Liberia: Justice Minister, SG’s Conflict of Interest Likely to Taint Sable Mining Bribery Case
Monrovia – FrontPageAfrica has uncovered a major attempt to cover-up and throw into the dustbin, one of the biggest corruption scandals of the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf era. The controversial Sable Mining bribery saga dubbed Big Boy I & Big Boy II may not see the light of day amid serious issues of conflict of interest involving the recently nominated Solicitor General and the current Minister of Justice Musa Dean, who were both lawyers those accused in the bribery scandal.
Report by Rodney D. Sieh, [email protected]
The coverup play is likely to undermine ongoing efforts by President George Manneh Weah’s government to convince international stakeholders that his administration is serious about eradicating graft.
A team from the International Monetary Fund(IMF) is currently in Monrovia in discussion with the administration which has endorsed an IMF program for Liberia as the government tightens screws to revamp the failing economy.
The team’s latest report suggests that the near- and medium-term outlook under the baseline scenario remains challenging. “Growth is projected to slow further to about 0.4 percent in 2019 and remain below 2 percent into the medium-term.
Cephas’ Confirmation Tied to Case?
FPA has learned that the team which prosecuted the Sable Mining case is being undermined so that those already indicted could walk.
Justice Minister Dean was lawyer for Cllr. H. Varney Sherman, one of the indictees in the case and quite recently the chief prosecutor of the Sable Mining case, Cllr Daku Mulbah was replaced by one of the Defense lawyers for Sherman, Cllr Cyrenius Cephas as Solicitor General of the Republic of Liberia. In essence, the county attorney who should be the new chief prosecutor is now one of the defense lawyers for Andrew Groves, the prime suspect in the bribery saga.
Ironically, Sherman is head of the Senate Judiciary Committee which has the final say in whether Cephus is confirmed. Multiple sources have confirmed to FPA that Sherman has laid out a condition that the case be over with before Cephas confirmation is sealed.
An affidavit on behalf of Groves signed by Cllr. Cephus, quotes the SG designate 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.”
In June 2016, a grand jury indicted the chief executive officer of the London AIM-listed Sable Mining, Andrew Groves, in connection with an alleged bribery scandal involving several senior Liberian officials.
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf had ordered an inquiry into Sable’s attempt to acquire an iron ore concession in northern Liberia after the watchdog group Global Witness made accusations of wrong-doing in a report.
In January 2017, former Minister of Lands Mines and Energy (LME) Eugene Shannon, a renowned geologist, E.C.B. Jones who served as deputy for operations to Shannon at LME, former chairman of the Public Procurement Concession Commission (PPCC) Willie Belleh and Morris Saytumah who served as former Minister of State for Political Legal & Economic Affairs joined a long list of indictees that also including Senator Varney Sherman, who previously served as chair of the former ruling party and former Speaker Alex Tyler.
Shannon and Jones were later identified as the masked “Big Boy 1” and “Big Boy 2” mentioned in the report who allegedly received US$250,000 each to catalyze tweaking of Liberia’s Public Procurement Concession Commission (PPCC) to shortchange the government in favor of UK-based Sable Mining which sole intent was to gain easy franchise to the iron ore deposits in the Wologihzi Mountain.
Evidence presented to the court last January showed that Andrew Groves and Klaus Piprek who were at the forefront of establishing Sable Mining in Liberia and ensuring that it gained access to Wologizhi came to Liberia on April 14, 2010 on a private jet, Flight #S000, aircraft ZSLAC, from South Africa and flew to Liberia as special guests of the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy. Aboard that plane, Groves carried a vanity case which he displayed inflight as containing US$500,000.
The money, according to the evidence submitted by the prosecution, was intended to instigate what would become the largest bribery conspiracy in the history of Liberia.
FrontPageAfrica gathered that the US$500,000 brought into Liberia was to allegedly paid to Shannon and Jones during a private dinner at Shannon’s home.
The April 2010 to March 2011 ledger of the Liberian Iron Ore Investment Ltd, a Liberian subsidiary of Sable Mining, showed that Groves paid US$500,000 in cash to “Big Boy 1” and “Big Boy 2” with each pocketing US$250,000.
GW’s 2016 report had detailed bribes and questionable payments from Sable Mining in Liberia totaling almost US$1 Million.
GW Wants Sable’s Stock Exchange Plea Denied
Groves’ lawyer and fixer Sherman emailed him a spreadsheet of such ‘facilitation’ payments and Groves continued sending funds to his man. Groves was also accused by the Liberian Task force of bribing the mining minister and his deputy US$250, 000 in hard cash each (denied by the officials in question). And there were more disturbing undercurrents: GW’s report revealed how the duo’s agents intimidated and hacked rivals, leaving some in fear of their lives –allegations Edmonds and Groves said were groundless.
In his affidavit to the Liberian Supreme Court in January, Groves acknowledged having received the bribes spreadsheet, but said he “did not review the contents,” having delegated authority to Sable Mining’s local staff. “Sable Mining and Andrew S. Groves are innocent victims,” Groves insisted.
After being contacted about the contentious public statement, Groves’ spokesman said: “Mr. Groves and Sable Mining always maintained that they had not acted in an improper or illegal manner, and the Liberian authorities have now reached the same conclusion.”
The spokesman would not say who conducted the purported review, nor provide GW with a copy. He added that Edmonds was no longer a shareholder and said neither man had acted illegally or unethically at any time. “We consider this matter as now closed,” he said.
Last week, Global Witness called on the London Stock Exchange to Bar Dodgy Sable Mining after authorities in Liberia denied Grove’s claims that the charges had been dropped.
Cllr. J. Fonati Koffa, who oversaw the Liberian task force charged with investigating the bribery allegations until early January 2017, told Global Witness that the charges have not been dropped. Cllr. Koffa is now head of Liberia’s House of Representatives Judiciary Committee. “This is a blatant and utter lie,” he said.
The former Task Force Chief added: “There is no comprehensive investigation I am aware of that exonerated these people. As former chairman of the task force I would have been notified.” Both a senior official still involved with the prosecution and Liberia’s deputy information minister Eugene Fahngon also told Global Witness they were unaware of any review. Groves’ statement had claimed all charges against him and Sable were “irrevocably dropped”. Mr. Koffa acknowledged a nolle prosequi – a decision to drop charges without necessarily conceding innocence – had been filed.
Global Witness said when Groves set up Sable Mining with former England spin-bowler Phil Edmonds they were lauded as “resource rock-stars”. But it was forced to delist from London’s loosely-governed junior stock exchange, Aim, after a 2016 Global Witness report The Deceivers revealed the pair had bribed senior Liberian politicians and scammed investors—allegations the duo strongly denied.
Prosecutors Buying Time; Judge Submits
Mr. Groves is now hoping Sable’s Zimbabwe mining assets will be relisted on the main London Stock Exchange through another company, Contango Holdings. No doubt mindful of this goal, he issued a public statement in February announcing the exoneration of himself and Sable Mining, now renamed Consolidated Growth Holdings. The statement announced there had been a “comprehensive review by the Liberian authorities” into the charges. Giving the impression of quoting from this purported review, it claimed the review concluded: “Sable Mining and Andrew Groves had not ‘in any form, manner or shape interacted with any public official within the Liberian Government in an improper or illegal manner’.” But according to a senior Liberian official this is untrue.
On Tuesday, Prosecutors sought yet another delay of the case humbly requesting Judge Peter Gbeneweleh, Assigned Circuit Judge Presiding at the Criminal Court C for a third continuance, this time, claiming that the Ministry of Justice was boggled down with issues relating to the last Friday June 7 protest.
Judge Gbeneweleh ruled: “Prosecution, again asked for a week adjournment for reason that the Ministry of Justice was overwhelmed with national issues of security concerns because of the June 7, 2019 protest in Liberia. The submission was again resisted but was reluctantly granted by the court. The case was therefore assigned for hearing on today, Wednesday, June 12, 2019. At 9am. At the call of this case for hearing, Prosecution, for the third time, prayed this court for continuance on Monday, June 17, 2019, on ground that the aid memoir drafted by the ministry of justice will determine the next course of action during the period of the continuance and this matter will be proceeded wit according to law. Counsel for Defendants resisted this submission strongly but prayed this court to use its discretion.”
In an earlier appeal on June 5, 2019, Prosecutors requested the court for a continuance, which was granted by this court. “Prosecution then among other things informed court that the reason for the continuance was against the backdrop hat the aid memoir that was drafted as the way forward in these proceedings was forward being fully cognizant that these proceedings commence as far back as 2016 and that this case is before this Honorable Court on a trial De novo and if prosecution is to take a different course of action, it reliance would be on Aid Memoir.”
In granting the third continuance, the judge ruled: “Wherefore and in view of the foregoing, Prosecution humbly prays Your Honor and this Honorable to grant Prosecution’s application for a continuance in these proceedings to Monday June 17, 2019, at a time to be determined by Your Honor and respectively submits.”
Defense lawyers have argued that from 2016 to 2019, a little over two years now, the prosecution has been unnecessarily asking for time claiming that they are involved in a state matter and therefore need additional time. “Counsel further says that this case was prosecuted by a Special Task Force, headed by Cllr. J. Fonati Kofa and that witnesses that testified for and on behalf of the Prosecution are still within the bailiwick of this country. So, there is no reason why the Prosecution will continue to ask for time, suggesting that they are prepared an aid memoir to determine whether or not to proceed with the trial of this case. Counsel says that the reason given by Prosecution to have this case continue is not supported by law and it is not also supported by the fact.”
Another Dean Client Got Off in Similar Fashion
The continuance and delays in the Sable case draws similarity to another case in which the current Justice Minister Dean was involved, the corruption case involving Matilda Parker, former Managing Director of the National Port Authority.
In April, the Criminal Court ‘C’ freed Parker and her comptroller, Christina Paelay, on corruption charges of awarding a falsified wreck removal contract for US$800,000 to Denmar Martin Flomo of Denmar Enterprises.
Madams Parker and Paelay were freed due to state lawyers’ inability to ensure the appearance of several witnesses, who were to testify against the defendants; thereby leaving the judge with no option, but to drop the multiple corruption charges against them.
The charges included economic sabotage, theft of property and criminal conspiracy. “We have reached out to our principal witnesses that we intend to use in these proceedings, and having contacted them, because their testimonies are germane and cogent to the proceeds. In the eleventh hour, we noticed that the witnesses were inconspicuously absent in the courtroom, and that every effort made to establish contact with them yielded no fruitful result,” prosecutors explained to Judge Boima Kontoe.
The state lawyers further argued, “we are reminded that these proceedings, which were sent back to this court to start a new trial, should never be delayed by any party as to effect the end of justice.”
Immediately after the prosecution’s application for postponement of the case on grounds that they cannot locate and or identify their witnesses, Judge Boima Kontoe said, “given the history of the case dating far back as the first quarter of 2015, the court views the application to be frivolous.”
FrontPageAfrica has learned that the Sable case is headed for a similar end as prosecutors continue to push for delays and continuance, leaving the judge with no alternative but to throw the case out as Cllr. Cephas intensifies his confirmation push.