The Chairperson of the Special Presidential Task Force (SPTF) investigating the Global Witness (GW) alleged bribery report – The Deceiver – Cllr. J. Fonati Koffa, Thursday, June 2, announced that the Force has handed the prosecutorial role over to the Ministry of Justice (MOJ).
Although the Force also has prosecutorial powers given to it by the President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the Ministry of Justice, however, is the government’s statutory arm that prosecutes cases in courts.
The SPTF is a tripartite entity which includes the Ministry of State for Presidential Affairs (MOS), the Ministry of Justice and the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC).
Speaking yesterday at the regular press briefing of the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism (MICAT), Cllr. Koffa, who is also the Presidential Affairs Minister in the Office of President Sirleaf, disclosed that at least four persons (names not given) from one corporation have been indicted and that several indictments will be served to individuals, whose names, he also did not mention, by next week.
He stated that even though being Chairman and still having “prosecutorial patent,” he was taking the backseat, allowing the MOJ to take the lead because active prosecution has begun of people linked to the GW Sable Mining report. Min. Koffa said that he and others will be in the background providing all the necessary pieces of evidence needed to successfully prosecute all persons who will be indicted.
He added: “We went into this work and came out extremely impressed by the skills and competence of the investigators and members of the LACC and the lawyers at the MOJ. We are proud to be able to provide support.”
Cllr. Koffa, who before accepting his ministerial post, was chairman of arguably the third largest opposition political party – Liberty Party – said that in the next few weeks, SPTF is going to assist the LACC and the MOJ in “compiling the mountain of evidence they have obtained in a fashion in which prosecutors will be able to present them to a jury” in court, in order to ensure a successful prosecution of all who will be indicted.
During his response to questions from journalists, one of the concerns raised was the issue of whether he has the moral integrity to prosecute the case being a former convict in the United States. He has come under harsh criticism with people calling on him to step aside from the
SPTF. However, others have urged him to not be distracted by those comments and that he should go ahead with his mandate.
Responding to the issue of moral integrity, Cllr. Koffa said: “Everybody is entitled to their own opinions; I doubt if they are entitled to their own facts, so I suggest that people go and review the facts and then give their opinions and we will let the people judge.”
Another concern he responded to was whether the British government will allow one of its corporations—Sable Mining— owned by its citizens, to be prosecuted by a Liberian court.
Cllr. Koffa: “We are working with the British government to have an arrangement by which justice is served on those, including Sable Mining, who may have committed wrongful acts here in Liberia.” He clarified that their discussions with the British government were not yet concluded, and did not provide further details.
Also speaking, Cllr. Frederick Cherue, two days into his ministerial role at the MOJ, thanked Cllr. Koffa “for the job done so far,” with the case.
Although the Minister of Justice accepted the task of prosecuting, he, however, added: “We will rely on you and your people for the pieces of evidence you have, for all the materials that are available to you, both humans and materials.”
The new Justice Minister said that while some people have commented that the process was a witch hunt, he strongly feels that a few in the society does not think so, and that the process is good for Liberia’s democracy.
“Comments that are being made, negative or positive, are good for our democracy,” Cllr. Cherue, who was brief in his remarks, added.
Responding to one question about him “being a very good friend” of one of the indictees – Cllr. Varney Sharman – who being Chairman of the Judiciary Committee in the Liberian Senate had to recuse himself of his role when his friend Cllr. Cherue had gone to the Senate for confirmation for his position as Justice Minister, stated: “I have integrity, which I have exhibited over the years in my career unless you have a reason to challenge that. In answering your question, I tell you when we get to that bridge, we will cross it.”
The Global Witness (GW) report alleged that over US$950,000 in bribes and other suspicious payments were made by UK mining firm Sable Mining through its Liberian lawyer Cllr Varney Sherman. The report, titled ‘The Deceiver,’ alleges that Cllr. Sherman, one of Liberia’s best-connected lawyers and current Chairman of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s Unity Party, in an effort to secure the Wologizi iron ore concession in northern Liberia, paid bribes to senior officials to initially get Liberia’s concessions law changed.
According to GW, Sherman then began distributing Sable’s money to some of Liberia’s most important government officials, some of whom have also been indicted.