The much publicized Global Witness controversial US$950,000 bribery case finally came to an end when Judge Peter Gbeneweleh of Criminal Court ‘C’ on Tuesday, July 30, dropped the case against Senator Varney Sherman and several other current and past public officials, and subsequently ruled that they have no case to answer.
Judge Gbeneweleh acquitted Senator Varney Sherman of Grand Cape Mount County, 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 Public Procurement Concession Commission (PPCC) chairman; and a Nigerian businessman Christopher Onanuga, of all charges.
“The defendants are not guilty of the offenses charged in the indictment. They are hereby discharged from further answering the multiple offenses charged in the indictment without any delay,” Gbeneweleh ruled, adding: “Their constitutional and statutory rights are hereby restored with immediate effect.”
He also ordered the court sheriff to return the defendants’ criminal appearance bonds.
Minutes after Gbenewleh’s judgment, the courtroom turned noisy with family members and sympathizers of the defendants singing songs of praises to God for restoring their relatives’ dignity.
Following the announcement, Cllr. Wesseh A. Wesseh, assistant minister for Litigation at the Ministry of Justice, described Gbeneweleh’s ruling as “biased and erroneous.”
Cllr. Wesseh argued that prosecution proved their case beyond all reasonable doubt, as required by law.
“We proved our case against the defendants and so we thought that the judge would have convicted them. But the judge, being so biased, ruled in their favor,” the prosecution lead lawyer claimed.
He therefore said they would appeal against Gbeneweleh’s judgment before the Supreme Court.
In his reaction to Cllr. Wesseh’s accusation of biases, the defense lead lawyer, Cllr. Cyril Jones, said that Gbeneweleh’s judgment was “backed by the law.”
“There is no need for the prosecution to appeal against the judgment, because they have not satisfied the burden of proof to convict the defendants,” Cllr. Jones argued. “They did not produce any evidence to convict the defendants of these charges,” Jones said.
Global Witness had earlier accused Sherman, then lawyer of Sable Mining, a UK-based mining company of influencing the Sable to pay to him US$950,000 to have the money distributed to his co-defendants.
The payment, the Global Witness claimed, was to alter PPCC law, which would have enabled the officials to award the Wologizi Mountain in Lofa County to Sable without any competitive bidding process.
Based upon the Global Witness’s accusation, the prosecution argued that they went to South Africa and United Kingdom (UK) where they acquired email and spreadsheets believed to be exchanging between Sherman and the executive of Sable Mining.
Prosecution had also claimed that the pieces of documentary evidence were obtained by one Paul O. Sullivan, believed to be Global Witness’ investigative journalist, who supposedly downloaded copies from the computer of the former country director of Sable Mining, Heine Van Neikerk, a South African.
However, Judge Gbeneweleh ruled that the prosecution failed to convince Sullivan and Neikerk to return to the country to testify about their knowledge of the email and spreadsheets evidences, which are the important evidences they relied on to convict the defendants.
On prosecution’s contention that the defendants inserted Section 75 into the PPCC Act, which provides for non-bidding of the Wologizi Mountain in favor of Sable Mining, Gbeneweleh said that during the case, prosecution failed to produce the draft or the final act to show the changes that were made there by the defendants.
“Prosecution accused the defendants of inserting Section 75 into the draft PPCC Act but they failed to submit the draft and the final act that was passed to show the changes made by the defendants,” Gbeneweleh judgment said.
That act was approved on September 10, 2010, and subsequently submitted to former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who later signed it before it was printed into handbills on September 18, 2010,