9 January 2019

Liberia: Subpoenaed Witnesses' Testimonies May Be Delayed for Lack of Money

Andrew Groves, a British citizen and chief executive of Sable Mining. Will he return to testify in US$950K bribery case ?

Several foreign nationals, including Andrew Groves and Klaus Piprek, who were at the forefront of establishing Sable Mining in Liberia that is at the center of a US$950,000 alleged bribery scandal, may likely not appear as requested by lawyers representing Senator Varney Sherman and his co-defendants due to the inability of the government to provide money to have Criminal Court 'C' cover the costs of traveling expenses to serve the witnesses with the subpoena.

A subpoena is a written order to compel an individual to give testimony on a particular subject, often before a court but sometimes in other proceedings (such as a Congressional inquiry). Failure to comply with such an order to appear may be punishable by contempt of court.

Andrew Groves was indicted by a Special Presidential anti-Taskforce that probed the claims made by campaign group Global Witness (GW) that Sable paid out bribes worth US$950,000 to its Liberian lawyer, Senator Varney Sherman, to gain a foothold in the country's lucrative iron ore industry, specifically the Wologizi Mountain, in Lofa County.

Groves, a British citizen and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Sable Mining, denied the allegations; but defense lawyers had asked the court to compel him and Klaus Piprek, a South African national and former country director of Sable in Liberia, to testify into the matter.

It may be recalled that during a hearing of the matter, on December 28, 2018, Judge Boima Kontoe, shortly after the prosecution did not interpose any objection to the defense team's request, said he was going to ensure the appearance of the defendants.

Up to the present, there is no record to show that the court has served the subpoena on any of the defendants.

But a judicial source hinted the Daily Observer yesterday about the Ministry of Justice's (MoJ) reluctance to provide funding for the court's sheriff to travel to the UK and South Africa to serve the documents on the defendants.

"Since the order was issued by Judge Kontoe, we have prepared all of the documents; but do you think we would not be able to serve them on the witnesses without the prosecutors facilitating the trip," a source said.

According to the source, it is the ministry that has the enforcement power and it should have funded the costs of traveling for the court to serve the document on the witnesses.

"As far as the court was concerned, we had done our part and it was up to the Ministry of Justice to provide the funding. That is where we are for now," the source said.

Initially, former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf said she had already requested co-operation with the British authorities over the case, in a letter to former Prime Minister David Cameron.

But Groves had repeatedly said he was surprised to learn that Liberian authorities had charged him, "without having put any allegations to him and without having provided him with any evidence or with an opportunity to respond."

He said no evidence had been presented to support the charges, which he said he thought were "politically motivated ahead of the imminent presidential elections."

Sable's payoffs allegedly led to the passage of a 2010 law allowing the mining minister to declare some mining concessions "non-bidding" areas, which could be handed out without a tender process.

The government claimed that Groves and Piprek allegedly paid US$250,000 each to former Minister of Ministry of Mines and Energy (MME) Eugene Shannon, a renowned geologist, and E.C.B. Jones, who served as deputy for operations to Shannon at MME, to change the amended Public Procurement Concession Commission (PPCC) Act in favor of UK-based Sable Mining, which sole intent was to gain easy franchise to the iron ore deposits in the Wologizi Mountain.

Evidence, according to prosecutors, showed that Groves and Piprek came to Liberia on April 14, 2010, on a private jet, Flight #S000, aircraft ZSLAC, from South Africa as special guests of the Ministry of Mines and Energy. Aboard that plane Groves carried a vanity case which he displayed in-flight as containing US$500,000.

The money, according to the evidence submitted by the prosecution, was intended to instigate what would become the largest bribery conspiracy in the history of Liberia.

Apart from testimonies of Groves and Piprek, foreign mining and geological experts from the former Governance and Economic Management Assistance Program (GEMAP) sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and those under the USAID's GEMAP program through the International Business Initiative of the State of Virginia in the United States will also testify in compliance with the subpoena issued by Criminal Court C under the gavel of Judge Boima Kontoe.

Others will be mining experts who were sponsored by the European Union's (EU) offices in Liberia to assist the Public Procurement Concession Commission (PPCC) with the drafting of the interim procedures for the issuance of a mineral exploration license without tender, which led to the issuance of the PPCC's regulation No. 002 of the controversial Section '75'.

The defense's motion was intended for the court to issue a Writ of Subpoena AD Testificadum and Subpoena Duces Tecum, to compel local and foreign mining geologists and experts who proposed the insertion of a new section into the 2005 Act; section '75' later amended in 2010, to appear and testify as to whether there were changes made in the amended PPCC Act of 2010 as claimed by prosecutors.

Authors

Abednego Davis

Liberia

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