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New Report Alleges Corruption Involving Liberian Officials

  • James Butty

FILE - Varney Sherman (L) and his wife Joyce (front) arrive for a prayer service on the last night of election campaigning in Monrovia, 2005.

FILE - Varney Sherman (L) and his wife Joyce (front) arrive for a prayer service on the last night of election campaigning in Monrovia, 2005.

The London-based Global Witness organization has released a new report in which it alleges that over $950,000 in bribes and other suspicious payments were made to top Liberian officials by the United Kingdom-based Sable Mining company and its Liberian lawyer, Varney Sherman.

According to the report entitled – The Deceivers – Sable wanted to get the concession rights to Liberia’s Wologizi iron ore.

Lawyer/Unity Party Chairman charged in the report

Sherman, who is also chairman of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s ruling Unity Party, allegedly told Sable Mining that in order to get the contract, the company must first offer bribes to senior officials to change Liberia’s concession laws.

Sherman was not immediately available for comment. But he reportedly told the local Liberian print media that the report was a “reckless disregard” for the truth.

Sherman also said he and his law firm are prohibited by law and the Liberian constitution from divulging to anyone what they did for Sable Mining when they served as the company’s lawyers in Liberia in 2010.

“Our code of professional ethics and the Liberian Constitution prohibits us from making any such disclosures and we will subscribe to those tenets even if we were to be taken to the gallows to be hanged,” Sherman said.

Global Witness defends report

However Jonathan Gant, senior campaigner on Liberia for Global Witness, said his organization stands by the report.

“We have proof that payments were made; we have proof that the intention of the payments was to first get the law changed in order to second get the iron ore deal. And that was the advice given to the company by Sherman, their lawyer, that they should get the law changed in order to get the contract,” he said.

Gant said the report is a collection of evidence based upon leaked emails both from the company and from the lawyer himself which included the attachments listing the bribes and payments.

Gant said prior to publishing the report, Global Witness contacted Sherman on two or three times, but he said Sherman usually refused to comment on the substance of the questions.

Report includes names of officials

The report says the officials who allegedly received bribes include Speaker of the Liberian House of Representatives Alex Tyler: $75,000 for “consulting fees” and Richard Tolbert, chairman of the National Investment Committee: $50,000 for “consulting fees”.

Morris Saytumah, Minister of State for Finance, Economic and Legal Affairs, now a senator, also allegedly received $50,000 for “consulting fees”, and Willie Belleh, Chairman of Public Procurement and Concessions Commission allegedly received $10,000 for “consulting fees”.

Two of the biggest payments went to persons identified in the report as “Bigboy 01” and “Bigboy 02”, each receiving $250,000 with no explanation of why the payments were made.

Gant said Global Witness knows the payments were made, but it cannot say who the individuals were.

“We didn’t put the names of those two individuals, just the names that were on the payment list that we had which is “Bigboy 01, Bigboy 02 because we don’t right now have the evidence to be able to state who those people actually are. But we know the payments were made to one and two,” he said.

He said Global Witness is going through its evidence to see if the names are publishable.

President's son among those named

The report also alleges that President Sirleaf’s son, Fombah Sirleaf, who is director of Liberia's National Security Agency also benefited with “a $7,598 hunting trip to South Africa paid for by Sable.”

Others mentioned in the report include Senator Sumo Kupee and Cletus Wotorson, both allegedly receiving $5,000 each for “consulting fees”.

At least 3 officials deny allegations

It said Tolbert, Belleh, Kupee, and Wotorson all denied taking bribes from Sable.

The Liberian government said it has asked Global Witness to make available all evidence connected with this report.

Government claims it will investigate and prosecute

Minister of Information Eugene Nagbe says the allegations in the report reflect badly on the image of Liberia, and the government wants to investigate and prosecute those who would be found culpable.

Gant said Global Witness wrote the Liberian government before publishing the report and plans to cooperate fully with the government.

He said his organization has confidence the Liberian government will thoroughly investigate Sable, Sherman and the other Liberian officials mentioned in the report.

“If it is found that they broke the law, Liberian government officials should be removed from office and prosecuted, while Sherman should be disbarred and also face criminal charges,” Gant said.

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