Global Witness’ investigation exposes Andrew Groves’ ‘lies’
Fresh investigation conducted by Global Witness (GW), obtained by the Daily Observer obtained over the weekend, appears to contradict claims by controversial mining entrepreneur, Andrew Groves, that Liberia has cleared him of bribery allegations.
According to the report, some Liberian politicians, including Senator Varney Sherman and former House Speaker Alex Tyler, were allegedly bribed by Sable Mining, a company owned by Andrew Groves, in pursuit of a huge iron ore concession in Liberia. The accused have all denied any wrongdoing.
When the news first broke, former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf set-up a task force to probe the bribery allegations, while former United Kingdom (UK) Prime Minister, David Cameron, wrote to the Liberian former leader about the scandal, saying, according to a statement by the Liberian presidency – that information on the bribery allegations would be passed to UK law enforcement and that the UK would “cooperate with you to tackle corruption wherever it occurs.”
Further, according to the report, Sable Mining was forced to delist from AIM Stock Market when the Liberian task force indicted the company and Groves, along with numerous Liberian politicians, including former Chairman of Unity Party and Sable’s lawyer, Cllr. Varney Sherman, as well as former House Speaker Alex Tyler.
The case took on a series of twists and turns as then lead prosecutor, Jonathan Fonati Koffa, reportedly requested additional payment for services rendered. The amount paid by the Sirleaf government to Koffa had tongues wagging at the rather astronomical sum involved when there was little or nothing to show for it.
Eventually the case went cold as the date for the 2017 Presidential and legislative elections drew near. Lead prosecutor Jonathan Koffa apparently forsook his duties and instead applied his time to canvassing support for his bid for a legislative seat in Grand Kru County. Nothing much was heard further of the case as the tenure of President Sirleaf drew to a close with the elections of a new president in late December 2017.
Surprisingly in February, Groves issued a statement to announce that he and Sable Mining, now renamed Consolidated Growth Holdings, have been completely acquitted by the Liberian government.
The statement said there had been a “comprehensive review by the Liberian authorities” into the indictments. Giving the impression of quoting directly from this purported review, the statement claimed it had concluded Sable Mining and Andrew Groves had not ‘in any form, manner or shape, interacted with any public official within the Liberian government’s circle in an improper or illegal manner’ in respect of their business activities in the country.
But, new investigation conducted by GW, released Sunday, April 15, 2018 has proven the contrary, as Representative Fonati Koffa, who chairs the Special Presidential Task force until January this year when he was inducted as member of the legislature, said the claim by Groves is untrue.
Cllr. Koffa, who resigned his post as lead prosecutor right after his elections to the House of Representatives, about a month before Groves’ statement, and now heads the House of Representatives Committee on Judiciary, told GW that there was no review of the case.
“This is a blatant and utter lie,” Koffa said, adding, “there is no comprehensive investigation I am aware of that exonerated these people. As former chairman of the Task force I would have been notified, as no other body would have been clothed with the authority to conduct such a review,” GW wrote in its report.
“We remained convinced of their complicity and guilt,” he continued, noting, “I defy Sable Mining or whatever group they have morphed themselves into to produce such a report or the government official who conducted it,” Rep. Koffa is quoted as saying in the report.
Koffa’s claim is apparently supported by a top official (name withheld) associated with the investigation who rubbished Groves’ claim that the Government of Liberia has exonerated him of all charges appertaining to the bribery case. Other officials, past and present involved with the case have also dismissed Groves’ exoneration claims.
Groves said in his statement that all charges against him and Sable “have been irrevocably dropped by the Liberian authorities”. But Koffa said this was not the case according to the Global Witness report.
The report noted that while Koffa and other officials acknowledged that a nolle prosequi – a decision to drop charges without necessarily conceding innocence – had indeed been filed by a task force official with the Supreme Court, he said, “If Groves ever sets foot in Liberian jurisdiction, those charges could easily be reinstated.” He also said the nolle prosequi was “improperly filed” and so, in practice, “there is nothing to act on.”
The report however did not state when the Task Force official filed the Nolle Prosequi before the Supreme Court. This has led to speculations that the nolle prosequi may have been filed out of deference to an unwritten quid pro quo arrangement between George Weah and former House Speaker Alex Tyler whose Liberia Peoples Democratic Party (LPDP) had played a crucial role in the election of George Weah as President of Liberia.
But Koffa’s volte face declaring that Groves could be arrested should he ever set foot in Liberia as the nolle prosequi could be squashed and the charges reinstated suggest that Koffa may be playing to the galley being fully aware that President Weah may be disinclined to throw his coalition partner Alex Tyler to the dogs by having the charges against Groves reinstated as declared by Koffa.
According to the report, Global Witness also noted that instead there appeared to have been statements made to the Liberian press by Groves’ lawyer, Cllr. Sayma Syrennius Cephus.
“Cllr. Cephus was also quoted in the press saying the prosecution had come “to the stark realization that neither Sable Mining Africa nor Andrew Groves had any criminal intent.” But in an email to GW, the lawyer was more ambiguous. “Only the prosecution can clarify” why the nolle prosequi was filed, he said. “Perhaps a holistic and comprehensive review” had “discovered an error of judgment.”
GW’s 2016 report had detailed bribes and questionable payments from Sable Mining in Liberia totaling almost US$1 Million.
Groves’ lawyer and fixer Sherman emailed him a spreadsheet of such ‘facilitation’ payments and Groves continued sending funds to his man. Groves was also accused by the Liberian Task force of bribing the mining minister and his deputy US$250, 000 in hard cash each (denied by the officials in question). And there were more disturbing undercurrents: GW’s report revealed how the duo’s agents intimidated and hacked rivals, leaving some in fear of their lives –allegations Edmonds and Groves said were groundless.
In his affidavit to the Liberian Supreme Court in January, Groves acknowledged having received the bribes spreadsheet, but said he “did not review the contents,” having delegated authority to Sable Mining’s local staff. “Sable Mining and Andrew S. Groves are innocent victims,” Groves insisted.
After being contacted about the contentious public statement, Groves’ spokesman said: “Mr. Groves and Sable Mining always maintained that they had not acted in an improper or illegal manner, and the Liberian authorities have now reached the same conclusion.”
The spokesman would not say who conducted the purported review, nor provide GW with a copy. He added that Edmonds was no longer a shareholder and said neither man had acted illegally or unethically at any time. “We consider this matter as now closed,” he said.
Corruption red flag over Weah’s Gov’t
In Liberia the case is a bellwether for Liberia’s new President and former football superstar George Weah, who came to power in January. In his inauguration speech, he said: “The most effective way to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor is to make sure public resources do not end up in the pockets of government officials.”
But Liberian media has already raised numerous corruption red flags over Weah’s government. And the latest Groves controversy follows the announcement of a new investigation into bribery and corruption in Liberia’s oil sector involving ExxonMobil, also first revealed by Global Witness. (ExxonMobil also denies wrongdoing). If the hosts of officials indicted over Sable Mining’s bribery do not face trial these worries will be heightened, GW believes.
The GW report also urged British authorities to pay attention to these developments. The Deceivers showed how Edmonds and Groves’ bribery scheme was part of a package of trickery. City lawyers crafted sophisticated stratagems using anonymously owned companies in the British Virgin Islands to repeatedly fleece ordinary investors on Aim.
Both Aim and the Serious Fraud Office have been fully informed about these cases, but are yet to take action. Fraud and corruption scandals regularly plague the top tier of Aim-listed firms, yet repercussions are rare to non-existent. Aim has continually insisted it has “absolutely the right regulatory framework”. But the junior market has become a haven for rogue companies – and now one of the most notorious hopes to clamber up onto the main London Stock Exchange.
UK authorities should not let Edmonds and Groves get away with bribery and swindling, and the London Stock Exchange and Aim should bar them and the companies for good.
Whether the British Government is going to take punitive measures against Groves and his partner remains unclear. It also remains unclear whether President George Weah is going to order a resumption of prosecutorial action against Groves, Senator Varney Sherman, former House Speaker, Alex Tyler and others.
However a prominent lawyer, (name withheld) says with the likes of Emmanuel Shaw and others in Weah’s kitchen cabinet, such a move against Senator Varney Sherman, former Speaker Alex Tyler and others, is unlikely to happen. Shaw, according to reports, racked up a criminal record in South Africa where he was reported to have been involved in a number of unwholesome activities.
Shaw was reported to have been one of former President Doe’s closest confidants. According to court papers filed in an American court, Shaw masterminded an elaborate plan to fleece the country of about 27 million US dollars. He was reported to have set up a new national oil company in which he was a major shareholder, resigned as finance minister, and then wrote a letter as if he were still finance minister obligating the government to pay his oil
company millions of dollars.
Just what role he is playing in the Weah-led government remains uncertain. It remains to be seen how much added value he can bring to bear on this government publicly proclaimed as a pro-poor. But with such a criminal history behind him, there is no question, according to a prominent lawyer, that he is more likely than not currently involved in brokering shady deals that could prove detrimental to the country’s interest.