Liberia’s purported “go-to” lawyer, Cllr. Varney Sherman, is sparing no effort to disentangle himself from the imbroglio caused by the recent Global Witness “Deceiver 1” expose that has numbed Liberians into shock.
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. The erudite lawyer has vehemently denied ever carrying out such shady deal by distributing money in the name of bribing officials of government. Cllr. Sherman maintained that said his relationship with Sable was strictly based on legal service sought by the mining company several years ago. “Just as I told Global Witness, I now wish to tell you too. I am a professional lawyer and whatever I and/or Sherman & Sherman did or did not do for Sable Mining, we did in our capacity as their lawyers. Consequently, I and Sherman & Sherman are prohibited by law and the Liberian Constitution from divulging to anyone what we did for Sable Mining or did not do for Sable Mining when we served as their lawyers in Liberia in 2010,” the ruling party Chairman said. He stated: “we categorically deny this fabrication; we would have never ever violated Liberian law and placed any such discussions in “emails or company documents”, which could be easily exposed to Global Witness or any other investigators.” Despite the lawyer-cum-legislator’s denial, revelations by some of those named in the Global Witness report point to a smoking gun as alleged trail of the money links directly to him (Sherman). For instance, Cllr. Sherman said Sable Mining was not registered to do business in Liberia as a company. As a result, the firm could not open a bank account. “You can open a bank account in Liberia to the best of my knowledge, only if you are a resident of Liberia or a company registered to do business in Liberia. Since they were not registered to do business in Liberia, to get funds from England to them in Liberia for whatever they were doing in Liberia, that's when we offered our accounts at International Bank where funds came in for them and we delivered their funds to them as and when they asked," the learned lawyer said. Financial security experts have told this paper that the ruling party Chairman’s action can be equated to potential money laundering in the country. Money laundering, by definition, is the concealment of the origins of illegally obtained money, typically by means of transfers involving foreign banks or legitimate businesses. One of those accused of benefiting from Sable backdoor deal, former Chairman of the National Investment Commission (NIC), Dr. Richard Tolbert has made initial comments refuting the allegation. The man credited for negotiating and attracting more than $18 billion dollar of foreign investment to Liberia admitted that IE received US$10,000 from some Executives of Sable Mining in the presence of Cllr. Sherman at a fundraising program as the company’s “corporate social responsibility” but pointed out that no request was made to him beyond that point by the lawyer or any other representative of the company. He also categorically denied the allegation that he took a staggering US$50,000 as bribe from Cllr. Sherman on behalf of Sable Mining Africa Limited. The former investment go-getter indicated that the allegation is extremely false but he is not disturbed by it as the facts will come out through the works of the Cllr. Fonati Koffa led Presidential Taskforce that is charged with the responsibility of looking into the matter deeper. “I have been trying to connect the lines here in this whole bribery thing but I just can’t get it. It is impractical for anyone to think that I will take money as bribe from somebody to influence the change of a law that is not within my domain as Investment Chair,” he said in an exclusive interview. According to the former NIC Chairman, Cllr. Varney Sherman in his personal capacity alongside many other senior government officials and companies representatives, made a public contribution of $10,000 to the Evincible Eleven FC at a fundraising rally at the Monrovia City hall in May 2010. “Let me also state for the record that an Executive of Sable Mining who was at the public fundraiser for I.E., and he also made a public contribution of $10,000 to the football club as many other individuals and companies; as part of their “Social Corporate Responsibility,” the former National Investment Commission boss said. Dr. Tolbert asserted that nothing was ever requested from him as basis in exchange for the contributions that were made from Cllr. Sherman or the Sable Mining Executive, adding “the NIC had nothing to do with amendment of the PPCC laws.” The former Wall Street Banker added that in spite of the falsity of the claim against him, he is prepared to submit himself and cooperate with any investigative panel that was set up by the President in order to clear his name. “I have no objection whatsoever, in submitting myself to any panel that was set up by the President. This for me is in the right direction. We need to aid our government to get to the bottom of all of this, and save our country’s reputation,” Tolbert said with a firm voice.