By Ralph Geeplay
EDMONTON—-Benoni Urey a former chief aide to indicted Liberian warlord President Charles Ghankay Taylor who served as the head of the lucrative Bureau of Maritime Affairs during the Taylor era, and was recently removed from the United Nations travel ban has thrown his hat in the running for the Liberian presidency with three years to go, according to reports. Say observers, as soon as the reigns of power left Taylor hands and his National Patriotic Party [NPP] Mr. Urey and many of his associates also deserted the party and as they sought to rebrand their images and reposition their political careers, “effectively distancing themselves from the atrocities committed under the Taylor regime,” said a political science professor at the University of Liberia. The former Maritime boss also accused of being Taylor chief arms buyer now plans to run on the ticket of the Congress for Democratic Change [CDC]. But party faithful reports say are pushing back, they still remember Urey and his connections to Charles Taylor.
These days Mr. Urey can be seen on speaking engagements and tours with Africa’s football legend George Weah who himself still harbors presidential ambitions in the impoverished West African country, currently led by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. One of those resisting Urey’s bid is Mr. Samuel D. Tweah Jr. In an interview he granted a Liberian radio station few days ago, he called Urey a Charles Taylor crony responsible for looting Liberia’s resources; and because of that the congress party will not allow him to lead the CDC into any presidential election. Tweah regarded as one of the catalysts behind the party founding warned of severe revolt and cracks within the party should that happen. Ventures Africa reported last year, when the United Nations refused to removed Mr. Urey from its travel ban list that “Urey, an MTN Liberia official, has long been connected to Taylor, and allegations has been made that MTN Liberia might be a financial vehicle for the convicted warlord.”
Also “A 2005 report by the Coalition for International Justice claimed Urey helped Taylor “siphon off” money from a shipping entity to buy arms. Further, the report said he was a “primary liaison for the illegal purchase of weapons” in Liberia from infamous international arms dealer Viktor Bout,” according to media reports.
Sidiki Fofana, the Congress for Democratic Change National Vice-Chairman for Political Affairs alarmed at Mr. Urey’s pronouncement told FrontPageAfrica in Monrovia this week that the former Charles Taylor’s aide quest for the Liberian Presidency on the ticket of the CDC would “cause serious distraction from the party’s 2014 objectives, but [that] it also has the potential to undermine the united front the party seeks to build as it goes into these hotly contested mid- term elections.” Press reports say less than 48 hours when the UN delisted the former maritime boss from the travel ban; he wasted no time in called a press conference to announce his candidacy for the Liberian presidency. His critics say he has no democratic credentials and have no record of advocacy in a Liberia where over the succeeding decades Liberia witnessed a one party hegemony, a military dictatorship and the draconic role of Charles Taylor whom he supported when he served as commissioner of the powerful Liberian maritime agency that represents the government interest to ships that fly the Liberian flag.
Representative Acarous Gray said the CDC would not accept a Urey candidacy, just walking into the party and claiming power he said was unacceptable. Benoni Urey unconfirmed reports say is worth about US$12 million, although his net worth is not known. Liberians are not known for reporting their wealth. Urey currently serves as the Chair of Lonestar Communications Corporation reported to be Liberia’s biggest cell phone company. Urey, it is said has also invested in residential housing, hotels, and does owned a car rental company, radio and television stations and a newspaper. In addition, he operates Wulki farm which produces poultry and other farm products. “The time has come for us to move our country forward. It is about time that Liberia be given back to Liberians and if they want me to deliver, I will be happy to answer the call.” He said recently in Liberia’s capital of Monrovia.
“Fingers are not only being pointed at Urey as a former Charles Taylor aide who has reinvented himself as Taylor sits behind bars in the United Kingdom,” said a Congress for Democratic Change executive who wasn’t authorized to speak to the media on the Urey issue. “Look at Lewis Browne,” he said. “This is the man who was Charles Taylor’s National Security Advisor and Foreign Minister, when limps of babies were being hacked off in the Sierra Leone and pregnant women bowels were being ghastly opened just for the fun of it. Today he is Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s Minister of information, speaking on behalf of our government, what a shame.”
Samuel D. Tweah Jr. said if men like Urey should lead what has been aptly called Liberia’s grass root party, it would make sense then that the CDC kept quiet as it denied itself any right to speak against societal wrongdoings, He also rubbished Taylor’s former aide attempt to campaign on the party’s ticket because the party was founded to bring change in the aftermath of Taylor and his associates’ misrule. Mr. Tweah said Benoni Urey represented in total the Taylor regime and its crimes against the Liberian people. Representative Acarous Gray regarded as a fire brand within the party also rubbished Urey’s aspirations. “Charles Taylor and his fans and associates are still not happy that he was convicted and jailed for war crimes, if we want to see the Taylor people in power again, let’s elect this Urey man,” said Famatta Toe.
Mr. Urey told the Heritage Newspaper that he wanted the Liberian presidency because the time had come for the “indigenous Liberians” to rule the country because “Americo-Liberians,” wanted to “to take away the country’s resources without investing in the country.” The CDC official said it was unfortunate that Mr. Urey was speaking “pure nonsense. He hails from Careysburg, an Americao Liberian settlement, besides that that kind of divisive politics is not good for our country. Why would he bash his own people just because he wants to be president? These men think we are stupid!”
It has been rumored that Urey paid two to five million dollars to lead the CDC ticket come 2017. But Urey denied he paid money to lead the party into general elections “I have been with [the] CDC for over eight years, I am a part of the CDC in fact, my support for CDC was part of the reason why I was kept on the travel and assets freeze ban. Many parties have been bought by money, but CDC can never be bought. CDC is worth far more than US$2 million.”
In it all, party head, legend George Weah and Johnson Sirleaf’s peace ambassador who has confirmed he is contesting a senatorial post this year is yet to break his silence that he has sold the party to a former Charles Taylor aide. “For Urey to say he was on the travel ban list because of the CDC is stupendous and totally ridiculous. That is an insult to our party, he was on the United Nations ban list because of his activities and connections with Charles Taylor and the criminal enterprise they ran, and not because of the CDC,” said the congress party executive in reaction to Mr. Urey’s comments
Ralph Geeplay is editor of the www.liberianlistener.com