Liberia: Solicitor General Designate Shies Away From Addressing Conflict of Interest in Sable Mining Case

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Addressing the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism’s weekly press briefing Thursday, Cllr. Syrennius Cephus, President George Manneh Weah’s nominee for Solicitor General shied away from addressing a major conflict of interest issue hanging over his head – as Defense lawyer in the controversial Sable Mining Case. “The question answers itself. When you say you are solicitor general designate you cannot answer that question. So, I cannot say anything about that. If I was Solicitor General, I would be in the position to address that but because I’m not a solicitor general I’m still a designate I cannot respond to anything of that nature.”


Rodney D. Sieh, [email protected]


Monrovia – The man tipped by President George Manneh Weah to lead the prosecution of corrupt officials from past regimes missed an opportunity Thursday to address some demons of his own. Cllr. Cyrennius Cephus, when asked about the conflict of interest issue surrounding his representation of 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, said he could not comment on the matter because he has not yet been confirmed.

The issue of conflict of interest is not limited to Liberia. Recently, the United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions, facing withering criticism for failing to disclose meetings with Russia’s envoy to the United States during the former Alabama senator’s confirmation hearing, recused himself from overseeing the FBI investigation into Russia’s interference in last year’s election.

Addressing the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism’s weekly press briefing Thursday, Cllr. Cephus said: “The question answers itself. When you say you are solicitor general designate you cannot answer that question. So, I cannot say anything about that. If I was Solicitor General, I would be in the position to address that but because I’m not a solicitor general I’m still a designate I cannot respond to anything of that nature.”

Section 4.9 of the Code of Conduct guiding public officials states: “Conflict between personal belief and Public Duties Where a Public Official or an Employee of Government holds strong personal beliefs on issues that conflict with his or her official duties, he or she shall, regardless of his or her personal views, implement the Government policy to the best of his or her ability and shall do nothing to circumvent or undermine the policies; or he or she shall resign.”

Ethics Code Cautions Lawyers on Conflict

Under the “Code of Moral and Professional Ethics of the Supreme Court of Liberia, to which lawyers prescribe, it is unprofessional to representing conflicting interest.

Rule 8 through 13 States:

It is the duty of the lawyer at the time of retainer to disclose to the client all of the circumstances of his relations to the parties, if there be any, and any interest in or connection with the controversy, which might influence the client in the selection of counsel. It is unprofessional to represent conflicting interests;

Within the meaning of this Rule, 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;

A client’s offer of assistance of additional counsel should not be regarded as evidence of want of confidence, but the right to employ additional counsel with the knowledge of the original counsel, is the right of every client. A lawyer should decline association as a colleague in a case, if his employment is objectionable to the original counsel; but if the lawyer first retained is relieved, a brother-lawyer may be retained without question. Efforts to direct or indirect, which in any way encroach upon the professional employment of another lawyer, are unworthy of those who should be brethren at the Bar;

A lawyer should endeavor to obtain full knowledge of his client’s cause before advising thereon, and he is bound to give a candid opinion of the merits and probable result of pending contemplated litigation. Whenever the controversy will not admit of fair judgment, the client should be advised to avoid or to end litigation, and it is unprofessional for a lawyer to advise the institution or continuation of an unmeritorious suit;


A lawyer should not in any circumstance communicate upon the subject of controversy with a party represented by counsel; much less should he undertake to negotiate or compromise the matter with him, but should deal only with his counsel. It is incumbent upon the lawyer most particularly to avoid everything that may tend to mislead a party not represented by counsel, and he should not undertake to advise him as to the law without being retained;

No lawyer should acquire interest in the subject maker of a litigation which he is conducting, either by purchase or otherwise, which said interest he did not hold or own prior to the institution of the suit. This rule should not prevent a lawyer from agreeing with client to accept for this service a reasonable percentage of the sum sued for in an action of debt.

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, fell short in his presentation Thursday, of making any mention of his previous transgression relating to the Sable case and his high court suspension.

Instead, the Solicitor General Designate went to great length to explain that while he is still awaiting his confirmation, he was given a letter of patent by the republic of Liberia to serve as additional counsel to the state prosecutor to represent the Republic of Liberia in all cases in Liberia and in all courts at the ECOWAS community or anywhere in the world where the Republic of Liberia is a party.

Cllr. Cephus, who said that his hearing is set for Friday, June 14, 2019, averred that based on that letter of patent, he is set to perform the task for which the letter of patent was given while declining to respond to question regarding his ties to the controversial Sable Mining case.

Section 4.9 of the Code of Conduct guiding public officials states: “Conflict between personal belief and Public Duties Where a Public Official or an Employee of Government holds strong personal beliefs on issues that conflict with his or her official duties, he or she shall, regardless of his or her personal views, implement the Government policy to the best of his or her ability and shall do nothing to circumvent or undermine the policies; or he or she shall resign.”

The Solicitor General Designate is on record in an affidavit on behalf of Groves signed by him, in which he is quoted 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.”

Sidestepping the obvious serious issues of conflict of interest, Cllr. Cephus went on to say that he is he right man, at the right time to clean up corruption.

Said Cllr. Cephus: “As you may know, there is a public outcry from every section of the Liberian society regarding massive abuses of state resources and waste and corruption in public places. Consistent with that call, the President of the Republic of Liberia announce the war on corruption and in recent ceremony specifically on June 7, during the petition from the Council of Patriots on the internet that particular call to fight corruption was reiterated with a demand that all audit reports over the years be investigated.”

Two Choices: Restitution or Prosecution

Cllr. Cephus described his appointment as a clear testament to the full manifestation of that demand- and said he has already begun a holistic review of all audit reports emanating from the General Auditing Commission and the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission.

The Solicitor General Designate said the review process is to create a conducive atmosphere where those who have been audited and found liable would be invited and given two choices to make – our priority choice number one is the recovery process, it’s call restitution and when you are invited after the review process, you would be given these two choices – restitution or prosecution.”

Restitution, he explained, will significantly deal with recovery a prosecution would be the last resort. “So, whoever would be invited would be given these two choices to make. Anyone you see going to court or being indicted, should suggest to you that we exhausted all available means to have the person make a sound decision on the question of restitution. And the only alternative option to pursue is prosecution.”

Cllr. Cephus said there would be no hiding place, no one would be too big to confront, there would be no mountain too high to climb and no valley too low to walk. “We are resolve that this fight would even continue if we are confirmed by the Honorable Liberian Senate. But until then, the process of review of all the audit reports has started. So, I want to announce to you that the fight or the war on corruption is not today, it’s not hereafter, it’s not tomorrow but begins now. And the focus is to recover the resources of the Liberian people and to root out looters and those who believe that they can reduce the national treasury to a sorry state.”

Cllr. Cephas however, said there would be no arbitrary arrests and no arbitrary prosecution but did warn that “anyone who will be prosecuted would be prosecuted by a cause and that cause will come from the GAC or LACC report. We have a prepared statement.”

In the coming days, he said his office would begin publishing the names of the institutions and the individuals to be invited in for questioning. “We urge you to work with us, we urge you to cooperate with use. Liberia is a small country where people’s interests are divided into all corners. So, when you touch A it becomes the issue of B. But in building a strong and vibrant democracy we need men and women who are focused and decisive who would be the one to determine the course of action as to where our country go from here. Corruption keeps the growth of the country down; corruption keeps people in perpetual poverty. Poverty is every in this country, we must now fight the narrow interest of those who believe that they can gamble our happiness and freedom with their own selfish gains. This is a call; this is a battle.

Cllr. Cephus’s call to battle comes amid concerns that his confirmation process is swirling in controversy.

Senator Varney Sherman, who heads the Senate Judiciary Committee is tasked with the responsibility of confirming the SG designate. His decision to remain mum when the issue of conflict arose Thursday speaks volumes and raises the ethical boundaries as questions linger amid reports that Cllr. Sherman has laid out a condition that the Sable Mining case be over with before Cephas confirmation is sealed.

The issue of conflict of interest is not limited to Liberia. Recently, the United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions, facing withering criticism for failing to disclose meetings with Russia’s envoy to the United States during the former Alabama senator’s confirmation hearing, recused himself from overseeing the FBI investigation into Russia’s interference in last year’s election.

Amid mounting calls from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers for the attorney general to either step aside from the inquiry or resign, Sessions said he was ceding oversight of the probe to acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente. “I have decided to recuse myself from any existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for president of the United States,” Sessions said.

With the international community keeping close tabs on the George Weah-led government to restore credibility in the midst of a declining economy, political observers are unsure, Cllr. Cephus’s appointment does that, owing the cloud of suspicions hanging over his ability to remain fair and impartial in the dispensation of justice.

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