8 February 2018

Liberia: Sable Mining Case Dropped?

Few of the bribery suspects as claimed by Global Witness in the Sable Mining case (clockwise): Sen. Varney Sherman, J. Alex Tyler, Dr. Eugene Shannon, PPCC Chairman Willie Belleh, Sen. Morris Saytumah and Dr. Richard V. Tolbert

The Sable Mining bribery case involving past and present top-ranking government officials appears to have taken a new twist with news reports that the Government of Liberia has dropped charges against British businessmen Phil Edmonds and Andrew Groves and by extension the top government officials linked to the bribery case.

According to corruption watchdog, Global Witness, in a published report entitled "the Deceivers," "Philippe-Henri Edmonds was one of England's most brilliant and controversial cricketers. Andrew Groves was the hard-talking son of a Zimbabwean policeman. Together they developed a near-infallible system for gaming the stock market."

The report showed how Phil Edmonds and Andrew Groves concocted "intricate insider deals to skim off millions of dollars of investors' funds. They floated a string of companies on the Alternative Investment Market (AIM)--the barely regulated little brother of the London Stock Exchange--and set out to fill them with African assets, bribing officials as their agents intimidated rivals."

It may be recalled that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in May 2016, ordered an inquiry into Sable's attempt to acquire an iron ore concession in northern Liberia after the Global Witness made accusations of wrong-doing.

This was followed by an indictment of several individuals named in the report. The indictment had named as defendants, Sable Mining, then-House Speaker Alex Tyler, Grand Cape Mount County Senator Varney Sherman, then serving as Chairman of former President Johnson Sirleaf's Unity Party, and then Deputy Minister of Lands, Mines and Energy Ernest C.B. Jones, as well as Christopher Onanuga, a Liberian businessman.

All four men were arrested in Monrovia but were later released on bail. The case was tried under the gavel of Judge Yamie Gbeisay but was taken on appeal before the Supreme Court on a Writ of Certiorari.

A Writ of Certiorari is an order a higher court issues to review the decisions and proceedings of a lower court to determine if there were any irregularities.

Government prosecutors had prayed for the Writ in the wake of Judge Gbeisay's denial of their request to have controversial emails and spreadsheets marked permanently included in their oral and documentary presentations.

However, the case was suspended in last October by the Supreme Court in order to focus on cases that would have arisen from elections related irregularities during the October 10 Presidential and Legislative elections.

"We are going to concentrate on cases that would come from the ongoing electoral process for now, but not criminal matters," the Court said on October 3, 2017.

The Supreme Court's decision came as a result of government prosecutors' petition for a Writ of Certiorari against Judge Yamie Gbeisay's denial of the prosecution's request to have controversial emails and spreadsheets marked permanently included in their oral and documentary presentations.

During the October 3 hearing before the Supreme Court, lead lawyers for the prosecution of persons of Cllr. Theophilus C. Gould and Jonathan Fonati Koffa were absent. Cllr. Gould had since passed away while prosecutor Jonathan Fonati Koffa had resigned his post to contest legislative elections in Grand Kru County.

A grand jury in Monrovia accused the defendants of bribery among other crimes, according to the indictment.

The indictment alleged that the defendants conspired to have used their positions to amend Liberia's public procurement and concessions law to have allegedly benefited Sable Mining to win the concession without a tender. In the end, however, Sable Mining was not awarded the property, known as Wologizi.

A spokeswoman for Sable Mining at the time said the company could not comment on the accusations made in the indictment, which covered a period including 2010 and 2011.

Previously Sable Mining said the Global Witness report appeared to be based on "unreliable" testimony from three former business partners.

It may be recalled that although several individuals including a son of President Sirleaf were named in the Global Witness report, state prosecutors however singled out Senator Varney Sherman, then-House Speaker Alex Tyler and former Lands and Mines Minister Eugene Shannon, later identified as 'Big Boy 1' mainly for prosecution.

The indictment believed by many to have been politically motivated was, according to legal experts, botched from the very start by state prosecutors led by U.S. ex-convict Jonathan Fonati Koffa who, according to legal experts, appeared to be playing a hatchet man role for President Sirleaf.

The Government of Liberia is believed to have spent at least US$750,000 on the case up to October 2017.

Highly placed sources at the time said President Sirleaf had a long-standing beef with Senator Sherman stemming from his alleged unethical takeover of business interests of businessman Christian Maxwell who had fled the country in the wake of the 1980 military coup.

The case dragged on up to the period of the October 10 elections when the Supreme Court announced it was postponing hearings into the case in order to concentrate on cases arising from elections irregularities.

The case has not since resumed and with the latest announcement that the Government of Liberia has announced it is dropping charges against Groves and Edmonds, it appears that criminal charges against former Speaker Alex Tyler, Varney Sherman and others may be dropped as well.

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