Sanctioned Officials Can Contest -U.S. Official Says Judiciary Takes Precedence Over Magnitsky Act

MONROVIA – The controversial nature of the United States Treasury Department sanctioning of three officials of the Liberian Government has come to light once again. By the magnitude of allegations of corruption the Department made against former Presidential Chief of Office Staff Nathaniel McGill, former Solicitor General Sayma Syrenius Cephus, and Port Managing Director Twehway, some pundits had thought it was a foregoing conclusion that they would be unqualified to contest for elected public offices, let alone executive positions. But while speaking Tuesday to a local radio station, two Senior US Embassy officials indicated that the Magnitsky Act under whose provisions the Treasury Department accused the officials and sanctioned them is not above the Liberian judiciary process—meaning any of the three officials can contest for a political post contrary to opinions by some Liberians. The Analyst reports.

Against the background of wide speculations that the Government of the United States of America is contemplating placing tougher actions against Liberia if the sanctioned government officials both current and former are allowed to take part in the ensuing 2023 election, the US Embassy near Monrovia has categorically denied the speculations.

The Embassy clarified that the perception was far from the truth and that only the laws of Liberia have that power to do so.

Messrs. Sean Boda and Kemper, Public Affairs Officer and Political Affairs officer said the Magnitsky Act on whose strength three former government officials were designated and sanctioned is not above the judiciary of the country and cannot undermine any of Liberia’s laws or judiciary system.

The two US diplomats appeared on a live radio talk show on Tuesday, October 4, 2022 at which time they speak on the issue of the sanctions and other matters.

“The Global Magnitsky Act is not a prosecution, it is not a court of law and it is not a way for the United States of America to try to step in and usurp the rights of any sovereign state from its own criminal procedure,” Sean Boda,  US Embassy Public Affairs Officers said. “In democracies like Liberia, there are various mechanism for the citizens to hold officials of government accountable.”

He continued: “As a sovereign nation, Liberia has all rights to determine who is eligible to contest elections. The Magnitsky Act has nothing to do with your elections.”

Giving the background of the Act which has now come to be a global action by the US government to fight corruption and promote democracy and rule of law, Kemper Wagner, the political affairs officer said it was named after  Sergei Leonidovich Magnitsky, a Ukrainian-born Russian tax advisor who was arrested, detained and tortured to death for exposing corruption and misconduct by Russian government officials—and incident that spurred on other countries to document corrupt practices and seek for punitive measures as to curb the scourge.

He said former President Barack Obama signed the Act into law in 2012 to target sanctions against Russian officials for corruption and human rights abuses and has gone through various stages of expansion in its mandate started with Donald Trump in 2016 and it took effect in 2017.

The US officials said the act has been going through stages of expansion and has also been receiving enormous support.

President Biden, upon taking office, also gave priority to it and has even added more spread across the globe and as of today 400 persons and institutions have been designated and sanctioned all over the world, the said.

Mr. Wagner said President Biden once said that corruption and rights abuses are directly linked to the security interest of the US government and its people and therefore to ensure security of the country, corruption and the abuse of the rights of the people must be addressed.0

Responding to a question on what the US government looks for in a country before placing sanctions on government officials, Wagner said corruption was a key indicator as it forms part of the core objective of the US government, expanding on it include diversion of state resources to personal interest, plundering of state funds, using official functions to enrich oneself.

“Besides corruption, gross human rights violation is also considered and that includes extra judicial killings, clampdown on opposition figures, rigging of elections, denial of rule of law and Press freedom, etc.,” he said.

Both men were evasive on details as to what triggered sanctions against government officials such as the recent sanctions placed on three former government officials.

They only said it has always been a rigorous undertaking of the US government through interstate agencies that provide those sensitive information from which the government is advised to go ahead with the sanctions.

“It has always been rigorous. It takes a lot of time and resources, at times it takes up to a year or 3 or so to investigate and submit a report before sanctions are imposed,” Boda said.

Boda said the sanction starts taking effect immediately when it is issued against the person and the various institutions of government responsible to enforce compliance get into motion which include seizure or freezing of assets belonging to the sanctioned individuals.

He also said in the case where a sanctioned official does not have assets within the territorial confines of the US but in other countries, the partners of the United States take action as is the case of the US to seize the assets or take other unspecified action to make sure that the indicted individual gets the full punishment as prescribed by the ACT.

 The US Embassy official provided tips to be delisted from the sanction which he said could be done by approaching the US Treasury Department to provide information to counter claims made against the person or show proof of some form of restitution or refund of money stolen from the state.

He also spoke of behavior change on the part of the sanctioned person after being remorseful of the wrong done in the past.

“The idea behind the sanction is to incentivize a change in behavior, to help prompt change in behavior, like in the case of Liberia is to have a country free from corruption and allow the free democratic process to proceed,” Boda said.

When asked whether the US government keeps tap on persons under sanction to ensure complete compliance, Wagner said it was obvious that the US has vested interest in every decision taken with respect to the sanction and will ensure that there was a compliance such as seizure or freezing of assets, denial of visas.

He however noted that if true accountability is to be held, then “citizens of that country or the government can take action against the sanctioned person through the justice system to hold the person accountable for all the acts done that triggered the sanctions”.

While not being categorical as to whether there will be additional sanctions coming or not, they also said under the immigration laws of the United States, in addition to being sanctioned, the family members of the affected persons are also banned from being issued the US visas for entry into the country.

The clarifications from the two US Embassy officials have put to rest the rumors making around that individuals under the designation and sanctions will not be allowed to be on the ballots next year according to the US government and its partners including the EU and other multilateral development and financial institutions.  It was further rumored that the countries threatened to withdraw their support to the National Elections Commission if any of the affected individuals appeared on the ballot papers.

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