Liberia: Businessman Who Released Alleged Bribery Recording on Sen. Sando Johnson Is Unsatisfied

James E Cooper, CEO of the Cooper Farm and Cooper Rubber Processing Plant

Monrovia – An in-depth FrontPageAfrica investigation uncovers half-truths and unsatisfied investors associated with Mr. James E Cooper, CEO of the Cooper Farm and Cooper Rubber Processing Plant.

In an October 12, 2018 FrontpageAfrica spotlight article titled “Liberia’s Lone Rubber Processor Sets Sights on Manufacturing”, Mr. James E. Cooper, CEO of the Cooper Farm spoke about revolutionizing Liberia’s rubber industry by moving away from selling solely to foreign concessioners to Liberians manufacturing and exporting quality rubber made materials to Asian and US markets.

As the owner of the lone Liberian rubber factory, Mr. Cooper spoke in detail about the revival of his family’s dilapidated farm upon his return from living over three decades in the United States and his loan agreements with LEDFC and LBDI, secured to build his factory and grow his business.

The story was a follow-up to two previous FPA articles involving allegations made by Mr. Cooper in which he accused Senator Sando Johnson, Bomi County, of soliciting a bribe and a ‘secret’ recording as proof of the solicitation.

The fist article published September 6, 2018 (Liberia: Senate Probes Senator Sando Johnson Over Alleged Bribe Solicitation) it was reported that Mr. Cooper filed a formal complaint addressed to Senate Pro-Tempore Albert Chea against Senator Johnson and provided the recording as proof of his allegations. Mr. Cooper followed up in a October 11, 2018 FPA article (“Why is Liberia a ‘Bad Destination’ for Investment?”) when questioned by a FPA reporter on the threats private investors endure in the country, stating “Look at my situation with the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Concessions – it’s mouth-spoken [by Johnson himself] and it’s in front of them: the Justice Minister, Speaker of the House and the President have all been informed but nothing is being done,” he said.

Senator Sando Johnson responded to the allegations levied against him (October 19,2018 FPA article “Sando Johnson Accuses Businessman of Being ‘Fraudulent’) claiming that Mr. Cooper has defaulted on two loans and was attempting to take another one, which he had halted and that he (Senator Johnson) learned that Mr. Cooper was duping people.

The Investigation

With claims and counter claims being thrown about, FrontpageAfrica felt it prudent to launch its own investigation on behalf of its readers and started with the review of Mr. Cooper’s complaint to the Senate and the genesis of the secret recording.

In his letter to the Senate. Mr. Cooper alleged that, “In compromise of this matter, Senator Johnson has demanded the amount of US$500,000 as compensation to (Johnetta Stewart) to be received from the US$7.2 million loan request from LBDI and that he will employ all efforts to prevent said loan if his demand is not met.”

Who is Johnetta Stewart and why was Senator Johnson demanding that Mr. Cooper pay her US$500,000 from a US$7.2 million loan request from LBDI? A review of official documents and an MOU, in the possession of FPA, signed between Mr. Cooper and Ms. Stewart shed tremendous light on the facts of the case and the unraveling of a tangled web of orchestrated deception.

According to the documents, Ms. Stewart purported that:

• In 2014, when Mr. Cooper 1st approached Ms. Stewart as a potential partner for his future rubber processing plant, the plant construction was only at foundation level.
• Ms. Stewart introduced Mr. Copper to Senator Johnson and pressed upon Senator Johnson to offer “every assistance” to Mr. Cooper because Bomi County was the location of the rubber farm and future processing plant and would offer employment opportunities and economic benefits to residents of the County.
• Ms. Stewart introduced Mr. Cooper to the management of LAC and encouraged Senator Johnson to introduce Mr. Cooper to Sime Darby and Firestone for technical direction and support which Senator Johnson did. It was Sime Darby that introduced the concept of TRS 10 to Mr. Cooper and TRS 10 is what Mr. Cooper processes to date for export.
• Ms. Stewart loaned Mr. Cooper US$200,000 in cash to finance the early operations of the business. Mr. Cooper has only repaid $100,000 to date.
• Mr. Cooper committed 20% shares and a Vice President position in the company to Ms. Stewart in exchange for collateralizing her properties valued at US$900,000 to secure 2 bank loans. Senator Johnson facilitated the bank introductions and assisted Cooper Rubber Farm in the process.
• Ms. Stewart was a party to both loans on behalf of Cooper Rubber Farmed: US$1.7 million LEDFC and US$1 million interest free loan Rubber Stimulus Loan LBDI. The loans, totaling US$2.7 million (as well as the initial US$200,000) were used to build the factory, buy equipment, hire the expertise, purchase raw materials and begin operations. After construction and the commencement of operations, the rubber plant was recently valued to be worth an estimated US$5 million.

Ms. Stewart alleges that after her invaluable contributions to building Cooper Rubber Plant, Mr. Cooper attempted to secure additional funding of US$7.2 million from LBDI without her knowledge and exclude her from all aspects of the business venture. After numerous unsuccessful attempts to reconcile the business discourse with Mr. Cooper through the intervention of friends, Ms. Stewart sought legal redress and since Senator Johnson was involved from the inception, Ms. Stewart reached out to him for assistance.

FPA has in its possession, copies of the loan agreement from LEDFC collateralizing two properties listed as being owned by Ms. Stewart, along with her personal guarantee, a signed copy of the LBDI loan agreement that Ms. Stewart is a signatory to and the MOU signed by both Mr. Cooper and Ms. Stewart whereby Mr. Cooper acknowledges monetary debts to Ms. Stewart and the 20% equity due her for collateralizing her properties.

The ‘Secret’ Recording

In the documents pertaining to the case, the recording heard around Monrovia and offered as ‘proof’ of attempted extortion against Mr. Cooper by Senator Johnson is detailed. It is alleged that the recording was done secretly (and illegally) by Mr. Cooper during a mediation meeting attended by Ms. Stewart and Mr. Cooper, their respective lawyers, Senator Johnson, representatives from LBDI and LEDFC and an official mediation officer. Negotiations were being held during the meeting to determine Ms. Stewart’s compensation and the repayment of the LBDI and LEDFC loans prior to the final approval by LBDI for an additional loan of US$7.2 million dollars to Cooper Rubber Processing Plant.

In the meeting, it was agreed that Mr. Cooper would pay Ms. Stewart US$500,000 as a buy-out of her 20% equity and would also include all outstanding monies owed her and the removal of her properties as collateral within 5 business days after LBDI facilitated the second loan to Mr. Cooper. Senator Johnson can be heard on tape demanding that Ms. Stewart receive the US$500,000 payment due her, but what isn’t heard on tape is Mr. Cooper acknowledging his indebtedness to Ms. Stewart and agreeing to the terms and signing an MOU (on June 19, 2018) in support of the agreement.

Days after the meeting and the signing of the MOU, Mr. Cooper releases only the audio of Senator Johnson speaking and his demands for compensation on behalf of Ms. Stewart during the meeting and contributed the statements made by the Bomi County Senator as an attempt to solicit a bribe from him (Mr. Cooper). Shortly after the release of the recording, Mr. Cooper filed a complaint with the Senate against Johnson and requested an investigation.

Mr. Cooper, when asked if he was indebted to Ms. Stewart by members of the Senate said no but contradicted himself in a July 20th morning interview with Maria FM 97.9 hosted by Matthias F. Larbeindee, stating during the interview that he owed Mr. Stewart “US$100,000”.

A source working for one of the Senators involved with the Senate probe of Mr. Cooper’s allegations against Senator Johnson scoffed when asked about the status of the investigation stating that one of the Senator’s looking into the matter asked Mr. Cooper for the full recording to hear what transpired before and after the ‘bribe’ request but to no avail, Mr. Cooper never complied.

The Senator then contacted all parties involved in the mediation meeting only to be told that Senator Johnson made the request for payment of the US$500,000 on behalf of Ms. Stewart during the meeting and the Senator’s request and Mr. Cooper’s agreement to the request were incorporated in an MOU as a condition to the 3rd loan. A representative from one of the banks who attended the meeting told the Senator that he was shocked when he read claims made by Mr. Cooper in the newspapers that a ‘bribe’ request was made.

The Senate employee stated that after speaking with all parties associated with the meeting and ascertaining the real story, the allegations were deemed false by the Senators involved and called Mr. Cooper a “joker”, adding “the complaint was never a serious one. How can you claim solicitation of a bribe when you know very well the Senator in an open meeting with other people present was demanding that you return this woman’s money and properties. He’s a joker with his cut and paste recording”.

Owing Ms. Stewart, the Banks and the Bishop

FPA is in possession of emails dating as far back as 2016, from US based Bishop Robert Jackson to Mr. Cooper detailing the Bishop’s heartfelt request to accelerate the building of a free school with dormitories in Bomi for under-served children, stating that children who live far from the school can “live there during the week and go home on the weekends”.

The inclusion of Bishop Jackson’s emails to Mr. Cooper are in support of allegations that the Bishop loaned Mr. Cooper US$500,000 with the intentions of the loan being paid back promptly, so that the Bishop could continue with the building of his intended school, dormitories and a clinic in Bomi. It is alleged that Mr. Cooper has yet to restitute the monies owed to the Bishop who is listed in a never signed document as owning 25% equity in rubber processing business.

Where is Mr. Cooper?

In June, Senator Johnson filed a criminal complaint against Mr. Cooper for Criminal Malevolence & Menacing after providing text messages to the LNP allegedly from Mr. Cooper threatening his life and well-being. In one of the text messages offered as evidence, sent from a cellphone number belonging to Mr. Cooper, the author of the message states “I will deal with him. Trust me…he drew first blood”.

The Stipendiary Magistrate of the Monrovia City Court, J. Kennedy Peabody had set Monday, October 15, 2018 as the date for the handing down of the ruling in the case involving Mr. Cooper as defendant and Senator Sando D. Johnson as Plaintiff. Mr. Cooper was a no show, prompting the judge to order the lawyer representing the legal interest of Mr. Cooper, Cllr. Dempster Brown, to bring the living body of his client to court on Wednesday, October 17, 2018 or be ordered arrested. It has been reported that Mr. Cooper was once again absent for his October 17, 2018 court date.

It has been alleged that Mr. Cooper departed Liberia prior to the October 15th hearing on an Air Peace flight without the knowledge or the approval of the courts. Attempts to contact Mr. Cooper have proven unsuccessful.

FPA will continue to follow and report on this story until its final legal conclusion.