International investigators are reportedly keeping track of millionaire businessman turned politician Benoni Urey. The group is said to be monitoring activities of Mr. Urey and individuals Mr. Taylor has had ties with since the former Liberian leader was forced to leave power in 2003.
Investigators say Mr. Urey appears to be in control of Charles Taylor’s wealth and businesses, although there has not been cogent evidence yet. The former Liberian president was convicted and sentenced for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Sierra Leone.
The United States has been tracing the wealth of Mr. Taylor for years, and it appears that they have not gotten a clue of where his wealth could be. However, investigators have linked Urey and some of his close confidantes and economic advisers who are shareholders and Board members of Lonestar Cell MTN.
In 2001, President Taylor told journalists that he does not have any foreign bank account and that if the United States government found one they should seize it and have him convicted.
According to the International Justice Committee report, Benoni Urey and Emmanuel Shaw, two men with close ties to former President Charles Taylor, jointly established the PLC investment Limited. However, the CIJ explained that while MTN own a commanding 60% of Lonestar Cell, the remaining 40% is owned by PLC Investment Limited.
Urey, currently Chairman of the Lonestar, is regarded as one of the most influential individuals in Liberian politics who now aspires for the highest office in the land. He broke away from the main opposition Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) after he declared his presidential ambition which triggered confusion in the party.
Investigators also alleged that Urey, former Commissioner of the Bureau of Maritime Affairs, now Maritime Authority, has had link with the convicted arms smuggler Viktor Bout and Sanjivan Ruprah, who was an arm dealer in contravention of UN resolutions. According to investigators, both men are alleged to have supported Charles Taylor’s attempts to destabilize Sierra Leone and gain illicit access to diamonds.
Sanjivan Ruprah, a Kenyan national of Indian descent, known as one of Africa’s most notorious arms dealers, was arrested in Belgium in 2001, according to the Belgian daily Le Soir. On June 4, 2001, Mr. Ruprah was listed as one of 130 persons (a list which has since been revised by the UN with some original names and key players being dropped) banned by the UN Security Council for their role in fueling the decade-long civil war in Sierra Leone. The travel ban imposed on former officials of the Taylor’s regime, some his immediate family and members of his “inner circle at the time. Most of his officials including Urey has been delisted from the UN travel ban. However, Ruprah and his partner, Victor Bout are still affected by the travel ban.
But although the UN has lifted travel restriction on Mr. Urey, he’s still on the U.S. government restriction to America.
Urey, as Commissioner of the Bureau of Maritime Affairs, was the direct superior of Sanjivan Ruprah, who was an arm dealer in contravention of UN resolutions. Both men supported Charles Taylor’s attempts to destabilize Sierra Leone and gain illicit access to diamonds. Liberia has been under a lumber embargo since 2003 and another for diamonds since 2001 after it was found that the Liberian government was complicit in bankrolling conflict in the region.
Investigators also alleged that Urey was instrumental in siphoning off funds from Lonestar, which at the time monopolized the mobile phone market. A 2005 report from the Coalition for International Justice named Lonestar as the liaison for the illegal purchase of weapons from the Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who was sentenced to 25 years in jail. Emmanuel Shaw, one of Taylor’s close economic advisors, was found by the UN as instrumental in breaching the arms embargo in 2003. As of February 2011, Shaw was listed as owning a 40% stake in PLC.