In US$950K Global Witness Case
Judge Peter Gbeneweleh of Criminal Court ‘C’ presiding as both jury and judge over the Global Witness report which alleged that several public officials received over US$950,000 in bribes through Sable Mining’s Liberian lawyer, Senator Varney Sherman of Grand Cape Mount County on Monday, July 22, appeared “very tough” at the prosecutors, when the judge was heard repeatedly questioning them to keep the case moving forward, and to explain matters he considers relevant.
The payment, the Global Witness claimed, was to alter Liberia’s Public Procurement Concession Commission (PPCC) law, which would have enabled the officials to award the Wologizi Mountain in Lofa County to Sable without any competitive bidding process.
Prosecutors’ frustration with Judge Gbeneweleh’s concern about the legality surrounding the government’s acquisition of the email and spreadsheet evidence from executives of Sable Mining in South Africa spilled out publicly in a series of sensitive clashes in which Gbeneweleh insisted that one of the prosecutors, Jerry D.K. Garlarwolu, provides detailed explanation. But Garlarwolu at times lashed back at the judge, something lawyers rarely do.
Garlarwolu’s frustration came as Judge Gbeneweleh was hearing final legal arguments between the prosecution and the defense lawyers, after which arguments the judge reserved his judgment for Tuesday, July 31, 2019.
Garlarwolu had earlier argued that they received the email and spreadsheet evidence from the Global Witness that had also alleged they obtained the document from then country director of Sable Mining, Heine Van Neikerk.
The report named some of the officials, who allegedly received bribes as former Speaker Alex Tyler, $75,000 for “consulting fees,” Richard Tolbert, chairman of the NIC, US$50,000 for “consulting fees,” Morris Saytumah, then Minister of State for Finance, Economic and Legal Affairs, now a senator, US$50,000 for “consulting fees,” and Willie Belleh, then PPCC chairman, $10,000 for “consulting fees.”
Minutes after Garlarwolu rested with the accusation, tensions flared to the extent that Judge Gbeneweleh took issue with the statement, questioning Garlarwolu whether the pieces of evidence were acquired legally.
“Were there any search warrant or subpoenas obtained for the evidence to be used in court?” Gbeneweleh asked.
But Garlarwolu replied in the negative, answering further, “our investigators informed us that they collected the documents from Paul O. Sallivan in South Africa, because Sallivan also off-loaded the documents from the computer of Heine Van Neikerk.”
Again, Gbeneweleh asked Garlarwolu: “Was that legally acquired? And why did Sallivan and Neikerk not come here to testify to the document?
Garlarwolu again complained,” Why is there too much unnecessary technicality in the case?”
Garlarwolu further said that Klaus Piprek informed the investigators in South Africa that two of the biggest payments allegedly went to the then Minister of Lands, Mines and Energy, Eugene Shannon, Deputy Minister of Lands, Mines and Energy Ernest C.B. Jones in the amount of $250,000 each.
When asked why they did not ensure the appearance of Piprek to testify to authenticate the statement, Garlarwolu responded: ”That was our investigation report, and so you can rule on the documents that are before you.
The investigation also claimed that on August 6, 2010, Speaker Tyler attempted to insert the controversial Section 75 into the PPCC Act to render Wologizi Mountain a non-bidding concession area.
However, another investigation report claimed that former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf signed into law the PPCC Act on August 5, 2010. When asked to explain about the contradiction, Garlarwolu replied: ”This is what we say, so you have the report with you; accept it and rule anyway you think, but stop the technicality in the case. Just rule according to your decision.”
Global Witness bribery scandal indicted Senator Sherman along with former speaker Alex Tyler, the former Minister of Lands, Mines and Energy (now Mines and Energy), Eugene Shannon; former Deputy Minister of Lands, Mines and Energy, Ernest C.B. Jones; Morris Saytumah, former Minister of State for Finance, Economic and Legal Affairs, now a Senator of Bomi County; Willie Belleh, former PPCC chairman; and a Nigerian businessman Christopher Onanuga.
The defendants are facing charges of bribery, economic sabotage, criminal conspiracy, criminal solicitation and criminal facilitation. Prosecutors are asking for the maximum sentence for 15 years in prison.