By Abednego Davis
Eight present and past government officials including former House Speaker Alex Tyler and Senator Varney Sherman of Grand Cape Mount County accused by the Global Witness bribery report, yesterday pleaded not guilty when their charges were read to them at Criminal Court ‘C.’
Yesterday’s not guilty plea challenged the government to now provide evidences that will convict the defendants of the commission of the multiple crimes the government brought against the defendants.
At the hearing, which followed the reading of the indictment, prosecution asked Judge Yamie Quiqui Gbeisay for the jury to immediately arrange for selection, but that request was resisted by the defense team, who wanted the case to be decided by Judge Gbeisay as both juror and the judge; a request which was later accepted by the judge.
Gbeisay said “trial by jury being the right of the defendants under Article 22b of the 1986 Constitution and chapter 22, section 22-1 of the Code of Procedural Law, and having waived trial by jury, this court left with no alternative, but to reluctantly grant the defendants resistance.”
Judge Gbeisay further ruled that the “court however wished to put the parties on notice that I reserve equally the right to take advantage of Chapter 23 Section 23.2 of the same procedural law at any stage of the trial to empanel an advisory jury, if needs be.”
Therefore, he added, “prosecution request for an empanelled jury is denied and the defendants request to waive trial jury is granted.”
Global Witness claimed that its report was backed by leaked emails and company documents seen by the accused, of which over US$950,000 in alleged bribes were paid through Sable’s Liberian lawyer, Varney Sherman.
They claimed that at the time of the payments, Sable Mining was headed by British businessmen Phil Edmonds and Andrew Groves.
Meanwhile the Global Witness report claimed that in 2010, the company hired Senator Sherman as Liberia’s best-connected lawyer and then Chairman of the governing Unity Party in an effort to secure one of the country’s last large mining assets, the Wologizi iron ore concession in Lofa County without a competitive bidding process.
Sherman told Sable that in order to obtain the contract, the company must first get Liberia’s concessions law changed by bribing senior officials, according to the report.
It claimed Sherman then distributed Sable’s money to some of the country’s most important government officials including former Speaker Tyler.
“Sable and Sherman paid bribes to change Liberia’s law and get their hands on one of its most prized assets, the Wologizi concession,” said the Global Witness report.
The case continues today with prosecution producing their witnesses.