Accused Fight Subpoena of Bank Statements

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As the alleged US$950,000 Global Witness bribery scandal intensifies, Criminal Court A at the Temple of Justice has subpoenaed (summoned) four banking institutions to produce bank statements of United States dollar accounts belonging to several public officials, including Grand

Cape Mount County Senator, Varney Sherman, and some international companies named in the entity’s report.

International Bank (Liberia) Limited, Ecobank Liberia Limited, Guaranty Trust Bank Liberia Limited and Global Bank Liberia Limited are those financial institutions expected to appear before Judge Boimah Kontoe today to produce the bank statements of the accused that covered the period of January 2010 to September 30, 2010.

Besides Cllr. Sherman, others whose United States dollar bank statements are expected to be disclosed include Sherman and Sherman Inc, Sable Mining, Western Cluster, Delta Mining Consolidated (Pty) Limited and West Africa Exploration.

Others include: Senator Morris Saytumah of Bomi County; Sumo Kupee, Managing Director of the Liberia Petroleum Refining Company (LPRC); Cletus Wotorson, former Senator of Grand Kru Conuty; Speaker Alex Tyler; Rep. Henry Fahnbulleh; as well as the Chairman of the Public
Procurement Concession Commission (PPCC), Willie Belleh, and former National Investment Commission (NIC), Richard Tolbert.

Global Witness alleged in its reports that over US$950,000 in bribes and other suspicious payments were made to top government officials by UK mining firm Sable Mining and its Liberian lawyer, Cllr. Varney Sherman, chairman of the ruling Unity Party.

The officials allegedly received money from Sable’s representatives to insert a loophole in the Public Procurement and Concessions Law, which would increase the mining company’s chances for securing the coveted Wologizi iron ore concession without submitting to a competitive bid.

The court’s action was based on a communication dated May 19, under the signature of Cllr. Daku Mulbah, County Attorney for Montserrado County, one of government’s lead prosecutors.

The communication, a copy of which is with the Daily Observer, partly reads, “We request your Honor and the Honorable Court to order the banks to produce bank statements of United States dollars covered the period of January 1, 2010 to September 30, 2010, in the names of the entities and individuals.”

The letter concludes, “The purpose for this request is to assist the Ministry of Justice and the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) to complete an ongoing investigation.”

Although the banks would appear to produce the statements, the accused have already asked the court to quash (suppress) the request.

It is not clear whether that would happen today.

In their request to suppress, the accused argued that the document which forms the basis for the appearance of the bank is a mere letter, of which is attached an affidavit totally unrelated to the letter.

They further argued that the purpose, as stated in the communication, is vague, ambiguous and uncertain, that it does not form the basis for the issuance of the subpoena.

“Whatever the actual purpose, it should be stated so that, we accused, as adversaries or opposite parties, would be fully informed and be given the opportunity to challenge or object to the issuance of the writs,” they said in the government summon.

They argued that the confidentiality of any individual’s account at a bank and his transaction with a bank is a fundamental underlying basis for banking in Liberia and most parts of the world.

“The confidentiality of the accused accounts with those banks are so sacrosanct that the law provides that the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) shall not, unless lawfully required to do so by law or court of law, reveal to any person information as to the affairs of any individual customer of a financial institution obtained in the exercise of its regulatory jurisdiction,” they said in the document.

According to them, each of the financial institutions mentioned in the subpoena has its own internal regulations and contract provision with their customers on the sanctity of confidentiality of the customer’s account.

“It seems therefore that this confidentiality obligation should not be set aside or violated by this Honorable Court unless good cause is shown, unless the account holder has the opportunity to object to the application to this court for disclosure of his account and transaction of his account,” those accused emphasized.

Narrating the law, they claimed that it also provides that in publishing information obtained from commercial banks pursuant to its regulatory authority, “the CBL shall not publish any information which would disclose the affairs of any person who is a customer of a financial institution, unless the consent of such interested party has been obtained in writing.”

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