Benoni Urey: The Life and Times of a War Criminal

In recent weeks, Liberian media outlets have been awash with stories featuring the unusual character of one Benoni Urey, a businessman and minor opposition politician whose secretive dark past is posing problems to all those around him.

First, there was the blockbuster story broken by FrontPageAfrica under the headline “Ex-VP Boakai Indicates He’s Open to Prosecuting Benoni Urey in War Crimes Court,” which reported on Boakai’s now infamous series of interviews with the British magazine Africa Briefing.

This was followed by another FPA story, “ANC Blames former VP Boakai for Urey’s Constant Attack on Cummings,” in which Aloysius Toe, ANC National Secretary General, described Urey as “a man with depraved indifference to decency, truth and honesty.”  After playing an audio clip which proved that Urey had lied about nonexistent changes to the Collaborating Political Parties framework document, Toe remarked: “This is a man who should not even be sitting at any table to discuss Liberia’s future because of his evil past, yet he is being allowed to destroy the CPP.”

Around the same time that people were becoming aware of Urey’s conspiracy to break up the CPP, interesting revelations from a regional media outlet have raised the stakes even higher over the future prosecution of Liberia’s war criminals. As reported by the Premium Times, during court proceedings in the prosecution of Gibril Massaquoi, a defense witness revealed to the court that the American lawyer and lobbyist Alan White had instructed him to infiltrate and spy on Hassan Bility’s group, and that Bility had bribed him and other witnesses to lie on the stand.

Alan White of course is back in the news, too. He recently filed under the Foreign Agents Registration Act for an anti-Weah lobbying campaign on behalf of a fake front group calling itself the Liberian Renaissance Office Inc. (LIROI), but which actually simply continues to represent Urey’s interests. Urey first hired White’s partner, Jeffrey Birrell, back in 2017 and they have worked together ever since.  Just as Alan White has been allegedly interfering with witnesses in order to protect Massaquoi from prosecution, he’s also tasked with protecting Urey.

Almost immediately after the cat was out of the bag, Urey’s media team rushed to the defense. New Dawn published a report about a “speech” given by Urey at the All Liberian Party Headquarters (though no such rally or press conference was ever announced). Urey is reported to have denied having hired Alan White to attack the Liberian government. “I’m encouraging the Government of Liberia and Liberians to investigate and find out who did it and for what reason the person is doing it,” Urey said. He may well get his wish.

So how did this “humble farmer” from Careysburg find himself as Defendant #1 for the future War and Economic Crimes Tribunal? The impending demise of Benoni Urey was actually very long in the making.

Going way back to the beginning of his political career as Commissioner of Maritime under convicted war criminal Charles Taylor, Urey diverted funds from the Liberian Maritime Authority to obtain military hardware for Taylor’s regime. In Urey’s telling, he was the “best Chairman of Maritime ever.”

Urey was sanctioned by the United Nations and added to the US Government’s “Specially Designated Nationals” sanctions list for facilitating illegal arms smuggling, as is documented a UN investigation from the early 2000s, and the 2006 Truth and Reconciliation Commission final report in Liberia called for Urey to be prosecuted for economic crimes during the civil war and barring him from public office for 30 years.

In 2008, when Urey was fighting hard to get sanctions removed, the US Secretary of State at the time Condoleezza Rice wrote a cable that declared Urey a continuing threat and instructed the US to oppose Urey’s delisting request. The cable, which was revealed by WikiLeaks, wrote “Benoni Urey continues to pose an ongoing threat to the peace and stability in Liberia and the subregion. Urey was the Commissioner of Maritime Affairs for former Liberian President Charles Taylor, and was known to play a key role in arms procurement.”

Urey is still loyal to Charles Taylor, which should not come as much of a surprise since the convicted war criminal helped Urey get rich through telecoms company Lonestar. In case anyone was in doubt of Urey’s continued ties to Taylor, in 2018 Urey declared in defense of his patron, “Let them free Taylor or carry everyone to jail”.

Urey has tried hard to fix his tarnished image, hiring lobbyists in Washington and using his radio station to push his agenda in Liberia while pressuring newspaper editors to publish articles in his favor. Urey wants Liberians to think of him as a rich businessman who came from humble beginnings as a farmer, but it is impossible to ignore his dark past dating back to the civil war.

In 2017, tried running for president, declaring that “considering all my accomplishments in life…I think Liberia cannot find a better person” to be president. But the result was humiliating, and he got just 1.6 percent of the vote.

Those close to Benoni Urey say that he suffers from deep seated insecurities – an imposter syndrome. He has longed to be respected and recognized for his ill-gotten wealth as though he had worked hard for it, and is said to be deeply envious of the pristine reputation of a legitimate successful business career as is enjoyed by Alexander Cummings.

Once Urey realized that becoming president himself was an unlikely prospect, he threw his support and his money behind former Vice-President Joseph Boakai of the Unity Party, hoping that this alliance could bring him to power and influence on the experienced and more popular Boakai’s coattails. But even Boakai’s team is slowly realizing that Urey brings nothing but harm and could drag the Unity Party down with him.