BAMAKO, Mali — Containers full of newly minted currency worth more than $100 million have gone missing in Liberia, setting off finger pointing and travel bans as officials puzzle over the mystery in one of the poorest countries in the world.
The cash is said to have been shipped from Sweden late last year, in the midst of Liberia’s elections to choose a successor to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, according to Front Page Africa, the country’s leading investigative newspaper. Voters elected George Weah, an international soccer star.
Liberia does not have its own mint. Its currency, the Liberian dollar, is printed outside of the country with the approval of the Central Bank.
The disappearance has caused public outrage in a nation that has long been dogged by corruption scandals. Blame for the missing money is being passed around, with Mr. Weah’s opponents accusing him and his supporters blaming Ms. Sirleaf.
Mr. Weah has not publicly commented on the disappearance, but it has dominated talk radio stations for days. Messages and memes have circulated on Liberian Facebook groups and social media.
“It’s a huge blow for us,” said Satta F. Sheriff, a Liberian child rights advocate. “It sends a message that the system in Liberia is not working.”
The plot thickened this week when the Ministry of Information issued a list of 15 “persons of interest” who have been barred from travel.
Among them was Milton Weeks, a former Central Bank governor who worked in Ms. Sirleaf’s government and resigned in July. Also on the list was Charles Sirleaf, Ms. Sirleaf’s son, who is deputy governor of the Central Bank in the Weah administration. He held the same post during his mother’s tenure.
Neither Mr. Weeks nor Mr. Sirleaf have commented on the travel bans.
The disappearance was first reported by the news outlet Hot Pepper, which specializes in covering political scandals. The government, which initially denied that the money was missing, eventually confirmed that it could not account for currency, and ordered an investigation.
“Initial findings indicate that the containers and bags of moneys allegedly arrived between November 2017, prior to the inauguration of the current government, and August 2018,” the minister of justice, Frank Musah Dean, said in a statement on Monday.
Mr. Dean said the “current administration was not informed about the arrival of moneys into the country.”
Ms. Sirleaf quickly hit back, calling it unfortunate that the government of Liberia “would give false information that wickedly impugns the reputation of past officials and by extension the country itself,” according to Front Page Africa.
She said the Central Bank of Liberia had conducted an internal investigation that the current government has refused to release.
Eugene Nagbe, the minister of information, and Mr. Dean did not respond to requests for comment.
On Wednesday, officials said they would examine the flow of currency into Liberia from 2016 to 2018. They also said they had requested assistance from the United States Treasury Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the International Monetary Fund.
Front Page Africa published what it said were internal government records documenting two containers of money that were collected by members of the Central Bank on March 31, months after Mr. Weah was inaugurated.
Mr. Weah, who grew up in a slum in Monrovia and rose to international soccer stardom, pledged at the beginning of his term to slash his salary by 25 percent, in the face of what he said was a “broke” government. He promised to create a “pro-poor government” and, like his predecessor, to crack down on corruption.
John Morlu, an economist who was an auditor general in the Sirleaf administration, said he was not optimistic about change because of the deeply embedded culture of patronage. He describes Liberia’s institutions as “makeshift.”
“You can have Jesus Christ heading all of these ministries, but if the president of Liberia is not serious, nothing happens,” Mr. Morlu said.
Some groups were planning marches in the coming days to try to hold the government accountable for the currency loss.