A request by the Special Presidential Taskforce prosecuting government officials for their alleged roles in the US$950,000 bribery scandal brought forth by Global Witness (GW), for Criminal Court ‘C’ to make changes to the two indictments with two separate defendants to be tried together, did not go down well with one of the accused.
Former House Speaker Alex Tyler yesterday filed a counter reaction challenging the taskforce’s intention.
Judge Yarmie Gbeisay is expected to decide the merits of the request today, before he can begin the case on Friday.
During the May 2016 Term of Court, the taskforce indicted Tyler; Senator Varney Sherman of Grand Cape Mount County; Christopher Onanuga, a Nigerian businessman; and Sable Mining, a company operating on the Alternative Investment Market in London, Great Britain, and a major shareholder in Delta
Mining Consolidated Limited (DMC), a South African Company that was operating in Liberia.
Later, the taskforce at the November 2016 Term of Court, indicted other defendants that include, Richard Tolbert, former chairman of National Investment Commission (NIC); Andrew Groves and Klaus Piprek, of the UK and South Africa respectively; Eugene Shannon, former Minister of Lands, Mines and Energy (MLME); Senator Morris Saytumah of Bomi County, who was then Minister of State for Finance, Economic and Legal Affairs; and Willie Belleh, former chairman of the Public Procurement Concession Commission (PPCC).
They were charged with the commission of the crimes of bribery, economic sabotage, criminal conspiracy, solicitation and facilitation.
To support their argument, the taskforce said their decision was in compliance with the law which, they noted, provides that the “court shall permit an indictment to be amended at any stage of the proceedings to correct a formal defect.”
They further argued that “amendments can be made to the trial of an indictment where there appears a variance between an allegation in the document and the evidence affects its proof in respect to any name or description not material to the changing of the offense.”
However, Tyler’s legal team argued that the defendants cannot be jointly tried, “because those indicted during the May 2016 Term of Court have the right to a separate trial.”
They also argued that only a single indictment can be amended, and not two separate indictments with the same crimes, adding: “While those defendants during the November 2016 term of Court should be separate because they remain the same accused…therefore, the amendment of the two separate indictments with different defendants is not applicable under the law without first consolidating the two indictments irrespective of the alleged crimes being the same.”
They further argued that if the court were to allow the taskforce’s request, it means that the taskforce will have the option to enter a plea of “nolle prosequi” in favor of some of the defendants, meaning dropping charges against them to enable them to testify on behalf of the taskforce.
In their alleged discovery, Global Witness said co-defendant Varney Sherman, while serving as lawyer of Sable Mining, advised the mining firm to pay over US$950,000 in bribes to public officials including Tyler to award the Wologizi Mountain in Lofa County to Sable without going through any public bidding.
They were to also insert a provision in the revised PPCC Act of 2010, which was on its way to the Legislature, to give the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy the power to declare a concession area a non-bidding zone.
It was based on the reported allegations that the Grand Jury for Montserrado County indicted the 11 defendants, but did so during two separate terms of court – the May 2016 and November 2016 terms.