By Alva Mulbah Wolokolie
It was just one day ahead of celebrating Jesus Christ’s birthday worldwide, that Benoni Urey, one of the last remaining prominent figures of former President Charles Taylor regime was de-listed from the United Nations Security Council travel and assets freeze ban.
Making the decision on Monday, the council declared:“The Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1521 (2003) concerning Liberia decided on 23 December 2013 to delist the following individual from the lists of individuals subject to the travel restrictions imposed by paragraph 4 (a) of resolution 1521 (2003) (the travel ban list) and the list of individuals and entities subject to the measures imposed by paragraph 1 of resolution 1532 (2004) (the assets freeze list).The measures no longer apply to this individual.”
The removal of Mr. Urey comes less than two weeks after the United Nations Panel of Experts recommended to the council that Urey be removed from the travel and assets freeze ban because he no longer poses a threat to Liberia due to the vested interest he has in the country.
It may be recalled that President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf appointed Mr. Urey on October 1, 2009 as Mayor of Careysburg but removed him from that position when it became clear that he (Urey) would not back her re-election bid in 2011.
The panel went on to caution that Urey clearly has the resources and the leadership capacity to command support and undermine peace and security in Liberia if he chooses, noting that the animosity that exists between him and the Government of Liberia has led some ranking officials in President Sirleaf’s Government to speculate that he might have the motivation to do so.
The Panel attempted to investigate Urey’s extensive assets to determine whether they are being used to support groups seeking to destabilize Liberia and the sub-region. Urey’s assets have not been frozen or fully disclosed.
The Panel relied on information provided by confidential sources, the Government of Liberia and Urey himself. The Panel did not have information suggesting that Urey was involved in activities that would destabilize Liberia and the sub-region.
The report says it is difficult for the Panel to assess Urey’s intent as during the presidential and legislative elections of 2011; the Government of Liberia alleged that Urey used his radio station, Love FM, to broadcast inflammatory anti-Government statements.
“Officials saw that as evidence of Urey’s seditious intent. The Panel interviewed Urey on 15 March and 27 September 2013, a day after Taylor’s conviction was upheld.
During the interviews, Urey stated to the Panel that his radio station was a commercial outlet and that it granted both government officials and opposition figures paid airtime to broadcast their views, without censorship.
The Panel of Experts said evidence collected by the Special Court for Sierra Leone and reviewed by the Panel showed that, while serving as Commissioner of Maritime Affairs, Urey authorized payments for arms purchased from Serbia from the accounts of the Maritime Bureau in 2000 and that the first shipment of arms arrived in Liberia in 2001 or 2002.
But in subsequent interviews with the Panel, Urey insisted that, as a civilian, who had been appointed to the position of Commissioner of Maritime Affairs by Taylor, he did not make any war-related decisions. Mr. Urey currently serves as the Chair of Lonestar Communications Corporation, which is one of the largest taxpayers in Liberia.