Global Witness Defends Report

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Jonathan Gant, senior campaigner on Liberia for Global Witness has told the Voice of America (VOA) radio that his organization stands by the report that US$950,000 in bribes and other suspicious payments were made to top Liberian officials by the United Kingdom-based Sable Mining Company, and its lawyer, Varney Sherman.

Gant told the VOA: “We have proof that payments were made; we have proof that the intention of the payments was to first get the law changed in order to, second, get the iron ore deal. And that was the advice given to the company by Sherman, their lawyer, that they should get the law changed in order to get the contract,” he said.

Gant said the report is a collection of evidence based upon leaked emails both from the company and from the lawyer himself, which included the attachments listing the bribes and payments.

However, at a press conference last Friday in Monrovia, Cllr. Sherman denied Global Witness’ allegations, describing them as “outrageous.”

But Gant said such payments were made, noted that prior to publishing the report, Global Witness contacted Sherman on two or three times, but he said Sherman usually refused to comment on the substance of the questions.

Sherman also said he and his law firm are prohibited by law and the Liberian Constitution from divulging to anyone what they did for Sable Mining when they served as the company’s 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,” Sherman said.

Though Cllr. Sherman and House Speaker Alex Tyler have both refused receiving “any money” as alleged by the Global Witness Report, Gant insisted they know the payments were made.

Global Witness said Speaker Tyler received US$75,000 for “consulting fees” and Richard Tolbert, chairman of the National Investment Committee also received US$50,000 for “consulting fees.”

Gant said Senator Morris Saytumah, who was then Minister of State for Finance, Economic and Legal Affairs, allegedly received US$50,000 for “consulting fees,” and Willie Belleh, Chairman of Public Procurement and Concessions Commission allegedly received US$10,000 for “consulting fees.”

He said two of the biggest payments went to persons identified in the report as ‘Bigboy 01’ and ‘Bigboy 02,’ each receiving US$250,000 with no explanation of why the payments were made.

“We didn’t put the names of those two individuals, just the names that were on the payment list that we had which is ‘Bigboy 01,’ ‘Bigboy 02’ because we don’t right now have the evidence to be able to state who those people actually are. But we know the payments were made to 01 and 02,” he said.

He said Global Witness is going through its evidence to see if the names are publishable.

The report also alleged that President Sirleaf’s son, Fombah Sirleaf, who is director of National Security Agency, also benefited with “US$7,598 hunting trip to South Africa paid for by Sable.”

Others mentioned in the report included Senator Sumo Kupee and Cletus Wotorson, both allegedly receiving US$5,000 each for “consulting fees,” but said Tolbert, Belleh, Kupee, and Wotorson all denied taking bribes from Sable.

The Liberian government said it has asked Global Witness to make available all evidence connected with this report.

Information Minister Eugene Nagbe told a local radio that the allegations reflect badly on the image of Liberia, and the government wants to investigate and prosecute those who would be found culpable.

Gant said Global Witness wrote the Liberian government before publishing the report and plans to cooperate fully with the government.

He said his organization has confidence the Liberian government will thoroughly investigate Sable, Sherman and the other Liberian officials mentioned in the report.

“If it is found that they broke the law, Liberian government officials should be removed from office and prosecuted, while Sherman should be disbarred and also face criminal charges,” Gant said.

Meanwhile, Cllr. Fonati Koffa, chairman of a presidential taskforce charged to investigate Global Witness Report on the allegations told a local radio that he will investigate, review, prosecute or exonerate so that the integrity of the country is protected.

Speaker Tyler Monday objected to Cllr. Koffa’s appointment on the taskforce, saying he lacks the authority to investigate the president and other elected officials.

However, Cllr. Koffa, ignoring Speaker Tyler’s brazen attack on his integrity, said, “The taskforce is determined to work around the clock to gather, review, and compile sufficient evidence that could either prosecute or exonerate those involved in the alleged bribery scandal.”

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