Five officials from the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) appeared in court last week to face charges for their involvement in the Crane Currency banknote printing scandal.
Charged with economic sabotage, criminal conspiracy and facilitation, they were arrested on 29 February following an investigation into the “missing 16 billion Liberian banknotes” involving a contract with Crane Currency. The company, which also set up shop in Malta as a result of negotiations with the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri, has denied the allegations.
In March, Liberian media reported that Crane Currency had been involved in “one of the biggest financial scandals in the history of Liberia”. They were accused of receiving over €736,142 in kickbacks to print additional Liberian dollar banknotes over and above what was contractually agreed.
The amount of fraudulently printed currency was reported as €14.4 million at the time.
An excerpt from the President Investigation Team’s report stated that Crane AB SE-14782, registered in Sweden was a party to two contracts to print a specified number of Liberian dollars. They “knowingly and willfully conspired with officials of the CBL, to defraud the Government of Liberia” to print extra notes, according to the document.
Crane Currency denied receiving any kickbacks, saying the claims were “false” and “without merit”. The company maintained that the amount of money printed met the terms set in the contract.
According to a statement by the Justice Ministry: “Crane Currency and officials of the Central Bank of Liberia, both current and past, were charged and indicted on 4 March for economic sabotage, criminal conspiracy, and criminal facilitation in the printing of excess Liberian Dollar Banknotes.”
“During the investigation by the Presidential Investigation Team (PIT), the airway and seaway bills, along with the packing lists, clearly established that Crane printed 18.6 billion Liberian dollar banknotes over and above the 15 billion Liberian dollar banknotes it was contracted to print.”
Crane Currency is not due to appear in court any time soon. The authorities have failed to serve the relevant court summons, which would require a trip to Sweden. National media reports refer to claims that the government is unable to fund such a trip.
Two months ago, Joseph Muscat inaugurated a customer care centre at Crane Currency’s Malta plant, praising the company and stating that its presence in Malta had “exceeded expectations”. The company’s set up in Malta was “facilitated” by Muscat’s chief of staff who the Prime Minister described as the “catalyst”.
It was then discovered that Crane Currency would be purchasing printing equipment by Komori, products that were distributed locally by Schembri’s company Kasco. Schembri had said Kasco would not be involved in the supply of machinery, but that it may be tasked with the servicing agreements over the lifetime of the machines.
The government had guaranteed loans to Crane Currency for equipment and machinery of €81 million. No further details were made available as both the government and Crane Currency insisted the information was “secret and confidential”.
Crane Currency insists it has “operated in full compliance with the law and rejects completely any allegation of wrongdoing”.