Normal court activities were yesterday interrupted at the Temple of Justice after it emerged that the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Alex Tyler, and Senator Varney Sherman of Grand Cape Mount County, two of the nation’s most powerful politicians, were turned over to
Criminal Court C and expected to stand trial for their alleged involvement in the Global Witness alleged bribery scandal.
Also arraigned in Criminal Court C in connection with the Global Witness allegations were Ernest C.B. Jones, Former Deputy Minister of Lands, Mines and Energy (LME), and one Christopher Onanuga. They are all expected to stand trial for their alleged involvement in a Global Witness report that linked them to the alleged US$950,000 bribery scandal.
Global Witness is a United Kingdom-based environment and transparency watchdog, which alleged that Cllr. Sherman, with the support of Sable Mining, issued US$950,000 to former and present government officials to change the Public Procurement Concession and Commission Law in order to award the Wologizi Mountain located in Voinjama District, Lofa County, to Sable Mining Company.
The Liberian government has charged them with bribery, economic sabotage, criminal conspiracy, solicitation and facilitation.
Senator Sherman and Speaker Tyler had earlier refused to submit to the Cllr. Fonati Koffa task force established by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to probe the allegations.
Senator Sherman is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee that has oversight on all government business, especially those with legal implications.
He is also the chairman of the ruling Unity Party (UP) on whose ticket Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was twice elected President of Liberia.
Senator Sherman was arrested early Wednesday morning around 5:30 a.m. at his Congo Town residence, where his indictment was served. He signed the court documents and subsequently agreed to travel with the court officers to the Temple of Justice.
Sherman’s arrest came a day after his lawyers and prosecutors completed their final arguments as to whether or not the court should allow four banks to make public his banking transaction from January 2010 to September 2010, which ruling is pending for Monday, May 29.
Besides Senator Sherman, E.C.B. Jones and Onanuga were both arrested at about 5:45 a.m., at separate locations in Monrovia, where they were served with similar indictments, before agreeing to be escorted by court officers to the Temple of Justice.
For Speaker Tyler, he personally drove to the Temple of Justice at about 12:30 p.m., where court officers managed to arrest him and handed him the indictment, which he signed.
However, the accused were allowed to return home, after two separate bonds to the tune of US$1,500,000 and US$150,000 were respectively posted for them by two insurance companies.
The US$1,500,000 was secured by the Omega Insurance Company for Sherman, Jones and Onanuga, and the US$150,000 was posted on behalf of Speaker Tyler by Sky Insurance Company.
The accused were later released following hours of closed door discussions with their legal counsels and Judge Emery Paye in his Chambers yesterday.
Immediately following their release, dozens of people among whom were executives of the ruling Unity Party, who had trooped outside of the courtroom yesterday, were openly heard chanting, “We are going to resist any action to take our chairman to prison, because he has done nothing wrong to deserve such punishment.”
Meanwhile, other were heard shouting, “Rogue! Rogue! Rogue! Take those criminals to jail.”
Earlier, UP vice chairman for political affairs, Dr. Isaac Manneh, in a conversation with the Daily Observer, expressed disappointment over the arrest of his chairman, but said, “The party will take a decision on the matter today.”
“This is a court matter and I am very careful to make a definite decision for now, because the court is the right place for this issue,” Dr. Manneh noted.
The four count indictment, drawn by the Grand Jury for Montserrado County, alleges that during the period of 2010 to 2011, as a team through various communications and each of them being strategically placed in various positions in government, with the support of Sable Mining, criminally strategized and intentionally requested and was given more than US$900,000 to perform their official duties.
The document further alleges that codefendant Jones, being LMN Deputy Minister at that time, requested and received US$75,000 for conducting the smooth passage of the amended PPCC Law containing the provision for the Ministry to have the power to declare a concession area a non-bidding area, which is Article 75 of the amended PPCC Act, so as to facilitate the awarding of the concession agreement on the Wologizi Mountain to Sable Mining.
The court record also alleged that the defendants jointly and severally demanded compensation for the performance of their official duties, hence the crime of bribery.
It also stated that the defendants used their offices to effect the objective of their plan, which was to alter the PPCC Law and did succeed in having the law changed to give the Ministry the power to declare an area a non-bidding area as reflected in the PPCC Article.
“The act of the defendants were carried out in concert and with the full knowledge of every defendant; so as not to get caught in their acts, were always covering up one conduct which constitutes a crime, and any one or more of such persons does an act of effect the objective of the conspiracy,” the document claims.
The document states that the acts of the defendants were well calculated into a scheme for the purpose of generating interest for themselves rather than the citizenry.
“That the diversion of the law to suit the defendants’ intent and the demand and receipt of compensation for official duties was intended to strangulate the government economically,” the court records allege.
“The defendants, with the full knowledge of Varney Sherman, were threading a dangerous path to obstruct every effort to retrieve credible records and interactions with persons who were part of the conspiracy to send and receive cash for the achievement of the objectives.”
According to the indictment, the codefendants during the period aided each other knowing that such assistance was for the purpose of committing a crime.
“Codefendant Sherman and Sable Mining provided the funding while Jones, Onanuga and Tyler requested and received the value for the conduct of official duties,” the document concluded.