The United States of America, through its Treasury Department, recently placed Global Magnitsky designation on several individuals including Senator of Grand Cape Mount County, Cllr. H. Varney G. Sherman, on grounds that he allegedly facilitated bribery in the judiciary; making specific reference to the 2016 Global Witness case, where Judge Peter Gbeneweleh of Criminal Court ‘C’ ruled in Sherman’s favor.
Judge Gbeneweleh, in his acquittal judgment that was delivered on July 30, 2019, said: “This court says that the prosecution did not prove the allegation of bribery, economic sabotage, Criminal conspiracy, criminal solicitation and criminal facilitation as alleged in the indictment.”
However, just a year after Judge Peter Gbeneweleh’s decision, the United States Government is now saying that “Senator Sherman, allegedly offered bribes to be set free from a bribery case he and some other top government officials in Liberia, including former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Alex J. Tyler, were connected to.”
The case grew when, on May 11, 2016, corruption watchdog Global Witness based in the United Kingdom, published a report titled: “The Deceivers” which claimed to be an investigation into the financial activities of one Phil Edmonds and Andrew Groves.
The Deceivers report cataloged a financial scheme in which Edmonds and Groves had allegedly been involved in, through their establishment of a company called Sable Mining Africa Limited.
Gobal Witness said that Sable Mining’s executives came to Liberia in 2010, engaged the services of the law firm, Sherman and Sherman, and informed its founder, Cllr. Varney Sherman, that they were interested in obtaining mineral rights to the Wologizi Mountain in Lofa County, which has “prized iron ore deposit.”
Global Witness also alleged that when Sable Mining came to Liberia, the country was in the process of amending its Public Procurement and Concession Act of 2005, which was first enacted into law in September 2005.
They also claimed that Sherman immediately hatched a plan for Sable Mining to get the right to mine the prized iron ore deposit of Wologizi Mountain without going through a competitive tender, which was required by the 2005 Public Procurement and Concession Act.
The plan, according to the Global Witness report, was that, in the amendment to the 2005 PPCC Act, which was then undergoing review and drafting, provision would be included for “Non-Bidding Areas” which allows an applicant to obtain mineral rights in Liberia without a competitive tender.
However, also according to the report, Cllr. Sherman allegedly advised the Sable Mining executives that they have to pay bribes to Liberian’s Government officials, some of who were also defendants in the case.
They claimed that Sable Mining executives agreed and began to send funds to the account of Sherman and Sherman at the International Bank Liberia Limited, which fund was allegedly used to bribe some of the officials and to otherwise solicit or facilitate the insertion of Section 75 into the amendment and restatement of the PPCC Act of 2005, which was enacted into law in September 2010.
Further to his judgment, Gbeneweleh said, “This court holds that there is no change in the law as alleged by the Global Witness in The Deceivers, the Presidential Taskforce Report and the indictment.”
Justifying his decision, Gbeneweleh said the first witness of the Taskforce, in the person of Marc Kollie, testified before the court that the investigative team read the draft act in passing. “This court says that the draft act should have been thoroughly read and compared with the enacted law before concluding that the enacted and restated PPCC Act of 2010 had been changed at the Liberian Legislature by inserting Section 75 into the enacted law. If Section 75 was absent in the draft act, the investigators would have a reasonable belief of bribery, if any, for changing the law at the Legislature by inserting Section 75 in the enacted law.”
Gbeneweleh also ruled that the Global Witness report, the Special Taskforce Report and the indictment, it is the fact that Sherman and Sherman represented Sable Mining in Liberia and that an account for Sable Mining was created by and through Sherman and Sherman Inc. to support the project of Sable Mining in Liberia.
“The allegation of bribery as alleged, is primarily based on statement of account or spreadsheet that Cllr. Sherman sent to Sable Mining with email in August 2010,” Gbeneweleh defended his judgment.
Gbeneweleh also ruled that the Taskforce produced to his court a statement of account or spreadsheet as at June 30, 2010, wherein it is alleged that Sherman received from Sable Mining US$400,000 which he paid as bribes to top government officials, including the defendants, to change the amended and restated PPCC Act of 2010, inserting Section 75 therein at the Legislature.
According to Gbeneweleh, during the testimony, Sherman challenged the spreadsheet and account statement as at June 30, 2010.
“He also challenged the spreadsheet to be faked and doctored because it contains illegal payment to top government officials including the defendants contrary to his actual and true statement of account or spreadsheet as of August 31, 2010, which contained legitimate business payment for his client, Sable Mining,” Gbeneweleh said, adding, “The testimony of Sherman is not denied or rebutted by the prosecution and is deemed admitted.”
Despite Judge Gbeweleh’s explanation about the prosecution’s failure to prove their side of the argument, the U.S. Government says, they took note that in 2019 the presiding judge acquitted all individuals accused of being involved in the bribery scheme, something they blame on bribery.