— As case resumes today
More than 24 months since the Supreme Court reversed the decision of then assigned Criminal Court ‘C’ Judge Yamie Quiqui Gbeisay’s acceptance of the argument made by three members of the defense team, Counselors Frank Musa Dean, Syrenius Cephus and Edwin Martin, that the emails and spreadsheet were illegally acquired by the then Presidential Taskforce that was prosecuting the alleged US$950,000 Global Witness bribery report, the likelihood of the George Weah Administration’s continuation of the case is far from reality.
The government’s unwillingness has been demonstrated on several occasions including last week, when the prosecution that now include the afore-mentioned defense lawyers — Cllr. Dean, now Justice Minister; Cllr. Cephus, now Solicitor General designate; and Cllr. Martin, now Montserrado County Attorney, who asked the court to postpone the hearing to allow them come up with a definite decision about the case.
Meanwhile, the global witness case has been rescheduled for hearing on today, Monday, June 17. Yet, it is not clear whether the former defense lawyers would plea to drop the charges against their former clients for lack of evidence.
It can be recalled that then Associate Justice Philip A. Z. Banks, when he then ruled in Counselors, Dean, Cephus and Martin’s contention that the email, the spreadsheets and other documentary evidences were hacked, they had the burden to prove otherwise. “It was therefore, an error by the trial judge to have required the state to prove that the documents were not hacked.”
Immediately, when the Supreme Court reversed Gbeisay’s decision, Cllr. Fonati Koffa, who at the time chaired the taskforce and now serves as Representative of District #2 in Grand Kru County, meanwhile, described the judgment as “vindication”.
“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,” Cllr. Koffa said.
Cephus and Martin were hired by Andrew Grove, 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.
And, if the Government of Liberia were to continue with the case, it means the Justice Minister, the Solicitor General-designate and the Montserrado County Attorney will have to recuse themselves from the case, meaning all of the lead prosecutors will have no part to play because of their prior involvement, having represented 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.
It may be recalled that the confusion erupted when prosecution’s first witness and Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission investigator, Marc N. Kollie, testified that they 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.
“The email communication was documentary evidence obtained by the investigators as a means of the regular course of business transaction among the defendants,” the prosecution’s resistance alleged, 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.