Global Witness Bribery Saga: Liberia Accused Invited For Questioning

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Monrovia – Despite some resistance against the scope of its work and lack of trust issues raised by some of those named, the Special Task Force set up by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf to probe allegations of bribery in a report by the London-based watchdog group, Global Witness, alleging that over $950,000 in bribes and other suspicious payments were made to top Liberian officials by the United Kingdom-based Sable Mining company and its Liberian lawyer, Varney Sherman; is pressing ahead.

Late Tuesday, FrontPageAfrica gathered that the Task Force had sent out invitation letters to several current and former officials named in the report.

The Task Force according to source has notified each of those named that they are subject to probe after the report linked several of them to alleged bribery and other criminal conducts. “In execution of our mandate, a full-scale investigation into the matter has commenced,” a source closed to the investigation told FrontPageAfrica Tuesday.

FrontPageAfrica has learned that the accused have been asked to appears on Wednesday at 1:00pm at the Ministry of Justice with their counsel to answer the charges in the report as any statement made voluntarily in the absence of such counsel may be used against them in a court of law.

The report released last week, entitled – The Deceivers alleged that the UK-based Sable wanted to get the concession rights to Liberia’s Wologizi iron ore.

Sherman, the chairman of the ruling Unity Party allegedly told Sable Mining that in order to get the contract, the company must first offer bribes to senior officials to change Liberia’s concession laws.

Sherman insists the report is flawed and a “reckless disregard” for the truth. He has rejected calls to cooperate with the Task Force under orders of the President.

“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,” Sherman said.

Sherman also said he and his law firm are prohibited by law and the Liberian constitution from divulging to anyone what they did for Sable Mining when they served as the company’s lawyers in Liberia in 2010.

Sherman’s resistance has heightened existing strains between him and the President.

Augustine Ngafuan, a former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Finance, in a FrontPageAfrica interview Tuesday slammed the friction and urged Sherman and all those linked to the probe to submit to the investigation.

Said Mr. Ngafuan: “See what is going to unfold. Now, see some of the conversations that are happening, you know. Standard Bearer takes a position, the party chairman takes a position and all these things are in public. When I talk about exclusion, it’s not just me. There are a lot of people, the elders of the party, where is the John Bestman?

Where is the Dr. Clarke? Where are the brainchildren of this project? How are they being consulted in these things?”

Mr. Ngafuan said the strains do not bode well for the sitting government and the GW report has heighten the tension but still things those named should submit to the probe. “I will ask all the parties involved, whatever that can be done to create the perception of justice, fairness and what have you, let us ensure that.

You know the parties are talking, I would think that reason should prevail over emotions because justice need to be done but as we also try to show that justice is done, we should make sure that this process is fair, it is equitable and it is transparent, it is perceived as fair also.”

On Monday, the Speaker of the House of Representatives also raise protest against the Task Force, Mr. Alex Tyler (UP-Bomi), says he is willing to make himself available to an investigation into the recent revelations detailing allegations of bribery as unravelled by the London-based watchdog group, Global Witness in a bid to safeguard the integrity of his office and the entire Legislative branch of Government.

In a statement Monday, Speaker Tyler however alarmed that in order to lend credibility to the process, he is proposing that an independent panel outside of government, with representation of the Press Union of Liberia, Civil Society, Inter-Religious Council, Liberia National Bar Association and others be constituted, to launch an immediate inquest in to the alleged bribery scandal, to ascertain the veracity of the claims in the Global Witness Report.

“I shall avail myself to any such body to safeguard the integrity of my office and that of the entire Legislative Branch of Government, “the Speaker said.

But former Minister Ngafuan says both the Speaker and Cllr. Sherman should cooperate with the probe. “I’m not a lawyer; my former chairman is a lawyer.

He may be more versed with the law than I am. The Speaker he is also a lawyer I think he graduated from the University of Liberia law school and some of us I trying to follow them in terms of what laws they are preaching but let me say this.

Justice needs to be served no matter who is involved. Also I take it that the process needs to be fair, transparent and perceived to be fair and transparent.

Now whatever that can be done to ensure that justice is done should be done. Whatever that can be done to ensure that the process is fair, transparent and perceived to be fair and transparent should also be done.”

The report says the officials who allegedly received bribes include Speaker of the Liberian House of Representatives Alex Tyler:  US$75,000 for “consulting fees” and Richard Tolbert, chairman of the National Investment Committee:  $50,000 for “consulting fees”.

Morris Saytumah, Minister of State for Finance, Economic and Legal Affairs, now a senator, also allegedly received US$50,000 for “consulting fees”, and Willie Belleh, Chairman of Public Procurement and Concessions Commission allegedly received US$10,000 for “consulting fees”.

Two of the biggest payments went to persons identified in the report as “Bigboy 01” and “Bigboy 02”, each receiving $250,000 with no explanation of why the payments were made.

The report also alleges that President Sirleaf’s son, Fombah Sirleaf, who is director of Liberia’s National Security Agency also benefited with “a US$7,598 hunting trip to South Africa paid for by Sable.”

Others mentioned in the report include Senator Sumo Kupee and Cletus Wotorson – both allegedly receiving US$5,000 each for “consulting fees”. At least 3 officials deny allegations

It said Tolbert, Belleh, Kupee, and Wotorson all denied taking bribes from Sable.

The Liberian government said it has asked Global Witness to make available all evidence connected with this report and the watchdog group is cooperating and reportedly is providing additional evidences to aid the probe.

Jonathan Gant, senior campaigner on Liberia for Global Witness, says the organization has proof that payments were made.

“We have proof that the intention of the payments was to first get the law changed in order to second get the iron ore deal. And that was the advice given to the company by Sherman, their lawyer that they should get the law changed in order to get the contract.”

Gant says: “If it is found that they broke the law, Liberian government officials should be removed from office and prosecuted, while Sherman should be disbarred and also face criminal charges.”

Rodney D. Sieh, [email protected]

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