Varney Sherman Replies Bribery Facilitation Claim in Global Witness Report

Varney Sherman Replies Bribery Facilitation Claim in Global Witness Report

The Global Witness Report says that Sable Mining hired me to secure one of Liberia’s last large mining assets, the Wologozi iron ore concession in northern Liberia.

Statement by Cllr. H. Varney G. Sherman on the Global Witness Report on Bribery in Liberia in 2010 13 May 2016 My Fellow Liberians, Ladies and Gentlemen: I want to thank you very much for responding to my invitation to a press conference this afternoon; I will similarly grant a press conference to the electronic media on Monday afternoon, 16 May or thereabouts. This moment is one of those moments that anyone who is in the eyes of the public dreads – a moment where somebody can virtually say anything about you without any liability unless you can show that he said those things with reckless disregard for the truth.

Unfortunately proving “reckless disregard for the truth” is difficult, extremely difficult when the writer or speaker had sought a response from you before he wrote or spoke. And on at least two or three occasions Global Witness did seek a response to its allegations before they eventually published their Report on Wednesday, 11 May. Just as I told Global Witness, I now wish to tell you too. I am a professional lawyer and whatever I and/or Sherman & Sherman did or did not do for Sable Mining, we did in our capacity as their lawyers. Consequently, I and Sherman & Sherman are prohibited by law and the Liberian Constitution from divulging to anyone what we did for Sable Mining or did not do for Sable Mining when we served as their lawyers in Liberia in 2010. Our code of professional ethics and the Liberian Constitution prohibits us from making any such disclosures and we will subscribe to those tenets even if we were to be taken to the gallows to be hanged; this is the standard of legal professionalism we took an Oath to uphold and we shall uphold it forever. Now, why have I chosen to speak to you today? I have chosen to speak to you today merely to expose the improbability and impracticality of the Global Witness Report and to show how impossible it is for either Sable Mining or I to pay bribes for things that Sable Mining never obtained in Liberia. So, I choose to address the Global Witness Report in the order in which it claims that Sable Mining paid bribes to Liberian Government officials through Sherman & Sherman or me. The Global Witness Report says that Sable Mining hired me to secure one of Liberia’s last large mining assets, the Wologozi iron ore concession in northern Liberia. That is not true; Sable Mining hired Sherman & Sherman, and therefore me, to provide legal services to them in respect of their interest in agricultural and mineral business in Liberia; and we performed those tasks very diligently and honestly. I wonder how could Global Witness have known the purpose for which Sable Mining hired Sherman & Sherman? The Global Witness Report says that I told Sable Mining that in order to obtain the contract the company (Sable Mining) must first get Liberia’s concession law changed by bribing senior government officials. This is not true and there is absolutely no basis for this assertion. Global Witness claims that it relies on “sources closely familiar with the discussions” but Global Witness never disclosed the names of those sources. Global Witness claimed that its account is “backed up by leaked emails and company documents seen by Global Witness” but none of these leaked emails and company documents was described in their Report in order for an independent person to verify them.

We categorically deny this fabrication; we would have never ever violated Liberian law and placed any such discussions in “emails or company documents”, which could be easily exposed to Global Witness or any other investigators. Global Witness also said Jonathan Gant, its Senior Campaigner said that “Sable Mining and Sherman paid bribes to change Liberia’s law and get their hands on one of the most prized assets, the Wologizi concession”; and this is another fabrication, which has no basis whatsoever. First, Wologizi was never considered by me or anybody else in the mineral industry to be a prized asset of Liberia; besides, in 2010 or thereabouts, Liberia had not offered Wologizi for the purpose of a concession. Even the Liberia Government, in its written reaction to the Global Witness Report, said in part, that “However, we wish to clarify that the government of Liberia has never initiated, commissioned, nor participated in any process for granting a concession of the Wologizi Mountains to Sable.”

Certainly, there was no basis for the outrageous allegation made by Global Witness. Why would Sable Mining, with my assistance, have to bribe Liberian Government officials for a mineral deposit that was never considered by the Liberian Government for a concession? Global Witness claimed that Sable Mining, through me, paid bribes listed in an account statement by Sable and Varney Sherman’s law firm, Sherman & Sherman. The Report claims that as consulting fees US$75,000.00 was paid to Alex Tyler (Speaker of the House of Representatives); US$50,000.00 was paid to Richard Tolbert (Chairman of the National Investment Commission); US$50,000.00 was paid to Morris Saytumah (Minister of State for Finance, Economic and Legal Affairs); and US$10,000.00 to Willie Belleh (Chairman of the Public Procurement and Concessions Commission).

However, Global Witness was never clear as to what these Liberian Government officials were being bribed for and how Sable Mining benefitted from these alleged huge payments. And the only reason why Global Witness speculated is that they had no evidence to back up their claims. More importantly, to the best of my knowledge, none of these alleged payments were ever made to these Liberian Government officials. Who are “Big Boy 01” and “Big Boy 02” to whom Global Witness Report claims that the amount of US$250,000.00 was paid in 2010? Neither Sherman & Sherman nor I know any Liberian Government official or anybody else who was designated “Big Boy 01” or “Big Boy 02” and certainly no payment was made to either of these persons directly by me on behalf of Sable Mining; no payment to any such Liberian Government officials was facilitated by either Sherman & Sherman or me.

So, where did Global Witness get its information from to accuse me of assisting Sable Mining to pay bribes to “Big Boy 01” and “Big Boy 02”? This is purely another outrageous fabrication. Another set of alleged payments, which Sherman & Sherman and I know nothing about are Fombah Sirleaf (US$9,168.00) for a trip to South Africa; US$5,000.00 to Sumo Kupee (a Senator) for Consulting fees; US$5,000.00 to Cletus Wotorson (a Senator, Speaker of the Senate) for Consulting fees; and US$5,500.00 to Ernest C.B. Jones (Deputy Minister, Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy) for ‘Accommodation’ for Jones and Chris Onanuga, a company fixer. These are another set of fabrications that Sherman & Sherman and I are not aware of and nothing is said in the Global Witness Report as to why these payments would be made and to accomplish what for Sable Mining. To change the PPCC Act, as alleged by Global Witness, two principal actors had to be involved. The first is the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy; and the two persons who would have acted on their behalf in 2010 were Eugene Shannon (the Minister himself) and Ernest C.B. Jones (the Deputy Minister for Operations). If nobody knew that in 2010, it is I who knew that because I have counseled investors in the mineral industry all my 36 years of law practice. Why would I then assist Sable Mining in paying huge sums of money as bribes to Alex Tyler, Richard Tolbert and Morris Saytumah and nothing to Eugene Shannon? Why would I assist Sable Mining in paying huge sums of bribes to those person and “peanuts” to Ernest C.B. Jones?

I never would have done such things. These claims and allegations are so very improbable to the extent that they shock the imagination. As for the “Consulting fees” to Sumo Kupee and Cletus Wotorson, neither I nor Sherman & Sherman know of any such payments. For what and to gain what from these former legislators! The Global Witness Report refers to Sable Mining’s activities in Liberia as “misadventures” and that Sable Mining was never awarded the Wologizi contract. Does anybody who has lived in Liberia since I started practicing law in 1980 know of “misadventures” that I have been associated with? Of course not!

Certainly, I would never advise my client or facilitate his payment of bribes for matters which I know or should have known that the receivers of the payments could not deliver and did not have the capacity to deliver. My career has not always been successful as I have lost several cases before the Supreme Court; but nobody will say that I or Sherman & Sherman bribed anybody for something that either I or my client was not entitled to. Neither Sherman & Sherman nor I engage in such practices. The Global Witness Report claims that US$200,000.00 was paid from Sable Mining’s funds as “political contribution – UP Convention” and in less than three weeks thereafter I was elected as the party Chairman. The implication of this statement is that the “political contribution” caused my election as party Chairman. This is so far from the truth. Global Witness did not know and still does not know that the UP Convention was intended to finally consummate the merger between Liberia Action Party, Liberia Unification Party and UP. I was the standard bearer of Liberia Action Party and in consideration of the merger, it was agreed that I would be the party Chairman for the new UP; we had this agreement months before the Convention. I certainly did not need any political contribution from Sable Mining to become party Chairman of UP. The Global Witness Report also claimed US$25,000.00 was paid by Sable Mining as “Political contribution – UP Secretary General resignation” and this implies that the money was paid to get Henry Fahnbulleh to resign his election as the UP Secretary General.  This is another fabrication, as Henry Fahnbulleh did not resign because of a bribe; he resigned because I had said that I would not agree to be inducted into office with him as Secretary General and that the basis of my disagreement is that Liberian law provides that no two persons from the same county shall serve as senior officials of a political party.

I did not oppose Henry Fahnbulleh before his election or during his election because I was not aware of this law at that time; I opposed him after his election. And it is because of this provision of Liberian law that Henry Fahnbulleh eventually resigned, not because Sable Mining gave him a bribe directly or through me or Sherman & Sherman. By 2015 when Sable Mining is alleged to have obtained mineral rights in Guinea and wanted railway and port rights in Liberia, Sherman & Sherman was not legal counsel to Sable Mining. Sable Mining itself had terminated the relationship as far back as 2012 or thereabouts and we parted company very amicably. So I cannot comment on what Global Witness alleges that Sable Mining did in Liberia in 2015 or thereabouts. It is true that through telephone conversations (perhaps three) somebody from Global Witness tried to interview me and I refused to grant an interview for reason that I could not discuss Sable Mining’s business without violating Liberian law.

I referred them to Sable Mining. Global Witness eventually sent me a matrix (not a spreadsheet) on which some of the alleged payments were inserted and asked if I would confirm or deny those payments. I refused to confirm or deny the alleged payments for the same reason as stated before and I maintain that position. Had it not been for the fact that Global Witness apparently took information from an unsigned, undated, unsealed matrix and used it as facts to incriminate me and Sherman & Sherman I would not have been giving a press conference today. Simply stated, any attribution of payment of bribes by Sable Mining to Liberian Government officials through the assistance of Sherman & Sherman generally or Varney Sherman specifically is not true; no such bribe payment was ever made. I hope I have covered the main points of the Global Witness Report as it relates to alleged bribery by Sable Mining in Liberia through the use of the law firm of Sherman & Sherman or through me. I shall now answer some questions.