Mutual Legal Assistance Push Key to Global Witness Liberia Bribery Investigation


Monrovia – Cllr. J. Fonati Koffa, the head of the Special Task Force set up to probe the Global Witness Bribery saga says the government of Liberia is expediting its request for what is termed in the industry as Mutual Legal Assistance.

Report by: Rodney D. Sieh, [email protected]

“There is an immediate need for Liberia to request cooperation from the UK and US in sharing evidence with the Task Force, employing a procedure called Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA), “ Cllr. Koffa told FrontPageAfrica Wednesday.

A Global Witness exposé uncovered over US$950,000 in bribes and other suspicious payments by UK mining firm Sable Mining and its Liberian lawyer, Varney Sherman. Responding to Global Witness’ findings, the government has pledged to investigate and hold those culpable to account.   

The report, The Deceivers (1), revealed 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).

Prior to his recent resignation as British Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron, responded to President Sirleaf’s earlier communication requesting the assistance of the UK Government in establishing the veracity and the ramifications of the claims contained in the Global Witness Report against Sable Mining, a London-based company.

Diplomatic sources say, although the embattled outgoing PM has expressed his willingness to help, he may have become bogged down with recent events in Britain regarding the Brexit saga and thereby slowing down whatever assistance he has expressed giving to the investigation.

President Sirleaf, in her communication to Prime Minister Cameron, mentioned that a British company called Sable, was alleged to have offered or given bribes to some Liberian officials, in the tune of US$950,000 to affect the awarding of a mining concession and emphasized that the UK cooperation and collaboration in resolving the issue will go a long way in launching an effective partnership between the two countries in the monumental battle against the scourge of corruption.

She reminded the British Prime Minister that in a case such as the claims made in the Global Witness Report, both the giver and the recipient must face the same processes of interrogation, adding that this is the only way to bring to a halt the global endemic of corrupt practices that ensnare billions of the world’s people in abject poverty.

Cllr. Koffa informed FrontPageAfrica that it has become necessary that the Government expedite its push for technical assistance and Mutual Legal Assistance as a matter of urgency.

While U.S. and British authorities have hailed the efforts of President Sirleaf and the Task Force in getting to the bottom of the scandal, sources say, Liberia may lack the technical expertise and know-how to unilaterally probe the case on its own given the enormous volume of forensic financial and electronic evidence which has been uncovered.

Key among the technical needs, one source told FrontPageAfrica is for the Liberian government to request cooperation from the UK and US in sharing evidence with the Task Force, by employing a procedure called Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA)

Cllr. J. Fonati Koffa, head of the Special Presidential Task Force told a news conference Tuesday that as a result of the team’s recent trip to London, they are eighty percent closer to identifying Big Boy 1 and Big Boy 2, the two key figures in the scandal.

“I will not tell you that now because I want to be a hundred percent sure, because by the time we list and invite the infamous Big Boy 1 and Big Boy 2, I want to be absolutely certain”.

Global Witness uncovered payments by Sable to officials and unidentified people referred to as “Bigboy 01” and “Bigboy 02,”  but the identity of the pair have not been determined.

Multiple sources say Sirleaf’s push for the Mutual Legal Assistance will be key to getting to the bottom of the case as cooperation between law enforcement authorities in both countries could be key to building up the case.

“Investigators in the UK and US are also well equipped to collect some of evidence the Task Force needs, and as you will be aware, both have jurisdiction in this matter because, respectively, Sable is a UK-listed company and Liberian bank accounts trade in US Dollars,” one source added.

While President Sirleaf has already asked the UK for assistance on the matter, Koffa indicated  that the UK’s Serious Fraud Office(SFO) requires Liberia to submit an MLA prior to substantial collaboration.

U.S. authorities, FrontPageAfrica has learned have also expressed a willingness to assist with the investigation but Liberia’s push of the MLA would be key and is a matter of urgency.

The mutual assistance will also be key to allowing authorities in both countries to bring those accused to book.

Cllr. Koffa during his news conference Tuesday averred that Sable Mining was a lot more than individuals residing in Liberia, noting that with the help of the government of Great Britain and that of the U.S. Sable mining will be brought to Liberia.

The Task Force Head also said they have passed the point of sitting with Sable mining to discuss the Global Witness scandal, adding that Sable mining refused to give documents though the ministry of Information, saying Sable mining is now a criminal defendant.

“We have passed that point to deal with Sable mining. That is why we have invited them through the Minister of Information to provide several documentations but they have refused.”

Added Cllr. Koffa: “At this point we have sufficient evident to indict them and they are now criminal defendant and we have no intention of going to have a private meeting to hear their side.

Their side of the story will be told by them in a Liberian court before a Liberian jury. At this point we are only interested in plea agreements”.

The mutual assistance is key as the Task Force looks to implement the scope of the draft agreement between the EU and the USA on extradition.

Article 4 of that agreement applies to any suspected offence which carries a prison sentence of one year or more – an exceptionally low standard for the arrest and deportation of a suspect to another continent.

“This extends to an attempted offence, conspiracy or participation and to “any other offence specified in the request” if this is also punishable by a one year sentence – thus an extradition request could contain a “shopping list” of suspected offences meeting a very low threshold.”

Article 5 states that requests for extradition is through “diplomatic” channels but requests for “provisional arrest” can be made between Ministries of Justice (Article 6) whereby a person is arrested and held for a “hearing” before being extradited.

Article 9 suggests that “people already charged with an offence and whose case is before a court in the EU or who are in prison in the EU can be extradited for trial in the USA (Article 9: “Temporary surrender”.

When asked if given the nature and form of the MLA request, if it means that the defendants could possibly be taken outside of Liberia for further questioning, Koffa declined to answer.