October 7, 2014 / 1:18 PM / 3 years ago

Liberia justice minister quits, says president blocked investigation

Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf speaks during an interview with Reuters in Brussels November 25, 2013. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

MONROVIA (Reuters) - Liberia’s justice minister has stepped down, saying President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf blocked her investigation into fraud allegations against the country’s National Security Agency (NSA), which is headed by the president’s son.

Johnson Sirleaf, a Nobel Peace Prize winner praised for her leadership of Liberia in the aftermath of civil war, is under growing pressure from opponents who accuse her of corruption and nepotism. She has appointed several family members to senior government posts, but denies any favouritism.

Her legacy of helping rebuild her country is now also at risk of being overshadowed by an Ebola outbreak that has already killed over 2,000 people in Liberia.

Despite more than a decade of peace, Liberia’s health sector remains in tatters and was quickly overwhelmed by the epidemic. Months of unpaid wages led to strikes by health workers in state-run hospitals.

Announcing her resignation in a letter dated Oct. 6, Justice Minister Christiana Tah said she could not remain in office.

“I cannot be the Minister of Justice and not supervise the operations of the security agencies under the Ministry of Justice,” she wrote.

“What is the ‘rule of law’ if the president asserts that she does not trust the Ministry of Justice to independently investigate allegations of fraud against the National Security Agency?” she added.

The NSA is run by Johnson Sirleaf’s son, Fumba Sirleaf. Tah did not give details of the allegations against the agency.

Johnson Sirleaf’s office was not immediately available for comment on Tah’s claims but issued a statement on Monday confirming the resignation had been accepted.

She suspended her son Charles from his position as deputy governor of the central bank in 2012 for failing to declare his assets to anti-corruption authorities, though he remains in the post.

Another son, Robert Sirleaf, resigned as chairman of Liberia’s state oil company, NOCAL, and stepped down from his role as a senior advisor to his mother last year.

Johnson Sirleaf said his resignation had nothing to do with accusations of favouritism, stating that he had simply completed his assignment to restructure NOCAL and draft a petroleum law.

Johnson Sirleaf has been president since 2006 and the country has stabilised, secured debt relief and attracted billions of dollars in investment under her rule.

However, the Ebola outbreak has revealed a deep lack of trust between many Liberians and a government that critics say has failed to deliver on concrete social change.

Reporting by James Giahyue; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by David Lewis and Raissa Kasolowsky

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