The UK based transparency watchdog organization disclosed that Sable Mining dished out to its Liberian lawyer, Varney Sherman, over US$950,000 in bribes and other suspicious payments.
According to the report, Cllr. Sherman who is also Chairman of the ruling Unity Party, told Sable that in order to obtain the contract the company must first try to shortchange Liberia’s concessions law by bribing senior officials. Global Witness indicated that the revelation is backed by leaked emails and company documents. The aim of the bribery scheme was to favor Sable in the bid to award one of Liberia’s last large mining assets, the Wologizi iron ore concession in northern Liberia.
According to the documents, Sherman then began distributing Sable’s money to some of Liberia’s most important government officials including House Speaker Alex Tyler who received US$75,000; former Deputy Minister Morris Saytumah, now Senator of Bomi County, US$50,000; Fumba Sirleaf, son of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and National Security Agency Director, US$9,168; former National Investment Commission Chairman, Richard Tolbert, US$50,000 and another US$20,000 was donated to Invincible Eleven- a football club headed by Tolbert. Others who benefited from the dish-out include former Lofa Senator, now Managing Director of the Liberia Petroleum Refining Company (LPRC), Sumo Kupee, US$5,000; former Deputy Minister at the Ministry of Lands and Mines, Ernest C. B. Jones, US$4,500 and “Bigboy1 and Bigboy2 took US$250,000 each.
Immediately after the release of the report, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf set up a Taskforce to investigate the Global Witness report on Liberia that linked several individuals, and prosecute as the evidence may require.
The Liberian leader announced the decision following a review of the report, which was submitted to the Government of Liberia by Global Witness alleging corruption and bribery on the part of several former and current officials of government.
The task force is headed by Minister of State Without Portfolio, Cllr. J. Fonati Koffa, who is named a Special Prosecutor along with a team of lawyers from the Ministry of Justice including the Solicitor General, Cllr. Betty Lamin Blamo. The Task Force is also charged with investigating and resolving all allegations contained in current and past GAC reports.
The Liberian leader’s decision to appoint a taskforce comprising alleged members of the President’s kitchen cabinet is being heavily rebuffed by those listed in the report on grounds that the committee’s members are too loyal to the Chief Executive to be given such important task that borders on integrity.
The man accused of receiving lion share of the bribe, House Speaker Alex Tyler said that in order not to prejudice any potential investigation, he will not make any further comment on the matter but registered his disapproval and objection to the setting up of a committee by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf to probe the report.
“My rejection of the Koffa-led Special Prosecution team is based on the following reasons: That the team lacks the authority to investigate the President and other elected officials; and that a Special prosecutor who is a presidential appointee and functioning under the supervision of the President cannot be trusted to carry out an impartial investigation of these allegations. In order to lend credibility to the process, I wish to propose that an independent panel outside of government, with representation of the Press Union of Liberia, Civil Society, Inter-Religious Council, Liberia National Bar Association and others be constituted, to launch an immediate inquest in to the alleged bribery scandal, to ascertain the veracity of the claims in the Global Witness Report,” he said.
Another group of political parties called for dissolution of the committee in order to avoid heavy presidential influence considering the fact that all those appointed to investigate the matter are confidants of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.
The political parties include the National Patriotic Party (NPP), All Liberian Party and the Liberia People Democratic Party.
The parties indicated that they believe these allegations require full, impartial and transparent investigation which should be carried out by “independent Liberians with no ties to government.”
According to the political parties, the appointment of the Minister of State Without Portfolio, Cllr. Fonati Koffa to head the committee along with other confidantes, is a sham that is considered unacceptable.
Consequently, they are requesting the National Legislature to appoint a Board of independent Liberians outside of government with subpoena powers to investigate the Global Witness report.
Although the Executive Mansion is yet to respond, the head of the Taskforce, Cllr. Koffa has vowed to leave no stone unturned. He indicated that all those named in the Global Witness report will be made to face the full weight of the law when it is established that the allegations are backed by evidence.
The Global Witness’ “Deceiver 1” is one of several controversial happenings in which Cllr. Varney Sherman and Speaker Alex Tyler were named.
Pundits have opined that the Grand Cape Mount County Senator is no unfamiliar person to controversy. In 2012, he was embroiled into another scandal involving a Danish Journalist Mads Brügger who paid him US$30,000 to acquire a genuine Liberian diplomatic passport thus causing serious embarrassment to Liberia’s image.
Alex Tyler, on the other hand, was at the center of a US$25,000 controversy regarding the awarding of a consultancy contract outside of the PPCC law. The Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) was probing the matter until the whistleblower in the scandal was found dead under mysterious circumstances. His accomplice, Representative Adolph Lawrence admitted to the Speaker’s involvement in the transaction noting that his (Lawrence) role was to take delivery of the US$12,500 intended for the Speaker.
Political analysts are afraid this latest development paints a gloomier picture of Liberia’s effort to weed out dishonesty or corruption.