Was McGill’s US Sanction Designation a Surprise? -I beg to Differ  -A Commentary By Ernest Tornolah Kollie (ETK)

As a former student of government and politics, with residency in Europe for the past decade and a half, the ongoing problems of my birthplace Liberia continue to preoccupy my mind. One of the main issues right now that jolts my brain cells is how to adequately address the ubiquitous Facebook teaser, “What’s on your mind”, without somehow appearing subjective in regards to that main issue which wracks my mind. So, I have been sitting here all day mulling over how to connect the dots that intersect with the lines of reasoning behind the US Treasury Department’s August 15, 2022 Magnitsky sanctions imposed against some of President George Weah’s key government officials for allegedly engaging in corrupt activities that tend to undermine democracy.

I use the word “allegedly” because from all of my readings into this issue over the past months since the sanctions were imposed, I remained utterly confused as to why specifically former Minister of State Nathaniel F. McGill was sanctioned on the basis of information gathered from “sources”, even though McGill continues to cry that he wants justice, and that the Government should send him court; but up till now he has not been afforded the opportunity to face justice in a court of competent jurisdiction in his own country. However, having carefully analyzed the issues at bay; and having spoken with key authoritative sources within and outside of government, my findings leave me with no element of surprise as to why McGill is being unjustifiably targeted, even as he begs to be taken to court to clear his name.

Background to McGill’s Woes

Almost everyone close to the inner workings of the government of Liberia knows about the commanding level of influence that President Weah’s former Minister of State for Presidential Affairs wielded in showcasing the gains of the Weah-led government.

McGill overnight became Weah’s lone soldier, taking upon himself the mandate to traverse the entire countryside, speaking with the citizens, providing scholarships in the name of President George Weah to students from impoverished households, empowering women structures to help them shift from their traditional livelihood settings where the womenfolk are restricted to the forehearth, to become practical breadwinners and decision-makers. McGill was also actively engaged in showcasing the myriads of completed, ongoing and prospective projects of the CDC government as contained within their Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PAPD) objectives.

As McGill went about executing these newfound administrative deliverables of the government, one of the many things that this writer confidentially gathered is that the man who would later be labelled as President Weah’s “prime minister” started to make a lot of enemies from within his own camp, mainly because of how effectively he was being positioned as President Weah key PADP deliverable czar.

Long before America decided to sanction McGill, news had already started circulating about his impending designation. It was also being rumored that McGill would never be allowed to travel to the United States, because the Treasury Department had listed him as an undesirable Liberian government official. That McGill had traveled to the United States in the wake of these rumors reportedly incensed his detractors.

It is interesting to also recall that barely a week before being sanctioned, McGill had already started being pilloried at home, evidenced by the barrage of news articles that tried to pin him to succession attempts after the end of Weah’s expected second term in 2029.

Interestingly, McGill’s detractors started touting the spin that he was being groomed to take over from President Weah because the incumbent didn’t trust his own Vice President Jewel Howard-Taylor. They were justifying their assertions to convince other Coalition for Democratic Change tripartite constituent members by rehashing the 2017 scenario wherein former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and her then Vice President Joseph Nyuma Boakai fell out over distrust issues, and felt that by vilifying McGill President Weah would turn against his right-hand man.

“This is a classic scenario that worked against McGill even before the sanctions. We are reliably informed that key elements within the CDC tripartite arrangement immediately starting working to dislodge McGill; and they were wasting no small effort and resources to achieve that end by using any unorthodox avenue, including disinformation, misinformation and skewed news disseminations through ‘weaponized’ media outlets,” a very reliable CDC insider told me when I was struggling to make sense of the Magnitsky sanctions and its connection with McGill.

The Magnitsky Designation, McGill’s push for Justice

It is especially interesting to note that McGill was hooked by the Magnitsky sanctions for allegedly bribing business owners, receiving bribes from potential investors, and accepting kickbacks for steering contracts to companies in which he has an interest. 

For anyone accused of a crime, and knowing fully well he or she is culpable, the first thing is to appeal for leniency. But in this case, some of us are completely dumbfounded over the fact that the accused, Nathaniel Falo McGill, is the one calling on the Weah-led government for his own prosecution in order to either exonerate or hold him liable for the alleged crimes outlined against him under the Magnitsky sanctions.

“The Americans may be investigating something genuine about corruption in Liberia but somebody must have told them something wrong about me or misinformed them into believing whatever that must have led to the sanctions,” McGill is on record to inform international wire Alazeera on September 3, 2022.

“I just believe someone must have told them the information which is not true, but I don’t think the Americans hate me. I am just sure that they must have genuinely intended to find the source of corruption in the country but somebody must have given them the wrong information,” McGill had stated immediately following his designation.

He later furthered the argument of innocence that as a victim of identity theft, the US Treasury Department should have thoroughly investigated the information made available to them before applying their designation against him.

“One thing you have to also know is that a lot of criminally-minded people have used my name and position before to engage in corrupt practices, including extortion of money from people, while some people make calls around purporting to be me and swindling money from unsuspecting characters who are not only stealing from the people but are bent on tarnishing my reputation.

“Just go on Facebook, the evidence is all over the place. People are using fake identities, fake names as Hon. McGill to deceive people. Some of them were arrested before and being turned over to the security agencies for prosecution,” McGill is quoted as saying. Of course, identity theft is nothing strange to those of us who have lived in the Western world for a good number of years.

But even as McGill lost his job over what he considers false information given to the US government officials to bring sanction charges on him, he remains poised to ensure his former boss gets a second term bid, while affirming that the US Government will eventually purge him of all charges once they thoroughly verify the information that was availed to them.

“So, for those who are interested in following the truth for the real meaning of it, there are many businessmen in this country—the Indians, the Lebanese and others—just ask them whether McGill has ever taken money from them,” McGill is on record for stating, noting further, “those who had the genuine reason to conduct an investigation about corruption must have unfortunately been misled by others who did not have any evidence or facts to prove their allegation against me. So, we cannot say we are being targeted by the American government.”

Why am I saying all of this?

There is a popular saying in Liberia which goes like this: show me your friends and I can tell who you are.

Some of us were here when the going was really tough; when the bullets were flying. We were blessed to have found an exit strategy to leave the turmoil and confusion that had engulfed our homeland, leaving behind memories that we will never wish our children and grandchildren would go through.

I didn’t know McGill personally during my time back home when I was hustling to make ends meet as a young cadre from Buzzi Quarter; but I really started following his activities in 2011, at a time I was already preparing my exit out of Liberia.

From 2011 to date, too many things have happened for McGill. The shift of power dynamics could be taking its toll on a man who came from almost nowhere in 2011 when he was closely aligned with Cllr. Winston Tubman, to become President Weah’s chief confidant after the 2017 elections.

From a poor, struggling youth who had to trek miles to obtain primary education in the Belle forests, McGill got through life by his bootstraps; and by the time he entered the University of Liberia during the wartime, he did not even know how he was going to graduate, simply because he did not have any means to get his tuition paid, safe for the intervention of a global soccer icon, George Weah, who shouldered the responsibility to pay the tuition of students of the University of Liberia at the time.

Perhaps as a means of repaying his gratitude to the man who helped to shape his life, McGill would later join the Congress for Democracy Change’s whirlwind that was sweeping the country after 14 years of internecine conflict, to later ascend to the lofty position of National Chairman of the CDC, a position that paved his path to the Executive Mansion where he would be appointed as Weah’s first Minister of State after the former soccer star won the elections in 2017.

Over the years, as he exerted himself as Weah’s key confidant, and as someone who had the ears and eyes of the Liberian chief executive, McGill’s authoritative presence around the seat of power, I am reliably informed, started to ruffle many feathers. 

I am also privy to key intelligence that might have spurred the plethora of misinformation on how McGill came to be seen within his newfound political stratification as a trojan horse, someone who could be used to destabilize the CDC hegemony and perpetuate his own agenda.

It is common knowledge that one of the members of the Coalition arrangement was overly jittery over McGill’s influence around the presidency, to the extent that its political leader expressed happiness recently that they are not a part of the Magnitsky sanctions, and vocally indicated their elation over the sanctions that have crippled those perceived as ‘enemies of progress’.

As the McGill issue plays out in the coming months, it is hoped that the US Government will look beyond the obvious and dig deeper into its voluminous files to sifter the chaff from the grain, with the aim of really knowing why President Weah’s key development promoter, on the cusp of Weah’s second term bid, is fingered to be downgraded to a pariah status. 

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