Cllr. Varney Sherman, the man at the center of scathing allegations made in a report by Global Witness, alleging that a United Kingdom mining company paid bribes to several government officials, including him, has described the report as “outrageous allegations” that have no facts.
Also, in response to the Government of Liberia’s (GOL) initial reaction to set up a task force to investigate the allegations, Cllr. Sherman, who is also Senator for Grand Cape Mount County, has given notice that he “will not submit.” His reason: he and his law firm Sherman & Sherman “are prohibited by the 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.”
‘The Deceivers, Allegers, Bribers and Prosecutors’
Cllr. Sherman told newspaper publishers in a press conference last Friday in Monrovia that he decided to speak on the Global Witness Report to “merely 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.”
Following the release of ‘The Deceivers’, a series of scathing allegations by Global Witness that UK-based company Sable Mining bribed several top Liberian government officials to create a loophole in the Liberian procurement law, GOL announced the appointment of a task force to
“investigate the allegations and prosecute as the evidence may require.” And while the government awaits the dossier of evidence from ‘the allegers’ (Global Witness) about ‘the bribers’, as narrated in their report ‘The Deceivers’, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has named her newly appointed Minster of State Without Portfolio, Cllr. Fonati Koffa, to head the investigative task force and “special prosecutor”.
“If Fonati Koffa were to come to ask me a question, I will ask him, ‘are you a lawyer’? If he says yes, I will ask him, ‘How come you are asking me questions? You should know better.’ You can’t be a Liberian lawyer and not know [about confidentiality].
Meanwhile the President’s appointment of Cllr. Koffa has raised serious concerns about the integrity of the task force. Koffa, lawyer a convicted felon, was disbarred from legal practice in the State of North Carolina, USA, for fraud and unethical practices. Critics are questioning his moral grounds to investigate anyone else of bribery and corruption. Few weeks ago, President Sirleaf was poised to name him Justice Minister, but finally chose former Senator Cherue who is now awaiting confirmation.
Sable & Sherman
The Liberian government’s written reaction to the Global Witness Report, Cllr. Sherman said, made reference to a statement clarifying that “she never initiated, commissioned, nor participated in any process for granting a concession of the Wologizi Mountains to Sable.”
“Certainly,” Cllr. Sherman said, “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 were paid in various amounts at the time to House Speaker Alex Tyler; Richard Tolbert (then Chairman of the National Investment Commission); Morris Saytumah (then Minister of State for Finance, Economic and Legal Affairs); Willie Belleh (then Chairman of the Public Procurement and Concessions Commission).
Cllr. Sherman did admit that his firm received money from Sable Mining outside of the company’s legal retainer with Sherman & Sherman, but explained that since his as part of its relationship with its clients, provides certain services as needed.
“You cannot maintain a bank account in Liberia unless you are a resident of Liberia. So when Sable Mining came to Liberia and wanted to do business, the only way they would get money in Liberia is to establish itself as a business entity in Liberia. What they did instead, was to found two companies as well – an agricultural pursuit in Lofa County and a mining business in Gbarpolu County. But they established two independent companies, not Sable Mining.
“So for Sable Mining as a company to get money in Liberia to do its business, they needed somebody who had an account in Liberia. Now, If you were Sable mining and you wanted someone who had an account in Liberia, who are you likely to go to? [That would be] your accountant or your lawyer, because these are the people who are obligated under the law not to discuss your business. So they chose Sherman & Sherman as a conduit for money to come to them in Liberia,” Cllr. Sherman said.
“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.”
He stated further that “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 claimed US$250,000 was paid in 2010,” Cllr. Sherman asked. “It is neither Sherman & Sherman nor any Liberian government official or anybody else I know with such designated names…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,”while describing the report as“purely another outrageous fabrication.”
The Global Witness Report said Cllr. Sherman 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. To which Sherman replied: “This is not true, and there is absolutely no basis for this assertion.”
The law in question was the PPCC law of 2010, in which Section 75, subsection 3 makes provision for potential mining spots to be established as “Non-Bidding Areas” as expressed below:
(a) A “Non-Bidding Area” is established as to specified Minerals when (i) the Minister responsible for Mines determines, based on a reasoned recommendation of the Geological Survey Department of Liberia (or successor institution), that the available information as to the existence of such Minerals in such area indicates that there are insufficient quantities and/or qualities of such Minerals in such area to support meaningful bidding for the granting of Prospecting or Exploration Licenses for such Minerals in such area and (ii) such determination has been approved by the IMCC (Inter-Ministerial Concessions Committee) excluding the representation from the sector entity.
(b) A Non-Bidding Area may in the discretion of the Minister responsible for Mines be limited to the grant of Prospecting Licenses valid only for future Eligible Class B Mining Licenses, Eligible Class C Mining Licenses and Eligible Quarry Licenses (or any of them, alone or in combination), and may exclude Exploration Licenses and Class A Mining Licenses.
To change the Public Procurement and Concessions Act, as alleged by Global Witness, he said 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.
Cllr. Sherman said neither he nor Sherman & Sherman knows any about is the alleged US$9,168 to Fomba Sirleaf for a “trip to South Africa; US$5,000 to Sumo Kupee (a Senator) for consulting fees; US$5,000 to Cletus Wotorson (a Senator, Speaker of the Senate at the time) for consulting fees; and US$5,500 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,” he said, “because nothing is said in the Global Witness Report as to why these payments would be made and accomplish for Sable Mining.”
“The Global Witness Report claimed that US$200,000 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.”
Cllr. Sherman denied the Global Witness Report’s claimthat US$25,000 was paid by Sable Mining as “Political contribution – UP Secretary General resignation” which he said implied 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,” Cllr. Sherman said.
He admitted that through telephone conversations (perhaps three) somebody from Global Witness tried to interview himbut he refused to grant the interview “for reason that I could not discuss Sable Mining’s business without violating Liberian Law.”
Cllr Sherman said, “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.”
Meanwhile Cllr. Sherman has paid for the full text of his statement to be published in this newspaper, appearing on pages 7 and 10 of today’s edition, and attached in the PDF file below.