Many Liberians would not have known much about the other side of Liberian businessman Sheik Bassirou Kante. Until news broke out that the man who single-handedly sponsored Nigerian Afro-pop musical duo P-Square’s trip to Liberia to perform at Liberia’s recently-held Bicentennial Anniversary Celebration in Monrovia is now jailed in the US in a US$7 million money laundering and wire fraud case. As things stand, while Bassirou has been denied bail due to what US authorities term as flight risk because he holds a dubious Liberian diplomatic passport, Vice President Jewel has been drawn into the fray by media reports insinuating that she might have recommended the issuance of a Liberian diplomatic passport to Mr. Bassirou Kante that might have spurred his clandestine activities – allegations which VP Taylor’s office has vehemently debunked.
According to a May 9, 2022 press release from the Office of Vice President Jewel Howard-Taylor, the Vice Presidency is concerned by the May 9th, 2022 headline of the Front-Page Africa newspaper, in which the paper insinuates that Vice President Taylor was involved in obtaining or recommending a Diplomatic Passport for Mr. Sheik Bassirou Kante who is being investigated in the United States on allegations of money laundering conspiracy.
“The Office of the Vice President categorically states that at no time did this Office apply for or recommend the issuance of said Diplomatic Passport. The Office of the Vice President affirms that the Vice President has interacted with Mr. Sheik Bassirou Kante, noting that while it is true that the Vice President has many friends across all sectors of society in her political sojourn, it will be a travesty to logic to suggest that the Vice President is aware of the personal dealings of anyone she may have interacted with at any level,” the release categorically stated.
The press release furthered that, as a champion for ensuring the actualization of the Rule of Law, enhancing Democracy and encouraging Social Corporate responsibilities by all well-meaning Liberians; the Vice President is of the opinion that the Rule of Law provides the opportunity for all allegations of wrongdoing to be adjudicated.
“The Office of the Vice President continues to appreciate the Liberian media for their relentless sacrifices in building our nascent democracy and keeping our country safe and peaceful,” the release, signed by the VP Press Secretary Richmond O. Neufville, concluded.
The referenced Front Page Africa publication indicated that Sheik Bassirou Kante, also known as Royal Gold, was arrested at his home in the United States on April 20 and charged with money laundering conspiracy as he was preparing to travel to Dubai on a one-way ticket.
According to the publication, Bassirou, who has since been in pre-trial detention, applied for but was denied bail due to flight risk.
“The Defendant’s ties to Liberia, moreover, are especially deep. The email search warrant production revealed that the Defendant has a close personal relationship with the Vice President of Liberia. Moreover, during the execution of the search warrant at the Defendant’s residence on April 20, 2022, agents discovered that the Defendant was in possession of a Diplomatic Liberian passport. That the Defendant, who occupies no formal diplomatic position within the Liberian government (a fact the Defendant admitted at the detention hearing), was nonetheless in possession of a Diplomatic Liberian passport is powerful evidence of the strength of the Defendant’s connections to the highest levels of the Liberian government. The Defendant is, after all, a citizen of Liberia, not the United States. A connection like this, therefore, only enhances the Defendant’s already elevated risk of nonappearance,” Judge Sullivan noted, according to court deposition.
In all fairness to the Front Page Africa report on the Bassirou case, the newspaper did indicate the lack of clarity of the US authorities’ statement that suspect Bassirou “had close personal relationship with the vice president of Liberia”, after searching Bassirou’s email based on warrant.
However, Bassirou is also known to have even closer ties to President Weah. Apart from reportedly paying US$230,000 to P-Square, Bassirou offered to bear the funeral cost of all 29 persons killed during the infamous New Kru Town stampede, while presenting the management and team of the Redemption Hospital in New Kru Town 100 bags of 25kg rice and 100 gallons of oil as means of appreciation.
Meanwhile, the government of Liberia has reportedly frozen all of Bassirou’s assets that are tied to Royal Gold Trading Company Inc. in 10 Liberian banks.