Monrovia - The ongoing prosecution of some past and current Liberian government officials for their alleged role played in an alleged bribery saga involving international mining company Sable as revealed by Global Witness is taking another trend with the company at the center of the allegation, said to have provided nearly US$1 million has denied giving bribe and is describing the case as politically motivated.
“Mr. Groves believes that these allegations are politically motivated ahead of the imminent presidential elections, and are specifically designed to undermine the candidacy of Varney Sherman, one of Liberia’s most respected lawyers, and Alex Tyler, the speaker of parliament and also a presidential candidate. “ “Mr. Sherman is a highly respected and preeminent member of Liberian society and it is beyond comprehension that he would be involved in the matters in question.” - Sable Mining Statement
At least four Liberians including the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Alex Tyler and Senator of Grand Cape Mount County Varney Sherman and others have been indicted and are currently facing trial with legal argument over whether their bonds are valid currently ongoing. Late last week the Government through a Special presidential task force indicted former Chairman of the National Investment Commission (NIC) Dr. Richard Tolbert and two foreign nationals- Andrew Grooves and Klaus Piprek all of Sable Mining in connection with the same bribery allegation. Sable Mining as a company was also indicted along with Senator Sherman, Speaker Tyler and others in the first indictment unsealed by the Task Force weeks ago. The Special Task Force has indicated that it will continue to investigate and if need be indict and arrest those connected to the alleged bribery saga. “Early into her administration, the President (Ellen Johnson Sirleaf) of Liberia announced that Liberia was opened for business, said Cllr. Fonati Koffa, head of the Task Force. Cllr. Koffa: "What she did not announce was that Liberia was out for sale. What we are uncovering is the largest conspiracy to steal the mineral resources of this country in our life time”. Groves indicted The Task Force in an indictment drawn on June 8 indicted Groves along with Tolbert and Klaus Piprek on multiple criminal offences including bribery, economic sabotage, money laundering, criminal conspiracy, criminal facilitation and criminal solicitation. Stated the indictment “That Andrew Groves, a principal shareholder in Sable Mining caused the London lawyers of Sable to transfer over United States Dollars nine hundred thousand (US$900,000.00) to the account of Sable Liberia lawyers, H. Varney G. Sherman and his firm, Sherman & Sherman, Inc. for the facilitation of the payment of bribes and received reports on the disbursements and other activities touching on the operations of Sable Mining in Liberia. “H. Varney G. Sherman, already indicted, when told by Groves that Sable needed Wologizi mount and asked of the way in securing a mining agreement on it, told Sable Mining that the only way to have a concession agreement on such ore rich mount is to have the law changed to make provision in the law to give the Minister of Mines, Mines and Energy the power to declare a concession area “a non-bidding area”. The indictment stated that Groves, Piprek and Tolbert committed the crime of bribery, a felony of the second degree. “That at intervening times during and between the period 2010 to 2011 or thereabout in the City of Monrovia, republic of Liberia and in London, England the defendants acting in concert and each being strategically placed in various positions in Government within the Republic of Liberia and in the Sable Mining, a British company, did criminally strategize and purposely, wilfully and intentionally offer, request, give and receive more than United States dollars nine hundred thousand (US$900,000.00) to perform their official duties”, the indict furthered. Political motivated, Sable Mining Official response But responding to his indictment, Groves, Chief Executive Officer of Sable mining has described the ongoing indictments and arrest of individual in Liberia as politically motivated. In a statement issued, CEO Groves expressed that he was surprised to learn from media reports that a grand jury in Liberia appears to have indicted him on unspecified charges without having put any allegations to him and without having provided him with any evidence or with an opportunity to respond. “Mr. Groves believes that these allegations are politically motivated ahead of the imminent presidential elections, and are specifically designed to undermine the candidacy of Varney Sherman, one of Liberia’s most respected lawyers, and Alex Tyler, the speaker of parliament and also a presidential candidate. Mr. Sherman is a highly respected and preeminent member of Liberian society and it is beyond comprehension that he would be involved in the matters in question”, stated the Sable CEO. Flawed justice system The Sable CEO described the Justice System of Liberia as flawed saying that it is appalling for a Task Force working in a country on record for corruption to have undertaken a review of allegations raised by Global Witness. “It is difficult to see how, in a country with a deeply flawed justice system and an appalling record for corruption, a task force set up only 4 weeks ago can already have undertaken a thorough review of the allegations first raised by Global Witness and then perpetuated in the world’s press. “To date, no evidence has been presented to support these allegations against Mr Groves. During the period in question, Mr Heine van Niekerk was the COO for Sable in West Africa and was given full responsibility to manage operations in Liberia”, stated Groves. The CEO of the international mining company declared that given the reputation of Liberia where the country is rated by international organizations as corruption, the integrity of those heading the Task Force is questionable. Stated Sable CEO: “Liberia has been rated by Transparency International as one of the World’s most corrupt countries and in 2013 the US State Department's Human Rights Report highlighted that Liberia's laws do not even provide criminal penalties for official corruption. Furthermore, the task force whose investigation has resulted in the indictment is being led by, Fonati Koffa, who is a convicted felon in the US, having admitted four federal charges of embezzlement in 2006. Furthermore, another member of the task force, Samuel ‘Pi’ Nimley, Assistant Director for Intelligence, was expelled from the Liberian National Police, for unspecified charges in May 2015”. He outlined that it is difficult to have faith that any inquiry will be transparent or fair given the backdrop of Liberia being one of the world’s most corrupt countries, the task force led by convicted felons and people he referred to as misfits lacking the credentials to mount a legitimate, impartial, fully transparent investigation. Amongst others the Sable CEO outlined Liberia’s appalling record on human rights, lack of judicial process in the country, lack of evidence presented to Mr. Groves and the absence of any investigation into widespread corruption allegations against Robert Sirleaf and other members of Government. In conclusion the Sable CEO noted “Mr Groves questions why Global Witness and other organisations have not run an investigation into corruption in Liberian Government. For the avoidance of doubt, Mr Groves strongly refutes any allegation that he has acted unlawfully in relation to Sable’s business affairs in Liberia or indeed elsewhere”. Interpol to help get Grooves Grooves was indicted late last week along with Piprek for their alleged role in the reported bribery payment by Sable Mining to influence Liberian officials circumvent existing laws. Cllr. Koffa has disclosed that the Task Force is working along with Interpol to ensure that Groves and Piprek are brought under the jurisdiction of the Liberian court presiding over the trial. “We are now moving to the process of working with Interpol for the two individuals that are outside the jurisdiction of Liberia. As the process progresses, we will inform you. Mr. Phil Edmond is unindicted,” Cllr. Koffa said. Groves contradicts Sherman The statement released by the Sable Mining CEO is contrary to statement by Cllr. Sherman following his indictment when he told supporters that the ongoing saga is not political. Speaking to his supporters at the Temple of Justice the Grand Cape Mount Senator said that he is innocent of the indictment drawn against him by the grand jury of Montserrado. “The little I will tell you is that we are innocent. We have not committed any crime in the Republic and I will defend myself and the others very, very vigorously,” Cllr. Sherman maintained. “We are going to fight this case to its logical conclusion; I’m not going to give any interview or to tell you anything about the details of this matter”, he added. Not political, Sherman says Cllr. Sherman warned his supporters to take politics out of the case currently before the court. “I want to tell all of our supporters that this is not a political matter as far as I’m concerned because demonstration, whether it is public or quiet, will not make a determination of this case. This case is now in the court and it is at the court we will do our best”, he stated.