-MOJ amends indictment, reduces money from US$950K to US$440K
The truthfulness and credibility of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission’s (LACC) handling the investigation into the US$950,000 reported bribery case by Global Witness, which formed the basis for the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf administration to indict several present and past public officials, including Senator Varney Sherman of Grand Cape Mount County, came under scrutiny by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) that may likely be behind the decision to make changes to the charges (indictment).
Global Witness alleged that Sable Mining, a UK-based mining company, through its Liberian lawyer, Sen. Sherman of the Sherman and Sherman Law Firm, advised the company that the only way to have the Wologizi Mountain in Lofa County awarded to it without public bidding was to insert a provision in the revised Public Procurement and Concession Commission (PPCC) Act.
It was based on that report that the LACC conducted an investigation and claimed that Sable Mining allegedly paid US$950,000, of which Sherman allegedly received US$600,000 through his account at the International Bank of Liberia Limited (IBLL).
But, in a “Motion to Amend the Indictment” filed by the ministry to Criminal Court ‘C’ where Sherman and his co-defendants are on trial, a copy of which is in the possession of the Daily Observer, the money he allegedly received has been reduced from U$600,000 to U$440,000 as claimed by the LACC.
Officials at the Ministry of Justice claimed that Sherman’s bribe was US$200,000. Former National Investment Commission chairman Richard Tolbert reportedly collected US$20,000, former Speaker Alex Tyler took away US$75,000 and US$50,000 was also paid to Senator Morris Saytumah of Bomi County.
Also, former PPCC’s chairman Willie Belleh collected US$10,000 from Sherman, the MOJ alleged.
Another change was that the MOJ clarified that Sherman did not advise, encourage and influence Sable Mining to pay out the US$440,000 to the defendants.
“It was Sable Mining that transferred to Sherman and his Sherman and Sherman Law Firm varying amounts for various purposes, including unlawful payments, and of which amount was transferred and did, in fact, pay the sum of US$440,000 to influence officials of the government to change the PPCC Law 2005,” the ministry’s clarification said.
The LACC’s version was that Sherman advised, encouraged and influenced Sable Mining to pay out US$600,000 to several public officials in consideration to ensuring the passage of the revised PPCC Act of 2010.
“This was intended to give undue advantage to the company over the Wologizi Mountain, in Lofa County, which payment he later reported to Sable Mining through an e-mail accompanied with a spreadsheet,” the LACC’s initial accounts said.
On the accounts of former Minister of Lands, Mines and Energy (LME) Eugene Shannon and E.C.B. Jones who served as deputy for operations to Shannon at LME (now Ministry of Mines and Energy), the LACC claimed they received US$250,000 each in favor of Sable Mining with the sole intent to gain easy franchise to the iron ore deposits in the Wologizi mountain.
The LACC then alleged they had evidence to show that Andrew Groves and Klaus Piprek, who were at the forefront of establishing Sable Mining in Liberia and ensuring that it gained access to Wologizi, came to Liberia on April 14, 2010, on a private jet, Flight #S000, aircraft ZSLAC, from South Africa as special guests of the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy. Aboard that plane, Groves carried a vanity case which he displayed in flight containing US$500,000.
The money, according to the LACC’s evidence, was intended to instigate what would become the largest bribery conspiracy in the history of Liberia.
However, the ministry’s version said: “Ernest C.B. Jones, as deputy minister for operations, was necessary and critical to any controversy to circumvent the mineral law of Liberia and award mineral concession to any entity, and he subsequently received US$4,500 on August 2, 2011.” Shannon’s name was omitted from the amended indictment.
Defending their decision, the ministry said the criminal statute provides that the court will permit an indictment amended at any stage of the proceedings to correct a formal defect. Additionally, they said, the statue provides that amendment can also be done upon the trial of the indictment when there appears a variance between an allegation in the indictment and the evidence offered in proof in respect to any fact, name or description and material to the charging of the offense; the court may, if the indictment will not be prejudiced, thereby direct that the indictment be amended to conform to the proof on such terms as the court deems fair and reasonable; but an indictment shall not under any circumstances be amended under the paragraph to charge an offense different from the offense already charged.