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Liberia’s Main Opposition Calls for Expansion of Corruption Probe

FILE - Lawyer Varney Sherman. A corruption report by the Britain-based Global Witness alleges that over $950,000 in bribes and other suspicious payments were made to top Liberian officials by the Britain-based Sable Mining Company and Sherman.

Liberia’s main opposition party, Congress for Democratic Change (CDC), is calling on all officials implicated in the ongoing alleged corruption scandal to recuse themselves from their current positions while the prosecutorial process takes place.

Mulbah Morlue, vice chairman for operations and mobilization for the CDC says more than 300 Liberians will embark on a hunger strike Wednesday to drive home their point.

“Ninety-five percent of all the individuals citizens are members of the might Congress for Democratic Change who have said enough is enough, who have said we are tired of the widespread prevalence of endemic corruption at all sectors of the governance process, and have decided to take desperate measures in the interest of the state to promote the interest of democratic government,” Morlue said.

The corruption report by the Britain-based Global Witness alleges that over $950,000 in bribes and other suspicious payments were made to top Liberian officials by the Britain-based Sable Mining Company and its Liberian lawyer, Varney Sherman.

According to the report, Sable Mining wanted to get the concession rights to Liberia’s Wologizi iron ore deposit.

Alleged bribe requirement

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

Sherman, along with House of Representatives Speaker Alex Tyler, has been indicted for bribery, criminal conspiracy, economic sabotage, criminal solicitation and criminal facilitation.

CDC wants bigger probe

Morlue also calls for the expansion of the investigation to include other past corruption allegations.

“We are expecting that all those individuals named, be it the speaker of the national legislature, whether it is Mr. Fombah Sirleaf [President Sirleaf’s son] of the National Security Agency, once you are named in the report that is undergoing investigation, the Congress for Democratic Change believes the proper thing to do is for individuals to recuse themselves so is to allow the free dispensation of the rule of law,” Morlue said.

Morlue cited a “preponderance of evidence” of past official corruption allegations that he said is available that warrant an expansion of the current probe.

“For instance, the dilapidated National Oil Company of Liberia [NOCAL] where the president’s son, Mr. Robert Sirleaf was presiding as Chairman of the Board of Directors. We want NOCAL investigated; we also want recent allegations involving $3 million bribery scandal involving one of the senior members of government, Mr. Sandolo, to also be investigated,” Morlue said.

Officials named should step aside

Morlue said although Sherman, who is senator of Grand Cape Mount County and Speaker Tyler are elected officials, they also hold certain administrative and national leadership positions that they must recuse themselves from to quash the appearance of a conflict of interest.

“For instance, the Speaker of parliament still has the power to preside over sessions of plenary at the legislature. You remember when the indictment unraveled, the day after there was a section of the national legislature where the Speaker abrogated unto himself the right to investigate themselves,” Morlue said.

He said the CDC is concerned about the prevalence of a conflict of interest that could jeopardize the possibility of the free dispensation of justice. He said this this could damage the democratic credibility of our country,” Morlue said.

The report alleges Speaker Alex Tyler received $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”, who each allegedly received $250,000 with no explanation why the payments were made.

The report also alleges that President Sirleaf’s son, Fombah Sirleaf, who is director of the 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 of whom allegedly received $5,000 each for “consulting fees”.

Speaker Tyler along with Sherman and two others, ECB Jones and Christopher Onanuga have all filed insurance bail bonds and were released from custody.

In a strange twist, the prosecutor is now saying the bond filed by Speaker Tyler and Sherman is insufficient and fatally defective.