12 March 2017

Liberia: Sable Mining Trial - First Witness Testifies in Court

Monrovia — Senior Investigator at the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission Marc Kollie Friday took the witness stand in the Sable Mining bribery trial, disclosing that the an international investigation conducted by the LACC has proven that the defendants are indeed culpable of the crimes levied against them.

"The investigation found that he [Alex Tyler] solicited money from Klaus Piprek he could influence the passage of the law. He also received the amount of US$75,000 from defendant Varney Sherman and then he influenced the passage of the PPCC Act of 2005."

Defendants in the case have waived their right to jury trial.

Prior to his introduction and subsequent testimony, one of the Prosecution's lawyers in the trial, Cllr. Theophilus C. Gould, told the court that the state was happy when the defense counsels waived jury trial, adding that only a legal minded person like the judge can understand the evidence adduced to make a final determination at the end of the trial.

"We were thinking how we [were] coming explain the charges to the jury because there are three types of bribery, so since they waived jury trial, we are exceptionally happy, we never underestimated your judgment," Cllr. Gould asserted.

He stated that the state would also prove to the court that the defendants including; Varney G. Sherman, Christopher Hayes Onanuga, Willie Belleh, Eugene Shannon, J. Alex Tyler, Ernest C. B. Jones, Richard Tolbert and Morris Saytumah who were all present in the dock, committed those crimes levied against them in the indictments.

"We would also show to this court that the defendants deliberately engaged in this act to undermine the economy of this country. That is why they were charged with economic sabotage," he said while presenting Witness Kollie for qualification to deliver his testimony in chief.

Kollie is one of those who investigated the defendants following the release of the Global Witness (GW) report in May, 2016 which linked the said defendants to acts of bribery and other charges levied against them in the indictment.

Cllr. Gould noted that the GW report along with its attachments set the basis for the criminal investigation against the defendants.

Witness Kollie explained that the investigation traveled internationally covering the Great Britain and South Africa where they went to gather evidence against the defendants.

According to him, all those interviewed by the investigation were informed of their constitutional rights as defined in Article 21 'c' of the Liberian Constitution.

"The investigation sent out invitation and interviewed those listed in the Global Witness report and its attachments.

Internationally, the investigation traveled to the UK where it talked to Global Witness and Global Witness referred the investigation to Paul Sulevan, a Private Investigator for over 25 years.

He furnished the investigation with emails and other documentary evidence that connects the defendants with the commission of crimes as alleged.

"The investigators also spoke to or interviewed Heine Van Niekerk whose name may seem strange but familiar to the named Defendants.

He told the investigation that he was CC emails directly sent to him and as such he turned over these emails to the investigation, which the investigators intend to present before the court.

The investigation also, internationally, spoke or interviewed Klaus Piprek who worked in Liberia as an Executive of Sable Mining and he is very much familiar with the defendants in this case.

He told the investigation that he was copied and "CC" in most of the emails concerning the conspiracy to change the laws of this country in favor of just a single company," Witness Kollie said.

Witness Kollie also explained that Defendant Eugene Shannon in his capacity as Minister of Lands, Mines and Energy, received US$250,000 and US$5,000, respectively.

He said the investigation found that when as Minister, Defendants Shannon also received as special guests, executive of the Sable Mining. He said a vehicle owned by the Lands and Mines Ministry was used to transport the executives from the Roberts International Airport (RIA) on many occasions.

"Even though he told investigators that never in his life time, had he interacted or known any member of sable mining or sable mining itself, specifically and most importantly, on April 14, 2010, a special flight came into this country number S000 call number ZSLAC, occupants of that flight were Andrew Grooves, an executive of Sable Mining, Heine Van Niekerk, the Head of Sable Mining West Africa Operation and Klaus Piprek, an executive of Sable Mining.

While in the flight, Grooves carrying a case opened the case and showed same to the other occupants Heine Van Niekerk and Klaus Piprek and this was what Groves said and I quote; 'This is how US$500,000.00 look like.'

They drove to the residence of Defendant Eugene Shannon at whose place E.C.B. Jones was also at the dinner.

"The US$500,000.00 was given to Defendant Eugene Shannon and Defendant E. C. B. Jones. Now, that was the last place the case was ever seen.

However, the investigation corroborates the payment with a spread sheet of a subsidiary of Sable Mining.

This company named Liberia Iron Ore Investment Limited which the investigation is ready to present before the court. The Spread sheet states and I quote "(US$500,000.00) to Andrew Grooves from Sable Mining and the Transaction was further broken down (US$250,000) to big boy one and (US$250,000) to big boy two.

Big Boy One and Big Boy Two is a name that was designed by Heine Van Niekerk with the advised of his Liberian lawyers and Co-Conspirators. It was named after the two bombs that were thrown on the two Japanese City of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. So the intention of these payments was to make the system to collapse.

The investigation concludes that Big Boy one is Defendant Eugene Shannon and Big Boy Two is Defendant E. C. B. Jones. With respect to the US$5000 received by Dr. Eugene Shannon, he conspired with Defendant Morris Saytumah to write a back dated letter in order to commit the government to Delta Mining, a subsidiary company to Sable Mining," Witness Kollie narrated to the Court.

He told the court that although Defendants Varney Sherman refused to face the investigation, they were able to gather evidence that he was hired by Sable Mining and that through his 'legal advice and solicitation,' bribes were paid to him (Defendant Sherman) who also paid bribes to officials that he officially targeted.

Witness Kollie further told the court that they will present a spread sheet detailing how Sable Mining, Defendant Sherman and the Sherman and Sherman law firm engaged in the conspiracy to change the laws of Liberia stressing that the said spread sheet was produced by Defendant Sherman and his Sherman and Sherman Law firm.

He disclosed that as part of the scheme, Defendant Alex Tyler received the sum of US$75,000 while the other co-defendants received as follows; Willie Belleh, US$10,000; Morris Saytumah, US$50,000; Christopher Onanuga US$50,000 while Richard Tolbert received US$50,000.

"The investigation found that he [Tyler] solicited money from Klaus Piprek so that he can influence the passage of the law.

He also received the amount of US$75,000 from defendant Varney Sherman and then he influenced the passage of the PPCC Law of 2005. Additionally, he received communication from the President of the Republic of Liberia to perform the duty with respect to the passage and revision of the PPCC Act of 2005," Kollie testified.

He also told the court that "The investigation also found that while he was Chairman of the NIC, he was also chairman of a local Football Club called Invisible Eleven (IE), in 2010, he held a fund raiser program at which Defendant Varney Sherman and Heines Van Niekerk attended and made a case contribution of U$$10,000 each.

However, after he left as chairman, he demanded that the football club was indebted to him in the sum of US$20,000 in excess.

Investigation concludes that this was scheme to launder the US$20,000 that he later demanded," Witness Kollie said.

He also testified to the involvements of the other Co-Defendants, but his testimony was paused when Cllr. Gould requested the court to look into claims made by the defense counsel that their emails were hacked to decide whether said evidence can be admitted into the proceedings of the trial since its forms part of the prosecutors' evidence adduced.

The Court granted his plea and requested the defendants to submit the grounds for which they resisted the admission of emails into the prosecution' evidence on Monday March 13, 2017 so as to form the basis for his final decision on Tuesday March 14, 2017.

He also requested the prosecution to submit their response on the same day on which he will make his ruling on the matter.

Following his decision, the trial was postponed to March 14, 2017 at which time the witness is also expected to continue with his direct testimony after a final determination on whether the emails obtained by the investigators should be admitted into evidence or not.

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