Monrovia – An infrequent mention of their names—at least two or three times—could not have had anyone thinking or looking in the direction of former Land Mines and Energy Minister, Dr. Eugene Shannon and his former deputy, Ernest C.B. Jones as the purported Big Boys 1 & 2. They had remained below the radar, until now.
Shannon and Jones are the mystery men behind the nomenclature Big Boy 1 and Big Boy 2, FrontPage Africa has gathered.
The pair was allegedly at the center the center of the conspiracy to shortchange the country by tweaking the law in favor of the UK Based Company Sable Mining, according to Global Witness.
In obedience to the court’s order to provide evidence in its possession within 10 days as of December 23, 2016, the prosecution team headed by Cllr. J. Fonati Koffa, submitted the 517 pages of evidence including the disclosure of “Big Boy 1 & 2” late Tuesday evening to the court.
The prosecutors stated that they believe they can prove beyond reasonable doubt that most of the allegations in the Global Witness report are true.
In an effort to prove their case, the prosecution has placed the evidence through a three-part test: eye witness testimony; email trail confirming discussions of the eye witness’ accounts; and business records from Sherman & Sherman and Sable Mining; and subsidiaries showing that payments were made to those named in the report.
In some cases, one or two of the criteria were sufficient to make reasonable conclusions, sources close to the prosecution say.
The prosecutorial evidence revealed that on April 14, 2010, Andrew Groves, Klaus Piprek and Heine Van Niekerk boarded a private jet, Flight #S000, aircraft ZSLAC, from South Africa and flew to Liberia as special guests of the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy. Aboard that plane, Groves carried a vanity case which he displayed inflight as containing US$500,000.
“This is what half a million dollars look like,” Groves said to Piprek as they were 33,000 feet in the air flying from South Africa to Roberts International Airport.
The money, according to the evidence submitted by the prosecution, was intended to instigate what would become the largest bribery conspiracy in the history of Liberia.
FrontPageAfrica gathered that the US$500,000 brought into Liberia was to allegedly pay Eugene Shannon, then Minister of Lands, Mines and Energy and E. C. B. Jones who served as Shannon’s deputy during a private dinner at Shannon’s home.
The April 2010 to March 2011 ledger of the Liberian Iron Ore Investment Ltd, a Liberian subsidiary of Sable Mining, showed that Groves paid US$500,000 in cash to “Big Boy 1” and “Big Boy 2” with each pocketing US$250,000.
“Eugene Shannon as Minister of Lands & Mines and E.C.B. Jones as Deputy Minister of Lands & Mines were necessary and critical to any conspiracy to circumvent mineral laws of Liberia and award mineral concessions to any entity,” a source close to the prosecution told FrontPageAfrica.
Sherman’s Coded Language
In a press conference held in May 2016, Cllr. Varney Sherman debunked the Global Witness Report which indicated that Sherman, while serving as lawyer for Sable Mining in 2010, paid US$250,000 to two government officials only identified in the report as “Big Boy 1” and “Big Boy 2”.
The former Unity Party Chairman denied ever directly handling such amount to any government official.
“Neither Sherman & Sherman nor I know any Liberian Government official or anybody else who was designated “Big Boy 01” or “Big Boy 02” and certainly no payment was made to either of these persons directly by me on behalf of Sable Mining; no payment to any such Liberian Government officials was facilitated by either Sherman & Sherman or me.
So, where did Global Witness get its information from to accuse me of assisting Sable Mining to pay bribes to “Big Boy 01” and “Big Boy 02”?
This is purely another outrageous fabrication,” Cllr. Sherman said during that press conference.
Despite giving a hint about the actual identities of “Big Boy 1&2” back in May 2016, the public and the media missed out taking cue from his comments.
During the press conference, he revealed that in order to facilitate changes in the PPCC act, the LME must be in the know, while specifying that Minister proper and the deputy for operations were two key individuals who could had facilitated the process.
“…the two persons who would have acted on their behalf in 2010 were Eugene Shannon (the Minister himself) and Ernest C.B. Jones (the Deputy Minister for Operations),” he said.
Sherman continued: “If nobody knew that in 2010, it is I who knew that because I have counseled investors in the mineral industry all my 36 years of law practice. Why would I then assist Sable Mining in paying huge sums of money as bribes to Alex Tyler, Richard Tolbert and Morris Saytumah and nothing to Eugene Shannon? Why would I assist Sable Mining in paying huge sums of bribes to those person and “peanuts” to Ernest C.B. Jones?”
Sherman’s assertion in May corroborate with prosecutors’ findings which have established US$500,000 was allegedly paid to the former minister and his deputy.
Some legal pundits, however, told FrontPage Africa that though neither Cllr. Sherman nor the Sherman & Sherman law firm was directly involved in the alleged payment, Sable Mining may have acted on Sherman’s advice.
Racketeering, Influence and Corrupt Organization
The investigation revealed that during the tenure of Dr. Shannon and E.C.B. Jones, as Minister and Deputy Minister respectfully, and specifically with the transaction and series of transactions involving Sable Mining, the Ministry of Lands, Mines & Energy appeared to have operated like racketeering, influenced and corrupt organization.
But Shannon in a communication to the Special Task Force on May 24, 2016 said he does not recall receiving any payment from any person or company as part of a scheme to revise the then “PPCC Act” and influence processes to suit the interest of Sable Mining Company to do mining in Liberia.
“I do not recall ever being involved in any scheme to revise the then “PPCC Act” to suit the interest of Sable or any other private company. I recall participating in a legal national process aimed at revising the PPC Act of 2005, for the purpose of making that law more appropriate and more effective in protecting the interest of the Government and people of Liberia.
And I recall giving my best to make sure that the law we drafted, if approved by the Legislature, would be adequate enough to protect Liberia’s interest,” Shannon wrote to the Special Task Force.
Shannon added that he only recalls influencing processes that have led to the preservation of the Wologizi iron ore deposits, until today.
Responding to a letter dated June 7, 2016 extended by the Task Force inviting him for an investigation in relation to the US$500,000 and his transactions with Sable Mining, Shannon in a reply dated June 9, 2016 said, he was no longer the Minister of Lands, Mines and Energy as such he had no idea of such transactions.
He said he does not know and had had no dealings in his life time with the Sable Mining Company.
However, records from the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization (BIN) showed that Dr. Eugene Shannon and his deputy (Ernest Jones) at the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy as hosts, on several occasions received representatives from Sable Mining Africa on regular and traveled on special flights during the period under investigation.
The Breakdown Of Payments
The case emanates from a Report entitled “The Deceivers” published by Global Witness on May 11, 2016. Global Witness is an International NGO established in 1993 with offices in London and Washington.
The Report covers several countries in Africa including Liberia. As it relates to Liberia, the report alleged that Sable Mining Africa, Ltd. acquired stake in Delta Mining, which was operating in Liberia, and devised a scheme and system to bribe officials of the Government of Liberia to change the procurement laws in order for Sable Mining to obtain prized mineral concessions below market prices, principal of which is the Wologhzi mountain range in Lofa, County, Liberia.
Through its lawyer in Liberia, Cllr. Varney Sherman, Sable was allegedly able to pay bribes and other questionable payments to key officials of the Liberian government. Sable Mining officials themselves allegedly also made some of these payments directly. The total amount of ‘bribes’ and questionable payments from all sources was US$950,000.
Sable Mining Africa, Ltd is a company registered in the British Virgin Island with corporate headquarters in London, UK. The company was started by Phil Edmonds, a former British cricketer and controversial corporate executive.
The company was listed on the Alternative Investment Market, a secondary market of the London Stock Exchange which attracts smaller companies and riskier investments because of less stringent rules.
According to its 2009/2010 Annual Report, it acquired Delta Mining Company and inherited significant iron ore assets in West Africa including Liberia. Sable Mining Africa was delisted in 2016.
The issue of bribery payments in Liberia first came to light during an audit conducted by the company’s auditors, Baker & Tilly International.
At that point a report contained in a spreadsheet of alleged payments made to Liberian government officials were questioned by the auditors. While the company has acknowledged receiving the spreadsheet from Cllr. Varney Sherman, it denied that the Board of Directors authorized or had any knowledge of the payments.
According to the company’s lawyers, the Liberian operations was handled solely by its country manager, Mr. Hiene Van Nierkerk and any monies sent to Cllr. Sherman was directed by Mr. Van Niekerk at his sole discretion. Sable Mining claimed that as a result of the audit, it had made changes to its financial controls.
The Global Witness’ Report also alleged that these bribe and questionable payments were made based on the advice of Cllr. Sherman in an effort to secure mining assets in Liberia.
The report alleged further that the total amount of over US $950,000.00 was paid to several serving and former government officials of Liberia, who were at the time in different positions of trust and relevance. Suspicious payments were also allegedly made to unidentified people referred to as “Big boy 01” and “Big boy 02” in the tone of US$ 250, 000.00 each totaling US$500,000.00.
The intentions of these payments, according to the report, were to change the procurement laws of Liberia, specifically Article 75 which speaks to “Non Bidding Area”, in favor of Sable Mining Company and then get hold of mining concession for one of Liberia’s prized assets, the Wologizi Mountain located in Lofa County, Northern Liberia.
According to the Report, those who allegedly received bribe and or questionable payments are detailed as follow:
Big Boy 1 (unknown to the report); Big Boy 2 (unknown to the report); Dr. Richard Tolbert (former chairman of the National Investment Commission); Cllr. Morris Saytumah (former Minister of State for Political Legal & Economic Affairs); Dr. Eugene Shannon (former Minister of Lands & Mines); Sen. Cletus Wotorson (former President Pro Tempore of the Liberian Senate, Sr. Senator from Grand Kru County, Liberia); Sen. Sumo Kupee (former Senator from Lofa County, currently Managing Director of the Liberian Petroleum Refinery Company); Prof. Willie Belleh (current Chairman of the Public Procurement & Concessions Commission); Mr. E.C.B. Jones (former Deputy Minister of Lands Mines & Energy); Hon. J. Alex Tyler (former Speaker of the House of Representatives, representative from district Bomi County).
The Report claimed that as consulting fees, US$75,000.00 was paid to Alex Tyler (the then Speaker of the House of Representatives); US$50,000.00 was paid to Richard Tolbert (the then Chairman of the National Investment Commission); US$50,000.00 was paid to Morris Saytumah (the then Minister of State for Finance, Economic and Legal Affairs); and US$10,000.00 to Willie Belleh (Chairman of the Public Procurement and Concessions Commission).