28 February 2018

Liberia - Sable Mining, Andrew Groves Reinventing Wheel - Again - Under a New Name

Monrovia — Shortly after a Global Witness report linked Andrew Groves and Sable Mining Africa Ltd to a 2016 allegation that it bribed key Liberian government officials in a bid to acquire an iron ore concession in northern Liberia, the South African-based company was delisted from shareholders on the Stock Exchange.

In the wake of the South African-based mining company's recent decision to turn state witness against those accused of receiving bribes, Mr. Andrew Groves and the embattled company, which formerly carried the name Delta Mining, appear to be on the verge of relisting its Zimbabwe coal, chrome and gold assets in London as Consolidated Growth Holdings (CGH).

In the wake of Sable's recent decision to turn state witness against those accused of receiving bribes, Mr. Groves and the embattled company appear headed back as it has moved to relist, under a new name, its Zimbabwe coal, chrome and gold assets in London through the reverse takeover of a cash shell, or dormant company, according to a report in the Bloomberg News.

Bloomberg News reports that Sable founded by Groves and his partner, Phil Edmonds have returned to the City of London seeking investors for coal assets in Zimbabwe. Groves and Edmonds's Consolidated Growth Holdings (CGH).

Sable recently announced that it had 'successfully acquired a portfolio of prospective coal assets in Zimbabwe' and that it planned to list them on the London Stock Exchange's Alternative Investment Market, the report noted.

Groves and Edmonds delisted Sable Mining from the LSE in 2016 after the publication of a Global Witness investigation into its activities in Guinea and Liberia (AC Vol 57 No 10, Sable's rich seam of bribes, Vol 57 No 11, Sable bribery repercussions & Vol 57 No 19, from beer to betting). The anti-corruption and environmental lobby group accused Sable employees of bribing government officials to gain access to valuable mining licences. CGH is expected to list on the LSE via a reverse takeover of Contango Holdings.

This is the third time that Groves is changing his name after a controversy.

Following a FrontPageAfrica revelation of a damaging chain of emails in 2007 that showed that Delta Mining among three companies promised Liberia's lucrative Western Cluster by a close aide to former President Sirleaf, Mr. Willis Knuckles in exchange for ten percent shares for Knuckles, who was at the time Minister of State, the concession awarded to Delta was cancelled. Delta, later, reinvented itself as Sable Mining.

The attempt by Sable to relist on the stock exchange comes in the aftermath of a recent decision by the Liberian government to drop 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.

A 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.

The saga took a twist last week when two former staffers of the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy, recently re-nominated by President George Weah to the positions of Deputy and Assistant Ministers at the Ministry, told a Senate Committee during their confirmation hearing that Sherman was in the clear.

Emmanuel Sherman once served as assistant Minister for mineral exploration but resigned May 31, 2012 while Carlton Miller served as deputy Minister for research and human resources and also resigned in 2013.

According to Sherman, the country's mineral law of 2000 law was old and the key thing for that mining law is that it called for first access for the issuance of mineral licenses which include prospecting, exploration, and class B and C whereas the PPCC Act of 2005 stated that all of the licenses consider everything as concession.

He told lawmakers that having returned from international studies at the time, he flagged that class C mining license should not be considered concession like that of the A and B. This, he said, sparked a debate which led to the intervention of international experts with the help of the European Union.

"We argued it... the same PPCC agreed that we were right and issued regulation 002. I know that very well because I was the chief geologist.

"That regulation allowed us to issue mineral exploration license while we harmonized the Act. "

"In harmonizing the Act, we brought international experts from the GEMAP sponsored by USAID in collaboration with other experts who proposed a new section into the 2005 Act section "75" which was later amended in 2010."

Sherman said the benefit was that all of the green areas that they had in the mining law was captured and briefed in the 2010 Act.

"One significant aspect proposed by USAID and other partners was the one which had to deal with the delineation of biddable and none biddable areas.

The law became complicated, people misunderstood it, but that was a very good act because what it did was to safe guard some of our areas.

To harmonize the mining law with the 2005 Act section "75" was inserted and then we came out with the 2010 amended act," Sherman explained.

It is unclear what would become of the investigation as the bribery saga in Liberia appears to have hit a wall.

The chief investigator Cllr. J. Fonati Koffa is now a member of the national legislature, representing Grand Kru County and indications from multiple sources suggest that the Weah-led government is toying with the idea of staying clear of the scandal which it believes is a baggage from its predecessor, the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf-led government.

One source hinted to FPA that the case would likely be dropped amid reports of an attempt at a truce between Cllr. Sherman and Cllr. Koffa who ironically head respective judicial committees in both the Senate and the low house.

Cllr. Frank Musa Dean, one of several lawyers representing Sherman during the early ordeal is now the Minister of Justice, making it increasingly likely that we may have seen the last of the Global Witness brouhaha.

That leaves Groves, Edmunds and Sable being poised to avoid any damaging scandal that could be used to work their way back on the international stock exchange.

The opening in Zimbabwe following the departure of Robert Mugabe offers an opportunity for the controversial firm with nine lives to explore just as Sable did when it sought to build an iron-ore mine in Guinea, two years ago before the bribery allegations in Liberia saw the company's market value which once peaked at 300 million pounds ($414 million) in 2010 collapse to just 2.2 million pounds followed by its delisting.

The latest rebranding, after Delta, Sable and now Consolidated Growth Holdings Ltd., presents a rather complicated challenge for Groves who will most likely face more questions than answers despite the recent announcement by Liberia, trumpeted by CGH, that charges against Sable Mining and Groves had been dropped after a review that concluded they hadn't had "improper or illegal" interactions with officials in the government.

For the immediate future it appears the case described by many as one of the most damning of the Sirleaf era may have fallen prey to a transitioning democracy and a new government appearing at least for now to be in no rush to take on a baggage from its predecessors.

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