The high profile corruption case involving several present and past government officials, among them former House Speaker Alex Tyler and Senator Varney Sherman of Grand Cape Mount County, will be heard today at Criminal Court “C” at the Temple of Justice in Monrovia.
The trial of the accused is based on the Global Witness (GW) report that linked them to the awarding of the Wologizi Mountain in Lofa County to Sable Mining, a UK-based mining company, without going through the competitive bidding exercise, for which the officials allegedly received over US$950,000 as bribes.
It was due to that report that the government charged the defendants with multiple crimes, including economic sabotage.
At today’s hearing, the defendants are expected for the first time to appear in the courtroom where the government indictments will be read to them.
If they were to agree to the commission, it means that charges will be dropped against them. On the contrary, they will be asked to decide if their case is to be tried by a jury or the judge serving as both judge and jury.
The report alleges that US$950,000 in bribes and other suspicious payments were made to top government officials by UK mining firm Sable Mining and its Liberian lawyer, Cllr. Varney Sherman.
The accused reportedly received money from Sable’s representatives to insert a loophole in the Public Procurement and Concessions Law, which would increase the chances of the mining company to secure the coveted Wologizi Iron Ore Concession without having to submit to a competitive bid.
Some of those officials are Alex Tyler, who allegedly received US$75,000 as consulting fees and Senator Morris Saytumah of Bomi County, who also collected US$20,000 while he was serving as Minister of State, Finance and Economic and Legal Affairs in the office of President Ellen Johnosn Sirleaf
The report shows how in 2010 Sable hired Varney Sherman, Liberia’s best-connected lawyer and current Chairman of the governing Unity Party, in an effort to secure one of the country’s most coveted mining assets, the Wologizi iron ore concession in northern Liberia. Sherman allegedly told Sable that in order to obtain the contract the company must first get Liberia’s Public Procurement and Concessions Law changed by bribing senior officials, according to a source familiar with the discussions. The account is backed-up by leaked emails and company documents seen by Global Witness.
At the time, “a new Public Procurement and Concessions Act were on its way through the Legislature. By bribing the right people Sable could get a loophole inserted allowing it to win the mountain without a tender, said Sherman, according to a person familiar with the scheme,” the report narrated.
According to the documents, Sherman then began distributing Sable’s money to some of Liberia’s most important government officials.
“Liberia’s new Procurement Act passed on September 16, 2010, complete with the new provisions Sable wanted. Article 75 allowed the mining minister to declare a mining concession as a ‘non-bidding area’ — that is, one that could be handed without a tender,” the report said.
Big Boy One and Two were identified as Eugene Shannon, former minister of Lands, Mines and Energy and his deputy, Ernest C.B. Jones.
Fombah Sirleaf, son of President Johnson Sirleaf and head of National Security Agency (NSA), allegedly benefitted from Sable’s largesse. In 2011, Sirleaf went on a US$7,598 hunting trip to South Africa paid for by Sable, spending over US$1,000 in a gun shop alone. There is no evidence that Sirleaf provided
Sable with any favors, although he was clearly a useful person to know.
At the time that these payments were made, Sable Mining was headed by British businessmen Phil Edmonds and Andrew Groves. The report shows how, in addition to their misadventures in Liberia, the pair siphoned millions from investors and hired a security agent who spied on and intimidated their business rivals. Details of Edmonds’ wealth are rare, but in 2012 he was reportedly worth some US$14 million.
Sherman, who has represented investors such as Chevron and Firestone, has also benefitted from his dealings with Sable. A US$200,000 payout from Sable’s funds labeled ‘political contribution – UP convention’ is dated April 22, 2010, less than three weeks before a Unity Party conference where Sherman was elected the party’s Chairman.
At the same convention, UP members elected Henry Fahnbulleh as secretary general. Sherman opposed this and publicly demanded Fahnbulleh’s resignation. Documents seen by GW show how, on June 24, Sable paid out US$25,000, labeled as ‘Political contribution – UP Secretary General resignation.’ Fahnbulleh quit the next day.