Liberia: Victory for Corruption?

Several Liberian officials and a Nigerian national indicted in 2016 on account of a Global Witness' claim of receiving bribes offered by British firm Sable Mining for a concession contract have been set free of all charges in Monrovia.

Supporters of former House Speaker Alex Tyler, Grand Cape Mount County Sen. Cllr. H. Varney G. Sherman, Bomi Sen. Morris Saytumah, former Mines Minister Eugene Shannon, E.C.B. Jones, Dr. Richard Tolbert, Willie Belleh and Nigerian national Christopher Onanuga flooded Criminal Court "C," interrupting the ruling with cheers on Tuesday, 30 July.

Key contentions in prosecution's argument include claims that Sable Mining gave bribes totaling US$950,000 to Liberian officials including lawmakers to insert Section 75 in the Public Procurement and Concession Commission (PPCC) Draft Act to give the company undue advantage over mineral deposits at the Wologisi Mountain in Lofa.

Former President Ellen Johnson - Sirleaf's government indicted and commenced the trial, but it extended into the regime of President George Manneh Weah, a time when the defendants' lawyers became key prosecutors at the Ministry of Justice.

Public outcry later saw some of the lawyers concerned avoiding the case.

In his final ruling at Criminal Court "C" Tuesday, 30 July in Monrovia, Judge Peter W. Gbenwelweh said the defendants are not guilty of the crimes charged.

"They are hereby discharged from further answering the multiple offenses charged in the indictment without any delay, and their Constitutional and Statutory Rights are hereby restored with immediate effect," the Judge orders.

Judge Gbeneweleh recalls that prosecution's first witness Mr. Mark Kollie testified before the court that the investigative team read the Draft Act in passing.

However, the Judge determines "that the Draft Act should have been thoroughly read" by the investigators and compared with the enacted law before concluding that the enacted and restated PPCC Act of 2010 had been changed by inserting Section 75 in the enacted law.

Addressing the issue of bribery alleged by Global Witness and the Special Task Force, Judge Gbeneweleh indicates that it is a fact that Sherman and Sherman represented Sable Mining company in Liberia.

Further, he says the account for Sable Mining was created by and through Sherman and Sherman, [a law firm owned by co - defendant Sen. Varney G. Sherman].

The account was created to support the project of Sable Mining in Liberia.

However, Judge Gbeneweleh continues that the allegation of bribery as alleged primarily based on statement of account or spread sheet that co - defendant Varney Sherman sent to Sable Mining and Emailed in August 2010.

The Judge reveals that the Task Force produced before the Court a statement of account or spread sheet as at 30 June 2010, wherein they alleged that co-defendant Sherman received from sable Mining US$400,000 with which he paid bribes to top government officials.

He says the prosecution indicates that the bribes were offered to officials including defendants in the case to change the Amended and Restated PPCC Act by inserting Section 75.

The Judge notes Cllr. Sherman's denial and testimony against the prosecution's account, saying the prosecution did not deny or rebut defendant Sherman's denial.

According to him, the special presidential Task Force set up to probe the allegations failed to produce the account statement of co - defendant Sherman for August 10, 2010 upon which the allegation of bribery is based.

Instead, he says the prosecution produced the account statement of June 2010, insisting that the August 10, 2010 account statement should have been produced during trial in the case.

"This court says that the burden of proof rests upon the prosecution to prove the allegation contained in the indictment beyond reasonable doubt," Judge Gbeneweleh rules.

During interviews, the defendants did not give definite position if they are considering suing government for damage of character, but expressed thanks to God for their acquittal.

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