Charges against Sable, Richard Tolbert Dropped?

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On trial for alleged bribery, as claimed by Global Witness in the Sable Mining case (clockwise): Sen. Varney Sherman, J. Alex Tyler, Dr. Eugene Shannon, PPCC Chairman Willie Belleh, and Senator Morris Saytumah. However, charges against Dr. Richard V. Tolbert (bottom left) have been dropped.

Credible reports reaching the Daily Observer suggest that the Liberian government, in a sharp twist, has communicated with the Supreme Court, rather than Criminal Court ‘C” to drop all criminal charges against Andrew Groves, Klaus Piprek and Richard Tolbert.

Criminal Court C had already begun hearings in the case involving the three named individuals as well as others including Grand Cape Mount County Senator Varney Sherman, Bomi County Senator Morris Saytumah, former Minister of Lands Mines and Energy Dr. Eugene Shannon and his deputy, E.C.B. Jones.

The charges against Groves and Piprek were dropped in absentia. Sources told the Daily Observer that the request to drop charges against the accused named individuals was made by a special prosecutor, Cllr. Arthur Johnson, who was recently named to the post by the Solicitor General-designate, Cllr. Syrenius Cephus, when he spoke at the regular press briefing of the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism (MICAT).

Further, according to sources, the request submitted to the Supreme Court was being mulled by Chief Justice Korkpor who was considering sending the request back to the government on grounds that the matter was not before the Court, meaning the Supreme Court lacked both the jurisdiction and authority to handle a matter was not legally before it.

“Look, the government is mistaken to have delivered the communication to drop charges against Tolbert and Sable Mining to the Supreme Court, because the Court does not have anything to do with the matter. We are going to send the document back to the government,” sources hinted this paper when the case resumed on Monday, June 17, at Criminal Court ‘C.’

The decision to drop charges against the trio, Tolbert, Groves and Piprekk, came after three members of the defense team; Counselors Frank Musa Dean, Syrenius Cephus and Edwin Martin were appointed by President George Weah to serve at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).

Counselors Cephus and Martin, now Solicitor General-designate and Montserrado County Attorney, respectively, had initially served as lawyers for Tolbert, Groves and Piprek of Sable Mining, when the case was first heard and subsequently postponed. This was after the prosecution complained against then assigned Judge Yamie Quiqui Gbeisay’s concurrence with Counselors Dean, Cephus and Martin, who argued that the emails and spreadsheet were illegally acquired by the then Presidential Taskforce that was prosecuting the individuals named in the US$950,000 Global Witness bribery report.

At Monday’s hearing, charges that include economic sabotage, criminal conspiracy, criminal solicitation and criminal facilitation were openly read to the defendants who later pled not guilty to the indictment.

Other defendants, who answered to the indictment were Senator Varney Sherman of Grand Cape Mount County; former House Speaker Alex Tyler; Christopher Hayes Onanuga (a Nigerian national), Sen. Morris Saytumah of Bomi County; former PPCC Chairman, Willie Belleh; and former Minister of Lands, Mines and Energy (MLME), Dr. Eugene Shannon; and former MLME Deputy Minister, E.C.B. Jones.

However, Groves and Piprek were not in court on Monday to answer to the reading of the indictment.

The GW report had alleged that the defendants received over US$950,000 in bribes through Sable’s Liberian lawyer, Cllr. Varney Sherman, to alter the Public Procurement Concession Commission (PPCC) law that would have enabled the officials to award the Wologizi Mountain in Lofa County to Sable, absent any competitive bidding process.

Immediately afterwards, the defendants, as part of their constitutional and statutory rights, waived trial by jury, which means that assigned Judge Peter Gbeneweleh would serve as both judge and jury during the trial.

However, the case failed to continue after the prosecution requested a postponement of the matter to Wednesday, June 19, bringing their excuse for postponement to three in just three weeks.

The prosecution’s indictment alleges that Sable Mining approved and transferred money to Cllr. Sherman and the Sherman and Sherman Law Firm, which was intended for use as bribes to several public officials of the government in consideration for their official action to amend the PPCC Act of 2010 to award exclusive rights to Sable Mining over Wologizi Mountain, in Lofa County.

Defendants Groves and Piprek, the court record claimed, were the principal masterminds of this entire scheme who approved and transferred money to Sherman and the Sherman and Sherman Law firm, which was intended to be paid as bribe to several public officials

It also claimed that defendant Richard Tolbert solicited and accepted US$50,000 from Sable from Sable Mining through Cllr. Sherman in his official capacity as chairman of the National Investment Commission in consideration for his official action, geared towards ensuring the amendment of the PPCC Act of 2010, to give undue advantage to Sable Mining over Wologizi and received contribution of US$20,000 through the Invincible Eleven sports association from Sable Mining, which he later demanded as a debt owed him by the IE.

Despite these allegations, the government has agreed to drop charges against Groves, Tolbert and Piprek.

It can be recalled that former Associate Justice Philip A. Z. Banks had earlier overruled trial Judge Varney Gbeissay’ ruling, sustaining arguments by defense lawyers requiring the state to prove that emails, spreadsheets and other documentary evidence were not hacked. Justice Banks had maintained the burden of proof rested on defense lawyers to establish the truth of their allegations that the documents were indeed hacked.

“It was therefore an error by the trial judge to have required the state to prove that the documents were not hacked”, Justice Banks observed at the time. Commenting on the matter following the Supreme Court’s reversal of Judge Gbeissay’s ruling, former Special Prosecutor, now Grand Kru District #2 Representative Fonati Koffa described the Supreme Court’s decision as “vindication”.

The former Special Prosecutor said, “We feel vindicated that prosecution was just right. We are relieved because the High Court has spoken and has agreed with us that we were on the right path”.

Cephus and Martin were hired by Andrew Groves, chief executive officer of the London AIM-listed Sable Mining, who was indicted by a grand jury in June 2016, in connection with an alleged bribery scandal involving several senior Liberian officials.

Cllr. Dean represented the other defendants, including Senator Varney Sherman of Grand Cape Mount County; former House Speaker Alex Tyler; Christopher Hayes Onanuga (a Nigerian national); former Chairman of the National Investment Commission Richard V. Tolbert; Sen. Morris Saytumah of Bomi County; former PPCC Chairman, Willie Belleh; and former Minister of Lands, Mines and Energy (MLME), Dr. Eugene Shannon; and former MLME Deputy Minister, E.C.B. Jones.
Given the above, were the Government of Liberia to continue with the case, it would mean the Justice Minister, the Solicitor General-designate and the Montserrado County Attorney, all being lead prosecutors will have to recuse themselves from the case because of their prior involvement, having represented some of the defendants.

The GW report had alleged that the defendants received over US$950,000 in bribes through Sable’s Liberian lawyer, Cllr. Varney Sherman, to alter the Public Procurement Concession Commission (PPCC) law that would have enabled the officials to award the Wologizi Mountain in Lofa County to Sable, without any competitive bidding process.

The Daily Observer recalls the furore that ensued when prosecution’s first witness and Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission investigator, Marc N. Kollie, testified that they had gathered credible information from emails and spreadsheets obtained from GW’s private investigator Paul Sullivan and Heine Van Niekerk, a senior staff of Sable Mining, the UK mining company, when they met during their investigation in that country.

According to Kollie,“the email communication was documentary evidence obtained by the investigators as a means of the regular course of business transaction among the defendants,” adding, “it was Heine Van Niekerk who gave the emails subject to these proceedings to the investigators.”

Kollie said Niekerk also gave emails and other documents to private investigator Sullivan, “including business records of Liberia Iron Ore Investment,” a subsidiary of Sable Mining.  “Niekerk said he voluntarily turned over those documents to Sullivan to form cogent part of our resistance,” the prosecution said.

The documents alleged Sherman exchanged emails with the other co-defendants, including Sable Mining, to change the law and subsequently award the Wologizi Mountain to Sable Mining.

12 COMMENTS

  1. Big Boy 1 is laughing. He can now run to the bank to see his account “available balance” of the Liberian people money he stole.

    • Not condoning what is being alleged, but how is it “Liberian people money” when the funds were allegedly meant to “lobby” the government so that Sable Mining could be awarded the Wologizi contract [something that didn’t eventually happen]?

  2. Yeah right, Iron Lady arrogantly ran a kleptocracy in times of plenty – specifically between 2008 and 2013 – and caused pervasive poverty for the vast majority, yet a new government she bequeathed an economy on life support should continue her private vendetta. How much did she spend on the score-settling probes to the US and London, that’s the question? Rubbish!

  3. Charges dropped?
    That’s old news! It was known from scratch that something like that would happen. No peculiarity. That’s standard practice with cases like Sable. Charges are usually dropped when the accused or perpetrators are grandees. What elae is new?

  4. This is a clearer indication that as long as these criminals are still in control of power in Liberia, corruption and the looting and selling of Liberia’s assets will continue to thrive with impunity. Weah and his criminal gangs are no different from previous criminal regimes and Liberians must roll up their sleeves and embrace the status quo-massive institutionalized corruption is in full control in Liberia.

  5. Wow; this is what happens when you continue to say they are just starting, give them a little time. A friend once said give them a break. The Congo people did it for me 130 years. Where? That’s a lie. ( L I E)😀 Not this kind of blatant stealing that had been going on since April 12, 1980. If you come to think of about it, Congo people as you call them had more humine treatment for the natives than the so called country people. Do you remember song that was sang on the morning of April 12,1980? Congo women born ROUGE, country women born SOLDIERS. What happened now, are these recircled congo people? 39 years of stealing surpasses 130 years operation. In fact the so called Congo people opened farms that employed about 1/3 of the native people. On contrary these people are building apartments complexes to rent them to these people from whom they are burglarizing. What’s an argonizing moves. What is this new development, is it the new ANIMAL’S farm?(NOT A SERMON just thought)

  6. Mr. Bemah,
    You have mixed apples with oranges. With such a mixture, one can only make a delicious smoothie.

    On a serious note, I don’t know if you did it knowingly or unknowingly. Unknowingly, I can understand. However, to blatantly suggest that the Americo-Liberian leadership was humane to the Natives within a time frame of 130 years is a complete falsehood.

    The topic that’s under discussion centers on a serious charge that has or is about to be dropped against a certain number of Liberians. It’s the Sable Mining case that has dragged on for few years.

    Since you brought up the topic of Americo-Liberian vs Native leadership, let me accomodate your contention or pasture for a moment. Let me do this by asking a few questions:

    1. When Doe became CIC and then eventually as president of Liberia, did he employ all native Liberians in his government?

    2. When George Weah became president about 16 months ago, did he forego the employment of Americo-Liberians in his government?

    By the way, why are you waddling in past and stirring up the feelings of people? Are you interested in bringing about divisiveness? Do you want the Liberian people to re-visit their ugly past?

    Conclusion:
    Please know this:
    Americo-Liberians are natives of Liberia. As long as the Americo-Liberians were born in Liberia, they are natives of Liberia! The ethnicity of Americo-Liberians is Americo-Liberian!

    Like the US, Liberia is somehow multi-cultural. There are Kpelle-Liberians, Bassa-Liberians, Vai-Liberians, Americo-Liberians, Mandingo-Liberians, etc.

    Please stay away from provocative issues sir. We’re all Liberians irrespective of our places of origin or our ethnic backgrounds in Liberia.

    We have a responsibility as Liberians to fix our economic and political systems of Liberia. Stay away from that old Americo-Liberian-Native stuff. Let’s work cooperatively amongst ourselves. That’s how the playing field will be leveled.

    Hang in there gentleman.

  7. That’s 20 percent of the nation’s pool of competent think tank engaged in high level corruption. One of the nation’s top lawyers, now Senator, indicted. A former lawmaker who was Speaker, the third person in line to the presidency indicted in corruption. A former Minister as one of the nation’s top geologist, indicted for his role in corruption. A qualified Investment banker, as the nation’s Investment Commissioner, also indicted. And the names just go on and on. As it was said concerning Dr. Richard v. Tolbert, Do Not Forget The Pioneer’s Children. And this day, that has proven to be true. And the jive Country Chicken politicians are benefiting from that too. And what is jive country chicken ? In the US, an out right liar is referred to as jive Turkey. And Liberia do have them as jive Country Chicken as out right liars.

  8. what I am bothered by at times is this congau vs. native mentality. Grow up people. I thought we have long moved past that, but alas!, how wrong I am.There is so much to talk about, and yet we limit ourselves to such pettiness.

    Brother Bemah, like brother Hney alluded, you have definitely mixed apples with oranges and the “two cannot twain” as Mark Twain would say.In my mind, that is a topic that reopens old wounds and at this moment, totally not necessary. Lets converse about how to move forward. My two cents thoughts

    Brother Hney, you begging me to fine you.

  9. Honorable Moses,
    I am expensive! Seeing me is okay, but there’s a price to be paid.

    I am protected by 15 gorgeous women; one woman hails from each of the fifteen counties of Liberia. In a single column of two, the ladies line up with their regular attire of jean pants and boots, blue shirts and cowboy hats. Don’t imagine them without their sun shades being worn.

    Now, to get to my office where I work and see sharp-witted people like you, you must hug each of the fifteen slander-build ladies. As you make your way through hugging the ladies, don’t embrace or hug a lady for more than four nano seconds. Don’t smile or scowl. Just be yourself. For each lady you hug, $5,000 (US) is needed. As much as I am convinced that you’re not a ruffian but rather an insightful person, you could forfeit your opportunity to see me if you intentionally or mistakenly violate any of the standing rules. Okay Joe?

    Until then, hang in there young fella. Your contribution to the comments’ section of this Newspaper is fantastic. Keep it up.

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