It was sometime in October 2008 or thereabouts. The Liberian Embassy at Suite 9 Section 7, 1157 Schoeman Forum on Schoeman Street, in Hartfield, Pretoria was as quiet as a church building after Sunday service. Except for the occasional few inquiries from one or two individuals who sought visa information for first time travels or visa renewals to Monrovia, the day was as usual humdrum.
Until Mr. Nigel Morgan walked in.
The burly Caucasian dressed in tweed grayish blazer with matching brown baggy pants didn’t seem like someone on any diplomatic mission, gauging from the harried look on his badly sunburned face. The heavyset man sat directly opposite the Ambassador and one of her staff, in a tiny conference room that belied the ostentatious trappings of other diplomatic missions in Pretoria.
Apparently not accustomed to the usual diplomatic pleasantries of his present setting, Nigel Morgan wasted no time in jumping right into his complaint against the Liberian government. Morgan stated that he was representing Heine Van Neikerk, CEO of Delta Mining Consolidated Limited (DMC), a Johannesburg-based mining company which had earlier won a $1.6 billion iron ore project for Liberia’s Western Cluster. The Western Cluster in which Delta was involved comprised the former National Iron Ore Company (NIOC) situated at Mano River Kongo, Grand Cape Mount County; the Bea Mountains in Gbarpolu County, and the LMC at Tubmanburg, Bomi County.
According to Mr. Morgan, the Liberian Government after short-listing Delta earlier that year as favorites to win the Western Cluster iron ore project abruptly canceled the bid, citing “improprieties” during the bidding process. But government did not only cancel the bidding process, it also blacklisted Delta and another mining company, Tata Steel, from participating in a rebidding process.
“The Liberian government’s statement that Delta acted with impropriety has damaged our financial and moral standing with our partners here and overseas,” Morgan told the Ambassador.
According to Morgan, Delta’s partners which included South Africa’s Industrial Development Corporation (IDC), AMB Capital of Johannesburg, Canaccord Adams of London and Mirabaud of Geneva, were no longer interested in the Liberia project.
The Ambassador stared expectantly at Morgan, for all he had said was already public knowledge. Obviously, there must be more to his visit than this. Then the man dropped the bombshell.
Lands, Mines and Energy Minister Eugene Shannon, Morgan claimed, had promised Delta all along that they would have won the bid. Morgan said Minister Shannon had milked Delta of nearly $1million to get the deal sealed, with Delta having made the last $75,000 at the very time the bid was being canceled.
The conference room was fully air-conditioned but suddenly the occupants started to sweat with discomfort. The Ambassador wanted to know whether Morgan had proof of his allegation.
“Of course, we are not stupid. There is a lot of paper trail – emails and bank statements. Minister Shannon will be exposed. Your government will be exposed,” Morgan said.
After much banter between the Ambassador and the Delta representative, Morgan laid his cards face up on the table. 1. Delta requested an apology from the Government of Liberia, reversing its earlier statement that the mining company had bent the rules. 2. Delta must be included in the rebidding process. 3. If government failed to reach a consensus on the above two conditions, Delta would sue the Liberian government.
At the close of the meeting, the Ambassador told Morgan she would use every diplomatic channel to ensure that Delta’s message was conveyed to the Liberian government. But the man, obviously not impressed with the outcome of the meeting, exited the tiny offices of the Liberian Embassy with an agonized look on his puffed face.
Few weeks later, however, following an impromptu visit that the Ambassador made to Monrovia, the government suddenly cleared Delta of any claims of impropriety, and even allowed them to participate in a rebidding process.
As contained in a statement released by the South African mining company, Delta said it was satisfied with the decision. “Delta Mining Consolidated (DMC) welcomes the public retraction by the Government of Liberia of unfounded allegations that DMC had engaged in acts of impropriety in relation to the initial bid for the Western Cluster Iron Ore Deposits.
DMC also acknowledges the Government's confirmation of the 20 November 2008 decision of the Public Procurement and Concession Commission that DMC is entitled to participate in the second-round bid for these Deposits.
DMC CEO Heine van Niekerk says: “DMC accepts the Liberian Government’s statement unequivocally clearing the company’s name and reputation in respect of the allegations made by the Liberian Minister of Information reported in the Liberian media in September 2008.
“As far as I am concerned the matter is now closed and we can move forward to a more constructive engagement with the Liberian Government. At the Liberian Government’s invitation, DMC is actively looking at a number of investment opportunities in Liberia, including but not limited to iron ore mining,” the DMC CEO had stated at the time.
One might wonder why Delta rep Morgan would have risked exposing his company’s secrets to the Liberian Embassy by admitting bribes to LME Minister Eugene Shannon which clearly supported government’s earlier claims of improprieties on the part of Delta during the Western Cluster first bidding process.
Obviously, Morgan’s action which was evidently sanctioned by Delta showed a last minute act of desperation as exemplified by what Delta legal counsel Lizane van Rooyen thought about the whole affair.
Rooyen had said at the time that Delta had invested “huge amount of effort and expense” into the Liberia project, to which it was still committed and was hopeful that the current uncertainties could be resolved through face-to-face negotiation. Rooyen’s position underpinned Morgan’s face-to-face meeting with the Liberian Embassy staff in Pretoria.
Flashback into other Payola Attempts
With the Liberian government still stalling to reveal the winner of the Western Cluster iron ore project by January 2008, Delta thought it could wriggle its way into the favor of the Liberian Embassy by promising to relocate the Chancery to an upscale diplomatic enclave in Pretoria at Delta’s expense. Delta was already armed with the knowledge that the Ambassador was a confidant of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Madam Sirleaf had at one time been Ambassador Lois Brutus’ boss at the Governance Commission prior to the 2005 elections. Her appointment to the South Africa post, it is believed, was predicated on her undiplomatic knack for speaking her mind freely to her boss, and to their long-standing camaraderie as feminist gladiators.
But to Delta’s surprise and consternation, the Ambassador flatly refused the relocation offer that was channeled through a surrogate.
The current revelation from the Fonati Koffa 500-page dossier identifying Dr. Eugene Shannon as Big Boy 1 and E.C.B. Jones as Big Boy 2 leaves much to be desired, against the backdrop that the government of Liberia had known long, long ago that Dr. Shannon had been bribed by Delta.
In the wake of this development, pundits are left to wonder why government failed to prosecute Dr. Shannon in 2008 when his role in the Delta Mining “impropriety” scandal was revealed, but waited until 2016 when Global Witness launched its “Deceiver” report exposing the Sable Mining scandal.
The boomerang effect of the current case against the Global Witness indictees is that the public might now see the entire episode as a sort of political witch-hunt intended to stifle the ambitions of opposition neo-zealots; while at the time shielding those who might have been known all along to have borne the greatest responsibilities for defaming the nation’s formerly battered but reviving image.