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act?
After the initial US$7 million payment, what substantial consideration prompted a second “UpFront Payment 2” of US$30 million?
Were the payments orchestrated to influence the state through financial inducements?
Why did the Guinean Government, historically resistant to ore evacuation through Liberia, undergo a sudden change in policy, allowing HPX where others had failed, notably BHP Billiton?
In what manner did HPX navigate the political landscape differently, securing approval where a reputable company like BHP Billiton faced rejection?
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Publish date : 2023-12-19 14:17:37