A Controversy in Washington, DC? Liberian Consular Section Closes


By Theodore T. Hodge


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
February 28, 2005

On February 21, the Daily Observer reported that the consular section of the Liberian embassy in Washington, DC had temporarily been closed effective on the date of the report.

“The news release signed by Ambassador Charles A. Minor, said that the consulate section regrets any inconvenience the temporary closure of the consular section may cause the public but all efforts are being made for the Section to resume services to the public”, wrote Rodney Sieh, a staff writer.

The news release further speculated that the closure of the consular section was due to a number of “irregularities and corruption by employees at the embassy”. Specifically, it was reported, “some embassy employees have been privately using the embassy resources to issue visas and travel documents and pocketing the money for themselves”.

We later learned that the foreign ministry had ordered a new account established with the ambassador, the consul general and the deputy chief of missions as signatories. According to sources, the ambassador is said to have disapproved of having the deputy chief of missions added on as a signatory to the account. Why would the ambassador refuse such a directive? What were his reasons? Why was the original account closed in the first place? And how had financial transactions transpired without an official account up to this point?

Thomas Yaya Nimely
As may be expected, this story generated frantic discussions among Liberians here in the US. Among obvious questions were: “Why was the section closed? Was this done in consultation with the Foreign Ministry in Monrovia or was the action to close the embassy a unilateral decision by the ambassador; if so, why? Is corruption that rampant among employees at the embassy? Was the closure of the embassy’s consular section a sign of much larger and sinister political happenings behind the scenes”?

With such vibrant conversational topics brewing The Perspective went behind the scenes to interview some of the major players. I first called Ambassador Minor who was attending to an official call at the moment, but was gracious enough to return my call, at his earliest convenience. I asked if he would care to comment on the story, he informed me that it would be inappropriate for him to do so since a major investigation was underway. He admitted that the consular section of the embassy was closed upon his direct orders and that he had already issued a press release. He promised to cooperate with us during and after the investigation. But for the moment, he would decline to make any further comments. I thanked him for the opportunity to chat.

Uppermost in my mind was the question “Did the ambassador act in consultation with the Foreign Ministry, as protocol would dictate, or did he act unilaterally?” I called the Foreign Minister of Liberia, the Honorable Thomas Yaya Nimely and asked him about the issues at hand. He told me quite frankly that the ambassador’s decision to close the consular section was not only a unilateral decision taken by the ambassador, but a decision taken in direct contravention to his orders to the ambassador.

The foreign minister elaborated the importance of keeping the consular section opened as a way of countering some negative reports and opinions about travel safety to the country. He deemed it important and necessary to have the office open to project a positive image and he reiterated that closing the office is counterproductive. The minister further informed me that a high-power investigative team has already left Monrovia to probe the matter at the embassy in rejection to the ambassador’s wishes to have the matter investigated by a team appointed by the ambassador himself.

In a letter to the ambassador, the foreign minister writes: “Government has commissioned the Inspector General of Foreign Missions at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Auditor General of Liberia and an Expert from the Bureau of General Auditing to proceed to Washington, D.C. to conduct investigations into alleged irregularities within the Consular Section of the Embassy, as well as probe into other matters that will be brought to their attention… The team is expected to be in Washington on or before March 1, 2005”.

In closing, the letter clearly states: “In view of the above, I direct that you immediately reopen the Consular Section which you closed unilaterally, and allow First Secretary/Consul Madam Cooper free access to her office. It is important to remind you that the Consular Section plays a vital role in the Embassy’s interaction with the general public. Therefore, any decision for its closure must first meet the consent of the Minister of Foreign Affairs.”

A copy of the above quoted letter was sent to Mrs. Stataria Cooper, the Consul General mentioned above. I asked her if the ambassador had complied with the minister’s directive. She said no, she was still locked out of her office as her office door had been chained and her electronic access to the embassy had been effectively blocked.

In the meantime, reliable sources at the embassy have told us that documents, such as visas, are being continually issued although the consular section remains officially closed. Our sources tell us that monies have been collected and used inappropriately. Could such allegations be true or just unsubstantiated rumors? Is Ambassador Minor being deliberately defiant and insubordinate to the Foreign Minister’s directives? Did the ambassador have good reasons to close the section, as he claims he does? What will the high-powered investigative team uncover? We don’t know. But The Perspective will follow this highly unusual and controversial case of diplomatic entanglement. We shall bring you any new developments as we uncover them