Liberia: U.S. Ambassador McCarthy Addresses Controversial $US 100 Million Drug Verdict

Good afternoon and thank you for coming today! It’s been a while since our last roundtable in March. I’m pleased to see familiar faces in the room. I look forward to addressing current topics of importance and concern.

First, I’d like to commend the political party leaders, civil society organizers, and international dignitaries on the signing of the Farmington River Declaration last month. These signatories made a clear commitment to prevent violence, cooperate with law enforcement agencies, expand voter education, avoid inflammatory language and disinformation, and accept the official election results, among many other elements. My congratulations come however with a caveat: going forward, I expect all parties to avoid a repeat of the nonsense we witnessed two weeks ago with the political disruption of a church service. To the political leaders: if your signatures mean anything, we depend on your honor to uphold those high standards invoked in the Declaration.

The true test of this commitment will be the execution of a free, fair, transparent, and peaceful election process over the next 19 weeks. I urge media institutions and integrity organizations to keep politicians of all parties accountable to their important Declaration commitments. Rather than simply reporting on the “horse race,” — ask politicians the tough questions about their platforms and records, shed light on policy inconsistencies, and remind the public what they stand to gain—or lose—in the lead up to October. It is not easy, but your efforts to hold politicians and government officials accountable are critical to upholding Liberia’s democracy, and I salute you for it.

Like many Liberians, including the Minister of Justice, I was saddened to see the acquittal of suspects in both a recent human trafficking case and in the $100 million cocaine trafficking case. While I hesitate to second-guess any jury and I fully admit that I am not privy to all the details of the prosecutions or their defenses, I hope this does not send a signal of weakness in enforcement to international criminal cartels. From an outsider’s perspective it is alarming that convictions could not be obtained in Liberia, even when the evidence seemed so overwhelming. I am also worried about what these developments portend for Liberia’s justice sector, which the United States Government has supported with many millions of dollars over the years in capacity development.

The case stems from the US$100 million cocaine bust on October 1, 2022, in which one Oliver Zayzay, a Liberian national, and some of his foreign associates were arrested after seeking to purchase what appeared to be a shipping container full of fresh frozen pig feet from a refrigerated storage facility in Monrovia.

Today, I would like to share some positive examples of Liberia’s criminal-justice institutions and focus your attention on some remarkable law enforcement activities of the past month. This is the kind of steady, time-consuming, rule-of-law police work that often goes unnoticed and underappreciated. It is also the kind of consistent ground-level law enforcement activity that can begin to change attitudes about impunity regarding those who think they are above the law. We applaud the outstanding coordination involving all members of the security sector and public prosecutors in recent weeks. Here they are:

 In a bold and relentless move, smugglers managed to smuggle several million dollars worth of cocaine to Liberia via container 

Our first salute goes to the Liberia National Police, for their collaboration with our Consular section that resulted in the arrest of two fraudulent document vendors who sought to undermine the integrity of U.S. and Liberian documents, which would have weakened the security of both our nations. Let this be a caution to all applicants, that there are unscrupulous criminals in Monrovia who will try and seduce you into thinking that lies and forged documents are a short-cut to qualifying for a visa to the United States. Nothing could be further from the truth. When you are caught using falsified documents, you will render yourself ineligible for any visa for years to come, if not for life, and the money you spent on these scoundrels will be lost forever. You may be ineligible for U.S. funded training and assistance opportunities as well. We greatly appreciate the assistance from the Government of Liberia in smashing these criminal enterprises and putting miscreants behind bars.

Second, to the security forces working with the USAID-funded Focused Conservation project that seized a shipment of pangolin scales –the largest interdiction ever in Liberia. Let the wildlife smugglers understand that law enforcement is watching, and the police will catch and prosecute you! In addition, the authorities arrested a suspect accused of mistreating a chimpanzee, delivering the animal to safety at a certified chimpanzee shelter.

Third, we congratulate a security sector interagency team that used old-fashioned detective work to identify and raid pharmacies who were selling donated medicines. Just this weekend, the joint security team in Karnplay prevented a suspect from smuggling stolen pharmaceutical drugs into Cote d’Ivoire. Medicines purchased and donated by USAID and other international partners so that they could be given free of charge to those in need, were instead being sold by heartless, greedy pharmacists to make easy money. Like the expression “stealing candy from a baby”, these criminals were stealing donated medicine from the poorest Liberians – mostly children – to make a profit! It would be a lie to call this a victimless crime; I can tell you with no exaggeration that Liberians without resources have died unnecessarily over the past years because they were denied access to donated medicines. These pharmaceutical products belong to the poor, and they have a right to receive them free of charge. Let short-sighted, heartless thieves understand – the police are on to you, and they will hunt you down! Prosecutors are eagerly awaiting the opportunity to arrest you, put you on trial, and get you behind bars.

Additionally, in the case of the appalling alleged kickback scheme of health funding for the people of Margibi County, caught on tape and courageously revealed by Liberia’s thriving Fourth Estate, I want to reiterate that we support Minister Jallah’s recommendation that Margibi County Health Officials be prosecuted by the LACC to the fullest extent of the law. We look forward to seeing those prosecutions to a successful end, which will then allow us to resume reimbursing legitimate expenses at the county level in Margibi, per our $55 million dollar Government-to-Government Health assistance program.

In my most recent press release, I expressed a deep concern for this sort of corruption—which exists at all levels, regardless of political affiliation. My statements echo President Biden’s National Security Strategy, which recognizes that “when government officials abuse public power for private gain, it degrades the business environment, subverts economic opportunity, and exacerbates inequality. [This] corruption also contributes to reduced public trust in state institutions, which in turn can add to the appeal of illiberal actors who exploit popular grievances for political advantage.” Let me be clear; the blatant theft of government funds by public servants at the highest levels is not just unethical – it is a betrayal. A betrayal of the oaths they took on assuming office, and a betrayal of international partners who take taxpayer revenues from their own country to help the people of a country in need.

As my tenure here in Liberia comes to a close, my concern for the Liberian people is undiminished. I look forward to seeing both civil society leaders and government officials stepping up to truly put the nation’s interests first. There lie the dreams of every patriotic Liberian!

Finally, on a bittersweet note, I’d like to announce that my term as U.S. Ambassador to Liberia is scheduled to end when I depart Monrovia mid-July, 2023. Just as previous U.S. Ambassadors before me, I have served the full term of my presidential appointment in Liberia, proudly representing President Biden and the United States people to the best of my ability. After I transition from the Embassy, Deputy Chief of Mission Joel Maybury will serve as Chargé d’Affaires until the arrival of his replacement Catherine Rodriguez, as we await Senate confirmation of our next ambassador. We are fortunate to have a deep bench of senior officers who are fully capable of running our operations in Liberia for as long as it takes, offering a smooth transition and maintaining those special bonds we have always treasured between Liberia and the United States.

Thank you and I look forward to your questions!

Source: US Embassy in Liberia