Monrovia - The head of Liberia's ruling Unity Party, Cllr. H. Varney G. Sherman was picked up early Wednesday morning from his home by agents of the Special Task Force.
The force, comprising the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission and the Ministry of Justice was appointed by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf to investigate a corruption report released by the London-based Watchdog, Global Witness, alleging that more than US$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, is reportedly on the verge of indicting at least four persons named in the report.
Mr. Ernest C.B. Jones, a former Deputy Minister of Lands, Mines and Energy was also picked up from his home.
FrontPageAfrica received word late Tuesday night that agents were set to move in on Cllr. Sherman, House Speaker Tyler, Jones and Mr. Chris Onunuga.
A source closed to the investigation told FrontPageAfrica Wednesday morning that Speaker Tyler asked that agents and officers at his home to effect his arrest be withdrawn and the request was reportedly granted although it is unclear why. But one source told FrontPageAfrica Wednesday that the speaker is negotiating with the Task Force about explaining his role in the scandal.
About 8:30am local time, the Senator, along with Jones were taken to the Criminal Court C where they are expected to be charged.
The report entitled The Deceivers, unearthed that Sable Mining wanted to get the concession rights to Liberia’s Wologizi iron ore and Cllr. Sherman 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.
According to the report, among some of the officials who allegedly received bribes were Speaker of the Liberian House of Representatives Alex Tyler, US$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 US$50,000 for “consulting fees”, and Willie Belleh, Chairman of Public Procurement and Concessions Commission, allegedly received US$10,000 for “consulting fees”.
Two of the biggest payments went to persons identified in the report as “Bigboy 01” and “Bigboy 02”, each allegedly receiving US$250,000 with no explanation why the payments were made.
Sen. Sherman has said he will not submit to the Special Task Force set up to investigate and authorities were unable to enforce a search and seizure at both his office and his home amid protests from supporters of the ruling party.
Cllr. J. Fonati Koffa, head of the Task Force and Minister of State without Portfolio, says bribery under Liberian laws is a criminal offense but has dismissed suggestions that the probable cause arrests Monday were not targeting Sherman alone.
“The multi-agency Presidential task force on the Global Witness report started off this morning [Monday] to execute a series of probable cause arrests."
"The primary agents in charge of that portion of the operations were the agents from the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission,” Cllr. Koffa told the VOA Daybreak Africa.
On Monday, Police and court sheriffs were prevented from serving the UP chairman.
Cllr. Koffa insists that the actions being enforced are due to the allegations in the Global Witness report.
Investigators believe a crime had been committed and an individual committed that crime.
Cllr. Sherman has told the Task Force that he has no intention of cooperating with the investigation and filed a motion over the weekend to dismiss the subpoena in a bid to deny access to the accounts of his law firm on grounds that there is no pending case that requires the firm to release its financial records.
Mr. Koffa said Cllr. Sherman has informed the Task Force of his intention not to cooperate. He said they cannot break into Sherman’s house unless they get a search warrant.
“Probable cause of arrest is not based on warrants. What we did have the Ministry of Justice do, within two hours, was issue a search warrant for the premises of Cllr. Sherman and the law offices of Cllr. Sherman. "
"They are in the process of executing the search warrant on the law office. They have not yet done the premises,” Koffa said. Mr. Koffa said his task force is contemplating on other steps and keeping in mind to always conform to the law. Sherman is also a Liberian senator and serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
There had been speculation that the Global Witness corruption investigation was an attempt to get back at Cllr. Sherman because he had told President Sirleaf not to nominate Koffa as justice minister because Koffa has a tainted record while a lawyer in United States.
Mr. Koffa denied the Global Witness investigation was a vendetta against Cllr. Sherman.
“I didn't write the Global Witness report; I didn't engineer the Global Witness report. The Global Witness report came to us and I was assigned that responsibility as a result of grave damage to the country’s image.
The only way your theory or the assumption of someone can be true is if indeed they can show that I participated in engineering the report from Global Witness. I had no clue about that, and I absolutely and categorically deny that it is about any vendetta,” Mr. Koffa said.
Mr. Sherman's arrest comes comes as the he had filed a complaint to the Senate plenary informing them about the besiegement of his home by security officers of the Liberian National Police on order of the special Presidential task force investigating the Global Witness report. In the Senator’s letter he said, the security officers did not afford him courtesy by their action to deploy security officers at his home, in his communication read on the plenary floor and sent to the leadership for action within 24 hours.
Senator Alphonso Gaye (Unity Party, Grand Gedeh County) has written plenary of the Senate requesting that body to invite the Liberian Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) and Cllr. J. Fonati Koffa, Chair on the Special Presidential Task Force to provide briefing on the current investigation of the Global Witness report.
In his communication, Senator Gaye said, while he appreciates the fight against corruption as a National endeavour, the government needs to be cautions in pursuing the case at bar.
He said, the enormity of the allegations levied has damaging effects on the country and those who are named in the report are both present and former government officials.
Sherman Fights Back
On Tuesday, a day following an attempt by sheriffs of the Monrovia City Court and investigators of the LACC to enter the home of Cllr. Sherman based on a search and seizure warrant, lawyers representing the senator has filed a motion to quash the subpoena of decus tecum which was argued Tuesday before the Criminal Court “A” at the Temple of Justice under the gavel of Judge Boima Kontoe.
In the writ, Cllrs. Frank Musa Dean and former Chief Justice Gloria Scott told the court that there was no case before the court and there was no due process provided the Senator in the instant case and that the writ of decus tecum issued by the court was done inadvertently.
“Your honour before a subpoena decus tecum is issued, an indictment is drawn, defendant arraigned then you can issue a subpoena decus tecum to bring in a witness,” said Cllrs. Dean and Scott who told the court to deny the writ and grant unto the senator the necessary relief as required by law as the process was not followed in the instant case.
In a counter argument state lawyers, County Attorney Daku Mulbah and Cllr Theophilus Gould stated that in the case where the security of the state is threatened, one does not need to wait for a trial to issue a writ of subpoena decus tecum or notify defendant, saying the court should deny and dismiss the motion.
“Where-fore and in-view of the foregoing facts and circumstances, your honour respondent prays that you deny movant motion and grant respondents all relief.”
The court has reserved its ruling in the motion until Monday, May 30, 2016 at 10am.