‘Plot’ Thickens in Airport Authority Saga: Secret Recording Traps LAA Board Chair Bility

Monrovia– In their own words, Ellen Corkrum, the embattled Managing Director of the Liberia Airport Authority and her fiancé Melvin Johnson have both spoken of a plot by the Chairman of the LAA Mr. Musa Bility to mastermind the downfall of Corkrum, a U.S.-trained pilot recruited with permission of the U.S. military, to help revamp the Roberts International Airport.

Their quest to prove their case led the pair to secretly record Mr. Bility at his home and a separate recording of a conversation with the board secretary Cecelia Sio recently.

While the attention over the past few days have been drawn toward a scandal relating to allegations of impropriety by Corkrum, it is what is emerging from the recordings of Mr. Bility that is shifting the debate even as FrontPageAfrica has learned, the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission is preparing to commence a full-scale investigation into the swirling allegations of corruption at the LAA.

[B]Amara ‘is the president’s son’[/B]

Determined to prove her case, Corkrum, aided by Johnson, went to great lengths during the recording to get Bility to corroborate much of her contentions that she alone was not authorized to sign checks or vouchers.

During the recording which Corkrum and her fiancé distributed to the media this week, Bility can be heard blaming Minister Amara Konneh for the false story and leaks to the media regarding allegations dogging her short tenure at the LAA.

Billity’s voice is heard saying on the audio recording: “Amara wrote the president … That is the problem. It was the Minister of Finance who wrote the president. I am going to tell the President that she must control Amara because if I come out as the chairman to do or say anything, the next thing Amara will do is to indict me and I know he’s careless enough to do it. Everybody’ got problem with Amara. He’s the president’s son…".

Bility continued: “It was the Minister of Finance who wrote the President to say that the MD attempted to defraud the government of a half a million dollars. That’s the problem, there’s no other problem."

"When he(Konneh) called me he never told me all of that, he just told me I have a complaint against your MD. I can understand why the president did that. Amara is very crafty. When the Minister of Finance writes that letter, it forces the hand of the president and of course that letter will be leaked. If the government dilly dallys then she(the president) has to come out and tell the public where all this thing is coming from.”

Board Secretary claims coercion

Even more troubling for the LAA is another secret recording of the board secretary Sio, who appears to suggest that Bility coerced her into falsifying the letter for Corkrum’s dismissal. Corkrum alluded to the recording during her news conference Tuesday when she lamented: “Not only did Musa Bility lie and make this up, he committed a crime when he threatened, our board secretary, responsible for taking the minutes, a Mrs. Cecilia Sio to falsify this letter that he has leaked to the media.”

Sio at one point during the recording, breaks down in tears as she explained that Bility called for a board meeting when some of the board members were not in town. “He already knew that Dawn is isn’t in the country; Massaquoi Kamara is bereaved(he lost his wife). Only he, Amy, Weefur and Nagbe.”

Comforting Sio, Corkrum sought to keep her from crying and is heard on the recording saying: “Don’t cry. You know the sabotage mission they are on. I’m just starting my career. I’m so young then you got these treacherous plans to destroy me not only in Liberia but in the U.S on account of them wanting to steal money that I have nothing to do with."

"So they go and start making these things up. They want to have access to the $130 million that is coming to the airport by themselves that’s fine, they can do it but at least let my name be clear. Musa is now undermining the president by coming with a different strike…that’s not what the Old Ma asked for.”

But Sio, sounding discouraging said she did want to be mixed up in the back-and-forth talk. “I don’t want to be mix up in this whole thing.” Corkrum presses Sio about the meeting and Sio explains that she had to rush to the Airport for the meeting.

'I carried my son to the airport and it was then he(Bility)told me that we were having a board meeting. They went and just talk… talk… talk… talk… nothing actually."

Pressed at what the board came up with by Corkrum, Sio said: ‘Frankly, they only called for your contract…that’s all they reviewed and then they said that if anything, this contract was drafted at the mansion so if anything, it has to go back to the mansion."

"Between you and me now, the board said, with this, there is nothing that we can do. If there is anything, the mansion should be the one to do it. They gave the contract, so they have to reverse it. That was almost like their resolution.”

‘Wouldn’t even call it a meeting’

“They want to have access to the $130 million that is coming to the airport by themselves that’s fine, they can do it but at least let my name be clear. Musa is now undermining the president by coming with a different strike…that’s not what the Old Ma asked for.” -Ellen Corkrum, on a secret recording of a conversation with LAA Board Secretary Cecelia Sio
[/B]Asked by Corkrum what was the agenda of the meeting, Sio said: “You know, I wouldn’t even call it a meeting. They did not deliberate that much on you. So If he is saying that (the president asked you to be dismissed) then it is something else he got in mind to do.”

Pressed by Corkrum about what final resolution the meeting came up to, Sio said: “They were blaming each other because Musa said he instituted a committee that never worked. "

"They said they cannot do anything in the face of this contract and if anything should be done regarding you it has to go to the mansion and whatever decision the mansion want to come up with, let the president do it.”

Perhaps the most damaging audio clip is Sio suggesting that Bility threatened her if she refused to write the minutes from the meeting. “The board said if I am incapable of writing the minutes, they will make it up.”

Corkrum believes strongly that sinister forces, led by Bility is behind efforts to drive her fall from grace.

“For Musa Bility to publish that I masterminded this scheme, that I awarded contract to this company, that I paid them $250,000 and that I attempted to defraud the good people of Liberia, is simply not true. It is a deception to the people and an attack on my integrity and character. Musa Bility’s actions should not be encouraged or tolerated in this country.”

Corkrum told a news conference Wednesday that the real reason why Musa Bility and his cohorts are trying to run her out of her position is because during her short tenure at the airport, she has discovered numerous loopholes through which she believes Musa Bility and others have been stealing. “The VIP inventory ordering the gasoline ordering and issuing process, vendors purchase orders etc. In fact, monies recouped from these loopholes, I pushed to pay the poorest of our workers and citizens in Liberia. This has upset Musa and his cohorts.”

Corkrum says when she insisted upon an investigation, Bility tricked her to wait and not push for an investigation because she would be shaming the president, the country and the airport. “He explained that he knew that I am innocent but that Finance Minister, Amara Konneh, has a plot to destroy me and him.”

Corkrum also revealed that she discovered that Musa was paying a friend, Mr. Massaquoi Kamara, to act as board member and CFO, in December, to the tone of $8000.00 USD. “When I discovered this, Musa tried to hide his deeds by writing the check in the name of his assistant who works for him at LFA, a Mr. Michael Gilayenneh. I have a copy of that check signed by Musa Bility. Musa Bility secretly signed an agreement with a Nigerian company worth millions without the knowledge of the rest of the board members. I believe Musa Bility has already received promised monies and kickbacks from the company. When I asked Musa Bility about this, he told me, and I quote: “don’t bring that Harvard thing here.”

Where Johnson Comes in

Since the emergence of the saga, many have been confused over the involvement of Johnson whose ties to Corkrum goes beyond a supposed consultancy position at the LAA to being romantically linked to the embattled LAA boss.

When the reports first surfaced, insiders suggested that Corkrum allegedly used the personal account of Johnson to wire the $125,000 payment to a bogus company, Diaspora Consulting. It now turns out that the male friend was Johnson, who explained at a news conference Wednesday that contrary to what has been said about him, he was actually hired by Bility.

Said Johnson: “In his feeble effort to defame Ms. Corkrum, Musa Bility named me as having received a ticket from LAA. This is a shame. I was hired by Musa Bility and LAA to provide legal consultation services here in the Liberia and abroad. I have here a copy of the check prepared and signed by Musa Bility giving me a down payment for services."

" To date, I have reviewed several of LAA contracts, met with numerous third parties, including airlines’ executives, TSA officials, and the like. I have also began work on investigating and reviewing LAA’s rather complex land rights issues in Margibi. Through my expertise, I have already saved LAA over 50 times, that which I am proposed to be paid by LAA.”

Smoking Gun? The Harmon Confidential

Johnson opined that because Bility wanted to cover up what he says were “clandestine and deceptive operations in an attempt to continue to steal from the good people of Liberia”, Bility has attacked Corkrum and himself. “Musa Bility you have finally attacked the wrong people. Let me tell Musa and his cohorts that when you attack children of the lord, you better be prepared to defeat them and the lord.”

Johnson says he is a jurist by training and the first proud Liberian to rise to the rank of a judge in the United States of America. He dismissed suggestions that he deposited the money intended to pay the Diaspora Consulting into his personal account but rather said, the funds were deposited into a Lawyers Trust or Escrow account. Under U.S. laws, legal experts say, lawyers are not allowed to put clients’ funds into their personal accounts. Thus, a Trust or Escrow account is set up to hold funds. “It is unfortunate that Musa Bility and his cohorts have successfully dragged me into this mess,” Johnson lamented.

Insiders say the concerns regarding Corkrum was first brought to light Mr. Edwin Harmon, head of a U.S.-based security firm hired to provide a security physical assessment for the Liberia Airport Authority.

In a detailed communication to the board, Harmon complained of unprofessional treatment he says he received from Corkrum while conducting the physical security assessment for the Robert's International Airport.

Harmon declined cooperation for this story when contacted by FrontPageAfrica late Thursday, suggesting that he needed the approval of the LAA board to provide the complete document of the report on Corkrum he submitted to the board. However, multiple sources say, it was Harmon’s dossier which was viewed by the President showing money transfers from into and out of Johnson’s account which led to calls for Corkrum’s dismissal by the board.

Questions linger amid poor airport state

The saga has, in the past few days, taken a lot of twists and turns raising questions with very few answers.

Lamin Kpargoi, Program Director at the Liberia Media Center says it is strange that no one is asking the pertinent questions regarding this LAA saga especially regarding the situation with the letter from the Public Procurement Concessions Commission(PPCC). “I think she(Corkrum) needs to address the issues raised in that letter.

Says Kpargoi: She seems to suggest a few things. 1. Musa Bility is the one who hired Momar Dieng and paid him $250,000 without her knowledge. 2. Bility conned her into getting involved in corruption. 3. She tried to fight Bility's corruption and he has decided to fight back. 4. That Amara Konneh had a role in suggesting Momar Dieng for the job of reconstructing the RIA runway. Which of these scenarios is correct? All of them? One of them? A combination of them? The lady has to be clear.”

Kpargoi also raises a key question regarding the Momar Dieng, listed as CEO of the Diaspora Consulting. "It is surprising that the Liberian media have not tried to check out this Dieng character. A visit to his Linkedin [LINK=http://www.linkedin.com/in/momardieng][B]([/B][/LINK][LINK=http://www.linkedin.com/in/momardieng][B]website[/B][/LINK][LINK=http://...)[/B][/LINK] page shows that he is the Economic Advisor and Elections Specialist at Diaspora Consulting LLC since 2011. He also indicates that he has worked with the GOL as Senior Policy Advisor, Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs between 2010 and 2011."

"The question raised by these information from Mr. Dieng, is why would a company with elections expertise be hired to supervise the construction of an airport's runway? What roles his former contacts in the GOL played in landing Dieng $250,000 of our money for a job that he had little or no expertise for?”, Kpargoi asks.

With very few answers to so many questions, Corkrum’s fate appears to be in limbo perhaps awaiting a final call from the presidency. As the embattled LAA boss insist on hanging on, political observers say, the final decision could rest on the presidency, who could make the final call, confirmed or deny Bility’s claims in the dismissal letter or keep Corkrum out pending the LACC probe.

Whichever way the saga ends, one thing remains certain, the body responsible for the most visible entry to post-war Liberia is swirling in a state of confusion amid criticisms of the poor state of the RIA whose future now hangs on a $US130 million revamp and cries for a rapid transformation and renovation from all sectors of Liberia, including international guests returning Diaspora folks touching down on Liberia’s shores.