Latest Arrests in U.S. Shows Liberia’s Sable Bribery Saga Must Not Be Swept Under Carpet


THE ARREST BY US OFFICIALS MONDAY of two former top officials from Hong Kong and Senegal on charges of participating in a “multi-year, multi-million-dollar scheme” to bribe officials in Chad and Uganda on behalf of a Chinese energy conglomerate should serve as a wake-up call for Liberia.

ACCORDING TO THE US ATTORNEY’S OFFICE for Manhattan, Patrick Ho Chi-ping, former home secretary of Hong Kong and head of a non-governmental organization funded by the Chinese conglomerate, and Cheikh Gadio, a former foreign minister of Senegal, have been charged with violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, international money laundering and conspiracy to commit both.

Their targets: Idriss Deby, the long-time president of oil-rich Chad, and Sam Kutesa, a Ugandan foreign minister who served as president of the U.N. General Assembly from 2014 to 2015.

MONDAY’S ARREST comes just months after US authorities sentenced Mr. Mahmoud Thiam, 50, a former minister of mines and geology of the Republic of Guinea to seven years in jail and ordered to pay back US$8.5 million for laundering bribes from a Chinese conglomerate in exchange for mining rights in Guinea.

WHAT THESE TWO ARRESTS HAVE IN COMMON is the fact that millions of dollars were stolen out of Africa by officials who actually believed they were on the verge of getting away with bloody crimes.

IN LIBERIA, A SIMILAR CASE OF BRIBERY appears to be in limbo as the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf led government nears the end of its reign. Despite a grand jury recently indicting government officials, including the former speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Alex J. Tyler, and the former head of the ruling party, Cllr. H. Varney G. Sherman, along with London AIM-listed Sable Mining SBLM.L on charges including bribery, that case appears to be dragging in the corridors of a troubled judicial system with light seemingly not in sight of the end of the tunnel.

THE LIBERIA CASE FOLLOWS AN EXPOSÉ by the London-based watchdog group Global Witness which uncovered more than US$950,000 in bribes and other suspicious payments by UK mining firm Sable Mining and its Liberian lawyer, Varney Sherman.

THE REPORT, The Deceivers (1), shows how in 2010 Sable hired Varney Sherman, Liberia’s best-connected lawyer and current Chairman of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s Unity Party, in an effort to secure one of Liberia’s last large mining assets, the Wologizi iron ore concession in northern Liberia. Sherman told Sable that in order to obtain the contract the company must first get Liberia’s concessions law changed by bribing senior officials, according to a source familiar with the discussions. The account is backed up by leaked emails and company documents seen by Global Witness. (2)

ACCORDING TO THE DOCUMENTS, Sherman then began distributing Sable’s money to some of Liberia’s most important government officials. “Sable and Sherman paid bribes in order to change Liberia’s law and get their hands on one of its most prized assets, the Wologizi concession,” said Jonathan Gant, Senior Campaigner with Global Witness.  The officials were accused of receiving payments from the South African company, Sable in an attempt to acquire an iron ore concession in northern Liberia based on an explosive report by the London-based watchdog group, Global Witness.

THE INDICTMENT NAMED as defendants Sable Mining, parliament speaker Alex Tyler, Varney Sherman, a senator and chairman of President Johnson Sirleaf’s Unity Party, and Deputy Minister of Lands, Mines and Energy Ernest C.B. Jones, as well as Christopher Onanuga, a Liberian businessman.

THE LIBERIA INDICTMENT alleged that the defendants conspired to use their positions to amend Liberia’s public procurement and concessions law. It asserted that they succeeded in changing the law to give the Minister of Lands, Mines and Energy the power to declare a concession area as a non-bidding area.

WHAT MAKES THE COMPARISON so unique is the fact that the officials in Guinea and now, Senegal have brought shame and embarrassment to their respective countries, just when they thought they were getting away it.

IN CRIMINAL COMPLAINT unsealed by U.S. prosecutors on Monday, Ho and Gadio engaged in a multi-year scheme to bribe Deby and Kutesa in exchange for “business advantages” for the energy company, a multibillion-dollar Chinese company that operates in the oil-and-gas and financial sectors. Ho was arrested Saturday afternoon and appeared before a federal magistrate Monday, the Justice Department announced Monday while Gadio, who served as foreign minister of Senegal from 2002 to 2009, was arrested in New York on Friday afternoon and presented to a federal magistrate Saturday. Both remain in federal custody.

THE TWO MEN are charged with criminal bribery in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and international money laundering. The FCPA bars companies from bribing foreign officials to gain business advantage. Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco said the scheme “involved bribes at the highest levels of two nations.”

IN LIBERIA, THE LAST FEW YEARS have seen multiple officials engage in similar schemes with very little effort on the part of the government to bring them to book.

WE FEEL STRONGLY THAT THIS NEEDS to stop. Already, in the past few days, we have seen associates and aides of those under indictment making inflammatory statements on social media, and attacking the credibility of the Global Witness report.

THIS NEEDS TO STOP and should actually be condemned by those eyeing the Liberian presidency.

THE INCONSPICUOUS SILENCE of those looking to replace the current government suggests that these trends and schemes are likely to go unprosecuted.

IT IS SUCH disgraceful tendencies that have the propensity to embarrass Liberia down the road.

WE HOPE THAT WHOEVER IS responsible for keeping this Sable Mining case from progressing understand what’s at stake here. If we continue to do the same things that led us to our current predicament, Liberia will continue to remain entrenched in poverty and hardship without any hope for generations yet unborn.

ONE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY YEARS a lot of time for one country to keep doing the same things and complaining over the same results. The Executive, Legislative and Judiciary branches of government owe it to Liberia to see the end of the Sable Mining bribery saga. This is the only way, we can end impunity and the only way corrupt officials will be deterred from repeating such schemes that are only aimed at keeping Liberia poor, corrupt and forever entrenched in a recurring state of fragility.