Senator Varney Sherman has opined that the US government’s imposed sanctions against him based on allegation and “unfounded theory,” has damaged his livelihood and business.
Sen. Sherman, whose reaction comes amid a report of the Financial Intelligence Unit requesting banks to temporarily freeze his financial assets, lamented that said financial and economic sanctions against him have virtually destroyed his law practice; as most of his clients now have terminated attorney-client relationships.
“Some of the clients started with me when I established the law firm in July 1989, and have continued with me through thick and thin until the imposition of these sanctions,” Sen. Sherman said. “Accordingly, I have relieved my partners, staff lawyers and ordinary staffers from their obligations to Sherman and Sherman, and to me personally.”
Sen. Sherman in response to the US government sanction argued that at no time in his nearly 41-year career that he ever bribed judges to rule a case in favor of him as claimed by the US.
The Liberian lawyer further said that if that was the case, as the US government claims, he was not going to lose 30 out of the 65 cases that Sherman and Sherman presided over as legal counsel, directly or indirectly through one of its staff lawyers.
Questioning the US government, Sen. Sherman said it is improbable that he will be “routinely” bribing judges to decide cases in his favour and yet out of approximately 65 cases at trial courts over a period of 6 years he is losing 30.
“I reiterate that these accusations are untrue, baseless and unfounded. I have never engaged in bribing judges to rule cases in my favour, neither have I known of any judge during my nearly 41-year career as a Liberian lawyer, who ruled cases against me and I was responsible for his/her impeachment for that reason. I have never ever facilitated payments to any Liberian politician to support the impeachment of any judge.”
US government Allegation
On December 9, 2020, in recognition of the International Anti-Corruption Day, the United States Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) imposed economic and financial sanctions against Sen. Sherman for routinely paying judges to win cases.
The sanctions, according to OFAC, also comes because of allegations that he facilitated payments to Liberian politicians to support the impeachment of a judge who has ruled against him.
The US government further alleged that Sen. Sherman bribed the judge that presided over the Sable Mining Case, which involved him and some other top government officials in Liberia, including former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Alex J. Tyler.
In 2015, Global Witness, a British corruption watchdog, alleged that Sable Mining Company through Cllr. Varney Sherman, the company’s legal representative, and his colleagues conspired to circumvent the law in order for the company to get a concession to mine the Wologisi Mountain in Lofa without going through a competitive bidding process.
“Varney Sherman, now a prominent lawyer, Liberian Senator, and chair of the Liberian Senate Judiciary Committee, offered bribes to multiple judges associated with his trial for 2010 bribery scheme, and he had an undisclosed conflict of interest with the judge who ultimately returned a not guilty verdict in July 2019,” the release said.
“In the 2010 scheme that led to his trial, Sherman was hired by a British Mining company in an effort to obtain one of Liberia’s last mining assets, the Wologisi iron ore concession. Sherman advised the company that, in order to obtain the contract, they first had to get Liberia’s procurement and concession law changed by bribing senior officials,” OFAC noted.
However, for Sen. Sherman, the US government erred in its decision based on the fact that the foundation of the sanction is on mere allegations, and that the failure for OFAC to name the judges (some, if not all) whom he routinely bribed to win cases, is disservice and injustice to him and his career.
“I am alleged to have routinely given bribes to decide cases in my favour; perhaps OFAC would go one-step further and name those clients whose cases I am deemed to have routinely bribed judges,” Sen. Sherman added. “More than 90% of my (firm’s) clients are foreign-owned corporations and foreign non-governmental organizations; very, very few are Lebanese or Lebanese nationals and even fewer are Liberian citizens.”
Sen. Sherman added that his law firm is a corporate law firm; which engages primarily in transaction law, not litigation—and that every retainer agreement signed with a client is done on the basis of compliance with US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and the OECD Convention on the Corruption of Foreign Government Officials.
“Every retainer agreement also provides that all expenses made on behalf of a client shall be paid in advance or authorized by the client; and when not authorized, it shall not be reimbursed. I would be remiss if I do not inform you about the Management of Comium/Novaohone vs. Sumo Flomo; which was decided by the Supreme Court on January 8, 2015, as a part of the records of the October 2014 Term of the Supreme Court. In that case (an Action of Damages for Wrong), the trial rendered a judgment award of US$60,000.OO for Sumo Flomo and we appealed on behalf of our client, the Management of Comium/Novaphone to reverse the judgement for lack of evidence to support it. However, on appeal, instead of the Supreme Court reversing the judgment award or merely affirming it, the Supreme Court increased the judgment award from US$60, O00 to US$200, OOO.OO (more than three times). Is this evidence in support of OFAC’s accusation that I routinely bribed judges to decide cases in my favour?”
According to Sen. Sherman, he wonders why he is being sanctioned when the country of origin of each of these foreign-owned corporations and foreign non-governmental organizations have their own laws against bribery and any form of corruption.
“So, which of my clients violated the laws of its country of origin or its in-house regulations by giving me, or my law firm money to bribe judges? Alternatively, OFAC is alleging that I used my personal resources to make payments to judges to decide cases in my favour—and if this is the allegation, I emphatically reiterate my denial. Please be informed that I am not that financially endowed to make such payments and I have never made such illegal payments to any judge or anybody else,” Sen. Sherman stated in his response.
Meanwhile, Sen. Sherman is also wondering why would anybody select him, not other Representatives or Senators, to be the one to pay bribes to politicians to impeach former Associate Justice Kabineh Ja’ neh.
The Grand Cape Mount Senator further said that it is mind-blogging that people will believe that he influenced the removal of the Cllr. Ja’ neh because the former associate justice ruled against him, and as such, kept the grudge against him.
I do not recall any case in which I, or my law firm, was involved and in which Justice Ja’Neh, as an individual judge, ruled against me. If Justice Ja’Neh ruled in any case in which my law firm was involved, he was just one of the majority of the Justices who ruled against my firm; and it certainly was not a personal case,” Sen. Sherman said.