Big Boys Mystery Lingers in Global Witness Liberia Bribery Saga


Monrovia – Cllr. Varney Sherman says he has no knowledge of who the two mystery receivers of a payment totaling US$500,000 listed as Sable Mining Bribes and Questionable Payment in a damning report by the London-based watchdog group, Global Witness.

Explanation by the former Sable Mining lawyer at the center of a Global Witness Report Leaves More Questions than answers regarding mysterious US$500K Payment and facilitation of bribes to influence concession and procurement in Liberia

“Who are “Big Boy 01” and “Big Boy 02” to whom Global Witness Report claims that the amount of US$250,000.00 was paid in 2010?

Neither Sherman & Sherman nor I know any Liberian Government official or anybody else who was designated “Big Boy 01” or “Big Boy 02” and certainly no payment was made to either of these persons directly by me on behalf of Sable Mining; no payment to any such Liberian Government officials was facilitated by either Sherman & Sherman or me.

So, where did Global Witness get its information from to accuse me of assisting Sable Mining to pay bribes to “Big Boy 01” and “Big Boy 02”? This is purely another outrageous fabrication.”

The GW exposé, which uncovered more than US$950,000 in bribes and other suspicious payments by UK mining firm Sable Mining and its Liberian lawyer, Varney Sherman reported that on April 15, 2010, U$S500,000 in two equal payments marked “Bigboy 01” and “Bigboy 02” were disbursed.

No Knowledge of Big Boys

But Cllr. Sherman, addressing the various payments listed in the report at a news conference with newspaper editors at his law office in Monrovia last Friday, says he has no knowledge of the pair. “Who are “Big Boy 01” and “Big Boy 02” to whom Global Witness Report claims that the amount of US$250,000.00 was paid in 2010?

Neither Sherman & Sherman nor I know any Liberian Government official or anybody else who was designated “Big Boy 01” or “Big Boy 02” and certainly no payment was made to either of these persons directly by me on behalf of Sable Mining; no payment to any such Liberian Government officials was facilitated by either Sherman & Sherman or me.

So, where did Global Witness get its information from to accuse me of assisting Sable Mining to pay bribes to “Big Boy 01” and “Big Boy 02”? This is purely another outrageous fabrication.”

In the same month the payments were made to Bigboy 01 and Bigboy 02, the report listed several other payments it says were directed toward bribery key figures in both the Executive and Legislative branches of government to bribery for influencing Wologizi, one of the last remaining concessions in Liberia.

The report notes that on April 22, 2010, an amount of US$200,000 was contributed toward the convention of the ruling Unity Party. The amount according to GW was paid out to Sable’s lawyer, Cllr. Sherman who was elected chairman of the party at the convention unopposed after his opponents “were persuaded to back off”, according to a local newspaper.

No Recipients for $US958,668 Payment?

An amount of $50,000 for Richard Tolbert, Chairman of Liberia’s National Investment Commission and one of the most important decision-makers in Liberia’s tendering process for mining rights on April 23rd, 2010. Tolbert did not respond to a FrontPageAfrica inquiry but denied to Global Witness that he took bribes from Sable.

An amount of US$50 was paid on April 26 2010 to Morris Saytumah, then Minister of State for Finance, Economic and Legal Affairs, attached to the presidency.  

“In March 2011 Saytumah, after he left office, wrote a letter for Sable—backdated to April 2009—saying that “the Government will assist the Delta Mining in its bid for any iron ore reserve that it may be interested in and has the technical and financial capacity to operate”, the report noted.

On April 28, 2010, the GW report noted that an amount of US$10,000, labelled as “Sherman’s contribution to IE Sports Association”, with the funds coming out of Sable’s account. This was a reference to the Invincible Eleven soccer team and associated teams, of which Richard Tolbert was President.

On April 28, 2010, US$10,000 labelled as “Heine’s contribution to IE Sports Association”, headed by Tolbert (see above). Heine van Niekerk was chief executive of Sable’s Liberian affiliate.

On June, 24, 2010, a payment of US$10,000 was paid to Willie Belleh, chairman of the Public Procurement and Concessions Commission, who held a key position in the tender process for mineral concessions and helped review the procurement act. Belleh denied receiving any payment.

On June 24, 2010, a payment of US$25,000 labelled as “Political contribution – UP Secretary General resignation”. “Henry Fahnbulleh, recently elected Secretary General of the ruling Unity Party, resigned under pressure from Varney Sherman the day after the payment was made”.

The report also makes mention of a another payment on July 29, 2010 in the amount of $US5,000 for Lofa County Senator Sumo Kupee while a payment of US$5,000 was reportedly made on July 29, 2010 to Cletus Wotorson, at the time Pro Temp of the Senate. Kupee and Wotorson’s payments are listed in internal company records. Kupee and Wotorson denied receiving any payments.

On August 23, 2010, a payment of $US4,500 labelled “accommodation ECB Jones and C Onanuga” was reportedly made. “Ernest CB Jones was deputy mining minister, while Chris Onanuga was Delta’s long-standing fixer before and after its purchase by Sable,” the report noted.

On August 25, 2010, a payment of  $75,000 was reportedly made to Alex Tyler, Speaker of the lower house of Liberia’s parliament at the time.

Tyler is yet to speak on the matter but an aide told FrontPageAfrica that he did not receive any payment from Sable Mining or Cllr. Sherman.

On May 12, 2011, Sable reportedly made a purchase worth $1,070.87 at Twin Bore Agencies, a Johannesburg gun shop, for the Liberian President’s son, Fombah Sirleaf. “It is unclear what was purchased. Sirleaf is head of Liberia’s National Security Agency.”

 One month later, according to the report, on June13, 2011, Sable made a payment of US$6,532 to take Fombah Sirleaf on an all-expenses-paid hunting trip in South Africa.  The report also lists a payment of US$1,565.28 on a telephone and bills for Fombah Sirleaf between August 2011 to Jan 2012:.

The report also notes a payment on August 2, 2011 of US$5,000 to Eugene Shannon, a former mining minister who lobbied a cabinet minister Morris Saytumah to write his backdated letter backing Sable’s claim to Wologizi. Shannon denied receiving any money from Sable. All the payments totaled the amount of US$958,668.

Sherman Dissects GW Claims

At last Friday’s news conference, Cllr. Sherman took the watchdog group to task for not stating why the bribes were paid. Said Cllr. Sherman: “Global Witness claimed that Sable Mining, through me, paid bribes listed in an account statement by Sable and Varney Sherman’s law firm, Sherman & Sherman.

The Report claims that as consulting fees US$75,000.00 was paid to Alex Tyler (Speaker of the House of Representatives); US$50,000.00 was paid to Richard Tolbert (Chairman of the National Investment Commission); US$50,000.00 was paid to Morris Saytumah (Minister of State for Finance, Economic and Legal Affairs); and US$10,000.00 to Willie Belleh (Chairman of the Public Procurement and Concessions Commission).

However, Global Witness was never clear as to what these Liberian Government officials were being bribed for and how Sable Mining benefitted from these alleged huge payments.

And the only reason why Global Witness speculated is that they had no evidence to back up their claims. More importantly, to the best of my knowledge, none of these alleged payments were ever made to these Liberian Government officials.”

Regarding payments allegedly made to the NSA Director, Sirleaf, former Pro Temp Wotorson and former Senator Sumo Kupee, now the Managing Director of the Liberia Petroleum Refining Company(LPRC), Cllr. Sherman again labeled the report as fabrication.

“Another set of alleged payments, which Sherman & Sherman and I know nothing about are Fombah Sirleaf (US$9,168.00) for a trip to South Africa; US$5,000.00 to Sumo Kupee (a Senator) for Consulting fees; US$5,000.00 to Cletus Wotorson (a Senator, Speaker of the Senate) for Consulting fees; and US$5,500.00 to Ernest C.B. Jones (Deputy Minister, Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy) for ‘Accommodation’ for Jones and Chris Onanuga, a company fixer.

These are another set of fabrications that Sherman & Sherman and I are not aware of and nothing is said in the Global Witness Report as to why these payments would be made and to accomplish what for Sable Mining.”

The former Sable lawyer argues that in order to change the PPCC Act, as alleged by Global Witness, two principal actors had to be involved.

“The first is the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy; and the two persons who would have acted on their behalf in 2010 were Eugene Shannon (the Minister himself) and Ernest C.B. Jones (the Deputy Minister for Operations). If nobody knew that in 2010, it is I who knew that because I have counseled investors in the mineral industry all my 36 years of law practice.

Why would I then assist Sable Mining in paying huge sums of money as bribes to Alex Tyler, Richard Tolbert and Morris Saytumah and nothing to Eugene Shannon? Why would I assist Sable Mining in paying huge sums of bribes to those person and “peanuts” to Ernest C.B. Jones? I never would have done such things.

These claims and allegations are so very improbable to the extent that they shock the imagination. As for the “Consulting fees” to Sumo Kupee and Cletus Wotorson, neither I nor Sherman & Sherman know of any such payments. For what and to gain what from these former legislators!”

‘Political Contribution’ – ‘Far from the Truth’

Cllr. Sherman also took issue with the Global Witness Report referencing Sable Mining’s activities in Liberia as “misadventures” arguing that Sable Mining was never awarded the Wologizi contract.

 “Does anybody who has lived in Liberia since I started practicing law in 1980 know of “misadventures” that I have been associated with?

Of course not! Certainly, I would never advise my client or facilitate his payment of bribes for matters which I know or should have known that the receivers of the payments could not deliver and did not have the capacity to deliver.

My career has not always been successful as I have lost several cases before the Supreme Court; but nobody will say that I or Sherman & Sherman bribed anybody for something that either I or my client was not entitled to. Neither Sherman & Sherman nor I engage in such practices.”

Addressing the US$200,000 listed as received by his law firm, Cllr. Sherman dismissed the notion by Global Witness that the payment was for political purposes.

“The Global Witness Report claims that US$200,000.00 was paid from Sable Mining’s funds as “political contribution – UP Convention” and in less than three weeks thereafter I was elected as the party Chairman.

The implication of this statement is that the “political contribution” caused my election as party Chairman. This is so far from the truth. Global Witness did not know and still does not know that the UP Convention was intended to finally consummate the merger between Liberia Action Party, Liberia Unification Party and UP.

I was the standard bearer of Liberia Action Party and in consideration of the merger, it was agreed that I would be the party Chairman for the new UP; we had this agreement months before the Convention. I certainly did not need any political contribution from Sable Mining to become party Chairman of UP.”

Cllr. Sherman also described as fabrication, payments reportedly made to Representative Henry Fahnbulleh.

“The Global Witness Report also claimed US$25,000.00 was paid by Sable Mining as “Political contribution – UP Secretary General resignation” and this implies that the money was paid to get Henry Fahnbulleh to resign his election as the UP Secretary General.

This is another fabrication, as Henry Fahnbulleh did not resign because of a bribe; he resigned because I had said that I would not agree to be inducted into office with him as Secretary General and that the basis of my disagreement is that Liberian law provides that no two persons from the same county shall serve as senior officials of a political party.

I did not oppose Henry Fahnbulleh before his election or during his election because I was not aware of this law at that time; I opposed him after his election. And it is because of this provision of Liberian law that Henry Fahnbulleh eventually resigned, not because Sable Mining gave him a bribe directly or through me or Sherman & Sherman.”

‘Reckless Disregard for the Truth’

Describing the report as a “reckless disregard for the truth”, Cllr. Sherman admitted that on at least two or three occasions Global Witness did seek a response to its allegations before they eventually published their Report on Wednesday, 11 May. However, he said both he and his law firm are prohibited by law from revealing client-attorney dealings.

“Just as I told Global Witness, I now wish to tell you too. I am a professional lawyer and whatever I and/or Sherman & Sherman did or did not do for Sable Mining, we did in our capacity as their lawyers.

Consequently, I and Sherman & Sherman are prohibited by law and the Liberian Constitution from divulging to anyone what we did for Sable Mining or did not do for Sable Mining when we served as their lawyers in Liberia in 2010.

Our code of professional ethics and the Liberian Constitution prohibits us from making any such disclosures and we will subscribe to those tenets even if we were to be taken to the gallows to be hanged; this is the standard of legal professionalism we took an Oath to uphold and we shall uphold it forever.”

Cllr. Sherman dismissed suggestions that he was hired by Sable to secure one of Liberia’s last large mining assets, the Wologozi iron ore concession in northern Liberia.

“That is not true; Sable Mining hired Sherman & Sherman, and therefore me, to provide legal services to them in respect of their interest in agricultural and mineral business in Liberia; and we performed those tasks very diligently and honestly. I wonder how could Global Witness have known the purpose for which Sable Mining hired Sherman & Sherman?”

Cllr. Sherman said he did not tell Sable Mining that in order to obtain the contract the company (Sable Mining) must first get Liberia’s concession law changed by bribing senior government officials.

“This is not true and there is absolutely no basis for this assertion. Global Witness claims that it relies on “sources closely familiar with the discussions” but Global Witness never disclosed the names of those sources.

Global Witness claimed that its account is “backed up by leaked emails and company documents seen by Global Witness” but none of these leaked emails and company documents was described in their Report in order for an independent person to verify them.

We categorically deny this fabrication; we would have never ever violated Liberian law and placed any such discussions in “emails or company documents”, which could be easily exposed to Global Witness or any other investigators.

Global Witness also said Jonathan Gant, its Senior Campaigner said that “Sable Mining and Sherman paid bribes to change Liberia’s law and get their hands on one of the most prized assets, the Wologizi concession”; and this is another fabrication, which has no basis whatsoever.”

Cllr. Sherman said Wologizi was never considered by him or anybody else in the mineral industry to be a prized asset of Liberia; besides, in 2010 or thereabouts because Liberia had not offered Wologizi for the purpose of a concession.

“Even the Liberia Government, in its written reaction to the Global Witness Report, said in part, that “However, we wish to clarify that the government of Liberia has never initiated, commissioned, nor participated in any process for granting a concession of the Wologizi Mountains to Sable.”

Certainly, there was no basis for the outrageous allegation made by Global Witness. Why would Sable Mining, with my assistance, have to bribe Liberian Government officials for a mineral deposit that was never considered by the Liberian Government for a concession?”