19 February 2018

Liberia: Sable Mining, Andrew Groves Strengthen Evidence Against Varney Sherman in Bribery Trial

Monrovia — Cllr. Varney Sherman is not off the hook in the high profile bribery case involving him and other ranking past officials of government, Sable Mining Africa Limited and its UK-based CEO, Andrew Grooves.

About a week ago, the Liberian government dropped charges against Sable Mining and Groves based on the condition that they've agreed to serve as state witnesses in the prosecution of Cllr. Sherman and his cohorts, including former Speaker of the House of Representatives, J. Alex Tyler, former Minister of Lands, Mines and Energy and his principal deputy, Eugene Shannon and E.C.B. Jones, respectively.

The sworn affidavit by Groves that led to the dropping of charges against him, a copy of which FPA has obtained, shows in detail how Cllr. Sherman maneuvered in encouraging Sable Mining to invest in Liberia, promising to use his expertise as lawyer and his then portfolio as Chairman of the then ruling Unity Party to win mining exploration bids from the government.

The company and its CEO from the onset of the case maintained their innocence and that of Cllr. Sherman, indicating that the Global Witness' report - The Deceivers - was an absolute witch hunt against Cllr. Sherman for political reasons.

But Sable Mining and Groves summersaulted in the affidavit, claiming that Sherman was solely responsible for all their activities in Liberia as he presented himself as a very strategic personality in the government, who could have helped them win mining bids.

According to the affidavit, after presenting a towering image of himself, Cllr. Sherman convinced the company and Groves to establish a Liberian corporation, open an office space, hire a skeleton staff to enable him help the company participate in any possible bid for mining exploration and acquire mining licenses.

"Sable Mining Africa Limited and Andrew S. Groves not being too familiar with the business environment in Liberia, nor the people, or the process for formation of a corporation (specifically what to do and how to jump-start a business in Liberia), unsuspectingly relied upon van Nikerk and Cllr. Sherman for support, assistance and guidance."

"Cllr. Sherman did not only provide office space for them at the offices of his private law firm to them for their initial operations but also directed and advised that all operational funds for such purpose to be transferred strictly to the Sherman and Sherman Inc. Client bank accounts.

Groves and his company will now serve as witnesses for the Liberian prosecution team, in the affidavit admitted to the spreadsheet leaked by Global Witness (which is one of prosecution's major pieces of evidence).

The affidavit noted, "Then Nirkerk demanded a detailed expenditure report as to how the funds earmarked for the seeing of its business operations in Liberia which were transferred into the account of Cllr. Varney Sherman were subsequently expended and Cllr. Sherman emailed a purported report (computer spreadsheet) containing names of individuals and institutions to whom the money was allegedly paid... "

However, the company lamented that Sable Mining did not succeed in any of the public bids for mining rights and lost a significant amount of its corporative funds without achieving the full establishment of business operations in Liberia, which Cllr. Sherman had promised and had funds transferred to him.

Attempt to Vindicate Sherman?

Two officials recently nominated to the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy as Deputy and Assistant Minister, Emmanuel Sherman and Bloatey Scere, respectively, told the Senate during confirmation hearing recently that they were among several people who worked on the amendment of the PPCC Act of 2005 by inserting Section 75 as part of the amendment of the Act, which eventually became the 2010 PPCC Act.

Section 75 of the Act provides for some areas to be declared non-bidding areas in the mining law. This would have enabled Sable Mining obtain the iron ore deposits at the Wologizi Mountain in Lofa County.

In their testimony, the two officials explained that action was taken in collaboration with those who were at the PPCC at the time, and also with the assistance of international experts, who were clothed with the authority to supervise the process at the time.

For Sherman, the assertion by the nominated officials is a vindication of him of the charges.

Evidence Still Solid

The Global Witness' The Deceivers, disclosed that Sherman, while serving as lawyer for the company paid several amounts in bribes to several officials in various government ministries and to the Speaker at the time, to a section in the Public Procurement Concession Commission laws to list Wologizi iron ore deposits as a non-bidding concession area.

Copies of email exchanges between Sherman and Nirkerk presented by the prosecution to the court attempts to corroborate Global Witness' discovery.

Legal experts believe the affidavit presented by Sable Mining Africa Limited and Groves has given the Government a stronger case should they proceed with the case.

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