Liberia: Justice Nagbe Suspicious Visit to Court “C” During Sable Mining Hearing Raises Eyebrows

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MONROVIA – Associate Justice Joseph Nagbe’s sudden visit to Criminal Court “C” last Friday, where his former colleagues from the Legislature are facing trial for alleged bribery, was not only unprecedented but also casts doubt over the independence of the Court in the hearing.

Senators Varney Sherman, Morris Saytuma and former Speaker Alex Tyler along with five others are being tried by the Court for allegedly soliciting and receiving up to US$950,000 bribe from Sable Mining Executives to make amendments Liberia’s procurement law to favor the British company to earn them the Wologosi iron ore deposits.

Judge Nagbe who is also the Justice in Chamber visit to the Court when Sen. Sherman (Co-defendant)  was being crossed-examined prompted the Judge, Peter Gbenewale, to pause the hearing and escort the Supreme Court Justice into his chambers, where they spent about 20 minutes in closed door discussion.

It is not clear what they discussed.

Judge Nagbe came out with a smiling face and waved at his former colleagues who were somewhat embarrassed to wave back at him, perhaps, knowing that he is supposed to remain neutral and show no moral support to any side in a case.

Raising Eyebrows

His visit came as a surprise to the court staff. Some who preferred not to be mentioned on record told FrontPageAfrica, “We were surprised at his visit. We didn’t know he was coming and we’ve never seen a Supreme Court Judge walk into a lower court while the trial is going on”.

Other legal pundits who were also mindful in expressing their opinion on ground that they cannot confirm what the meeting was about, expressed concern that Judge Nagbe would rather walk to the lower court as if it was a matter of emergency. 

“He is the Justice in Chamber for god sake. He could have sent for the Judge if there is an issue of urgency that needed to be discussed. I see no reason why the justice of that caliber would choose to pause a trial just to have discussion with the judge, especially so when those on trial are his former colleagues from the Legislature,” a legal pundit told FrontPageAfrica on anonymity basis.

Another lawyer propounded, “Justice Nagbe is raising eyebrows. I don’t see this as a regular visit. It must be something extremely important that warranted the such an impromptu visit, during a hearing, too. It only leaves one to wonder if the Sable Mining trial is not being tampered with.”

Trial Rendered Invalid?

The former Special Prosecutor commissioned by ex-President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to investigate and prosecute those named by the international watchdog, Global Witness, for their alleged involvement in the Sable Mining bribery saga, told FrontPageAfrica: “The only just outcome of his visit to the court is for the Judge to declare a mistrial and start all over.”

Cllr. Koffa, now a Representative of Grand Kru County District 1 and Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said given the fact the judge also sits as the jury, he has to be mindful of external influences and hence, there is the need to declare a mistrial and start all over, taking the visit of the Supreme Court justice into consideration.

A mistrial is a trial rendered invalid through an error in the proceedings.

Conflicted by Conflicts of Interest

Solicitor General Cllr. Sayma Syrenius Cephus and Montserrado County Attorney Cllr. Edwin Martin were constrained to recuse themselves from prosecuting the case after evidence showed that the pair were partners of the same law firm and served as private legal counsel for two of the defendants in the case.

Also, Justice Minister Musa Dean, who is also the Attorney General of the Republic of Liberia, has come under scrutiny for his previous role as defense lawyer for Senator Varney Sherman – a main figure in the case. Dean has also stepped aside from the case although concern of his remote interference continues to loom.

Cephus and Martin were hired by Co-defendant Andrew Grove, chief executive officer of the London AIM-listed Sable Mining, who was indicted by a grand jury in June 2016, in connection with an alleged bribery scandal involving several senior Liberian officials.

Cllr. Dean represented the other defendants, including Senator Varney Sherman of Grand Cape Mount County; former House Speaker Alex Tyler; Christopher Hayes Onanuga, former Chairman of the National Investment Commission Richard V. Tolbert; Sen. Morris Saytumah of Bomi County; former PPCC Chairman, Willie Belleh; and former Minister of Lands, Mines and Energy (MLME), Dr. Eugene Shannon; and former MLME Deputy Minister, E.C.B. Jones.

A portion of the Code of Ethics of Lawyers states that “a lawyer represents conflicting interests when, in behalf of one client, it is his duty to contend for that which duty to another client requires him to oppose. 

“The obligation to represent the client with undivided fidelity, and not to divulge his secrets or confidences, forbids also the subsequent acceptance of retainers or employment from others in matters adversely affecting any interest of the client with respect to which confidence has been reposed.”

The GW report had alleged that the defendants received over US$950,000 in bribes through Sable’s Liberian lawyer, Cllr. Varney Sherman, to alter the Public Procurement Concession Commission (PPCC) law that would have enabled the officials to award the Wologizi Mountain in Lofa County to Sable, without any competitive bidding process.

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