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EDITORIAL: Senator Varney Sherman Cannot Preside Over Solicitor General Designate’s Confirmation Hearing

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CLLR. H. VARNEY G. SHERMAN, Senator of Grand Cape Mount County must do the honorable thing and recuse himself from confirmation hearing proceedings involving Solicitor General Designate Cllr. Cyrenius Cephus.

THE SIGNS are clear for all to see that Cllr. Cephas, one of the defense lawyers for Sherman, in the controversial Sable Mining Bribery Scandal for which the Senator has already been indicted.

PRESIDENT GEORGE MANNEH WEAH recently nominated Cllr. Cephas to replace Cllr Daku Mulbah as Solicitor General of the Republic of Liberia, giving the county attorney who should be the new chief prosecutor the greenlight to dictate the outcome of the case which has drawn international outcry and regarded as one of the most damaging scandals of former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s era.

CLLR. CEPHUS also happens to be lawyer for Andrew Groves, the prime suspect in the bribery saga.

A GRAND JURY IN June 2016, indicted Groves, the chief executive officer of the London AIM-listed Sable Mining, in connection with an alleged bribery scandal involving several senior Liberian officials.

EVIDENCE PRESENTED to the court last January showed that Andrew Groves and Klaus Piprek who were at the forefront of establishing Sable Mining in Liberia and ensuring that it gained access to Wologizhi came to Liberia on April 14, 2010 on 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.

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.

FORMER PRESIDENT Sirleaf had ordered an inquiry into Sable’s attempt to acquire an iron ore concession in northern Liberia after the watchdog group Global Witness made accusations of wrong-doing in a report.

IN FACT, CLLR. CEPHAS IS ON RECORD. An affidavit on behalf of Groves signed by Cllr. Cephus, quotes the SG designate as saying: “The prosecution had come “to the stark realization that neither Sable Mining Africa nor Andrew Groves had any criminal intent.” But in an email to GW, the lawyer was more ambiguous. “Only the prosecution can clarify” why the nolle prosequi was filed, he said. “Perhaps a holistic and comprehensive review” had “discovered an error of judgment.”

HOW THEN, CAN Cllr. Cephas as Solicitor General of Liberia handle such a high-profile case in an impartial manner. 

COMPLICATING THIS even further, Senator Sherman is head of the Senate Judiciary Committee which has the final say in whether Cephus is confirmed. Multiple sources have confirmed to FPA that Sherman has laid out a condition that the case be over with before Cephas confirmation is sealed.

SENATOR SHERMAN cannot allow himself to preside over a confirmation hearing in which he is clearly linked to one who is tasked with dispensing justice in a fair and impartial way. 

THIS HAS THE PROPENSITY to cloud the judgement of the judiciary, coming at a time when various international human rights reports have branded the Judiciary and the entire justice system of Liberia as “corrupt.”

THE MOST RECENT US Human Rights report noted that, acceptance of bribes by judges and juries, police harassment and extortion of money from drivers and biased treatment given alleged corrupt government officials are highlighted in the 2015 report concerning Liberia. In line with the Liberian Constitution, the report says, there should be an independent Judiciary, but the third branch of government that is responsible for interpreting the law is highly influenced by corruption.

THE REPORT NOTES: “The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but judges and magistrates were subject to influence and corruption. Uneven application of the law and unequal distribution of personnel and resources remained problems throughout the judicial system. The government continued efforts to harmonize the traditional and formal justice systems in particular through campaigns focused on trying criminal cases in formal courts. These cases included murder, rape, and human trafficking, as well as some civil cases that could be resolved in either formal or traditional systems.”

WE HAVE ALREADY seen one high-profile corruption case wilt due to an issue of conflict of interest. Justice Minister Frank Musah Dean was a defense lawyer for Matilda Parker, former Managing Director of the National Port Authority.

AFTER MUCH DELAYS and granting of continuance, the Criminal Court ‘C’ freed Parker and her comptroller, Christina Paelay, on corruption charges of awarding a falsified wreck removal contract for US$800,000 to Denmar Martin Flomo of Denmar Enterprises. Madams Parker and Paelay were freed due to state lawyers’ inability to ensure the appearance of several witnesses, who were to testify against the defendants; thereby leaving the judge with no option, but to drop the multiple corruption charges against them.

LIBERIA HAS SEEN too many people die in a justice system where everyone feels that they are above the law, where those appointed or elected to serve abuse their call to service by entangling themselves in a sea of misdeeds and conflict of interests that often times, bring the ruling government into disrepute.

THE BLIND EYE of justice has seen too many Liberians lose hope in the justice system. Cllr. Sherman, as head of the Senate Committee on Judiciary should do the honorable thing and save himself the embarrassment that is about to shame his already damning legacy. 

CLLR. CEPHUS, who was suspended by the Supreme Court of Liberia from practicing law for three months – – from April 7, 2015 to July 7, 2015 for what the court believes was misconduct while representing his client –  owes it to himself and the oath of the legal profession to do what is right by pleading with Cllr. Sherman to recuse himself from his confirmation proceedings. Anything short of that diminishes whatever aspirations Cllr. Cephus has to serve the role s Solicitor General of the Republic of Liberia.

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