Sen. Sherman Under Siege: Liberia’s Ruling Party Obstructs Justice
Monrovia – It was no dummy drill for riot officers of the Police Support Unit of the Liberia National Police Monday – on how to control a rowdy crowd.
Clad in full-riot gears to beef up a team of investigators from the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) and the Ministry of Justice, the Congo Town residence of Grand Cape County Senator, Cllr. Varney Sherman, was a scene of commotion as partisans of the Unity Party sought to prevent LACC investigators from implementing a reported search, seizure and arrest warrant for the corporate lawyer who is needed to be questioned by the Special Presidential Taskforce in the wake of the recent report of corruption by Global Witness.
Cllr. Sherman is wanted by the Presidential Task Force to answer questions relating to the Global Witness report which alleges that more than US$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.
According to the report entitled – The Deceivers – Sable wanted to get the concession rights to Liberia’s Wologizi iron ore. Sherman, who is also chairman of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s 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 has said he will not submit to the Task Force probing the scandal, slamming the report as a “reckless disregard” for the truth.
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.
“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.
A copy of the Writ of Search obtained by FrontPageAfrica reads:
You are hereby commanded to search from 0600 to 1800 hours the Sherman and Sherman, Inc, a Law Firm operating in Liberia located on 17th Street & Cheeseman Avenue, Sinkor, Monrovia and the Residence of Cllr. H. Varney G. Sherman located in Congo Town Monrovia, Liberia for the purpose of finding thereat communications(print and electronic, report in any form or manner of disbursement of funds received from Sable Mining toward the passage of the current Public Procurement and Concession Commission Act as reported in the Global Witness Report of May 2016; Computers & Laptops used to communicate and/or generate reports from Sable Mining are believed to be kept.
This Writ of Search and Secure Warrants is based on the Application and oath of the Ministry of Justice/Presidential Task Force on Global Witness Report.
You are further commanded that upon discovery of the said items to bring them before this honourable court in keeping with law and make you official returns endorsed at the back of this Writ as to the form and manner of services thereof; for so doing. This shall constitute your legal and sufficient authority.
Given under our hands and seal of court this 23rd day of May A.D. 2016
Clerk of Court, Monrovia City Court
The report says the officials who allegedly received bribes include Speaker of the Liberian House of Representatives Alex Tyler: $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 $50,000 for “consulting fees”, and Willie Belleh, Chairman of Public Procurement and Concessions Commission allegedly received $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.
Gant said Global Witness knows the payments were made, but it cannot say who the individuals were.
The report also alleges that President Sirleaf’s son, Fombah Sirleaf, who is director of Liberia’s National Security Agency also benefited with “a $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 $5,000 each for “consulting fees”. It said Tolbert, Belleh, Kupee, and Wotorson all denied taking bribes from Sable.
Sherman Not Here, Gatekeeper Says
On Monday, the LACC also visited the home of Representative Henry Fahnbulleh, who was not home. Residents told the investigative team that the lLawmaker had gone to work.
The anti-corruption body appearance at the home of the two lLLawmakers comes amid a Presidential Taskforce setup by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to probe the Global Witness report, linking Cllr. Varney Sherman, Representative Henry Fahnbulleh and several former and present officials of government to acts of corruption in a bid to acquire the Wologizi Mountain.
The gatekeeper of Cllr. Sherman’s Compound, identified only as Blackie, told the LACC officers his boss had left for the Law Firm. Following an intensive interrogation by the LACC team, his tongue changed, saying the Senator was at in a meeting on Jamaica Road, Somalia Drive.
It is reported that the LACC had a writ of arrest for probable cause while the Ministry of Justice went with a writ of search and seizure.
Hell broke loose when partisans of the Unity Party in support of Cllr. Sherman arrived at the residence of their political leader preventing the LACC and the PSU from implementing the court order.
The angry partisans barricaded the gate of their political leader with vehicles to prevent the Police from entering the compound of their chairman.
Many partisans of the Unity Party have described the action of the taskforce as witch-hunt, threatening to expel the President from the party.
Some of the partisans believed that their chairman will not appear before a taskforce, saying if anyone has problem with Cllr. Sherman, they should go to court with watertight evidence.
Wilmot Paye, Secretary General of the Party says officers barricading the home of a citizen are quite unusual. “It is not a matter of resisting,” he says. “And what is important is that this country, 168 years old, is a country that championed the cause of democracy and the rule of law on the continent of Africa and this is an embarrassment to the perpetrator and those behind it.”
Quizzed whether he has had any contact with the standard bearer of the party amid the barricade of Senator Sherman’s home, Paye said every leader in the party is concerned. The Unity party SG has had rough edges with President Sirleaf following the 2014 Senatorial election when the party refused to support the senatorial ambition of the son of President Sirleaf, Robert a. Sirleaf.
“We are representing the interest of the UP. We will follow the process. As you know, the Police is a law enforcement body of the security sector. We are here because an alarm is being blown and this is an unusual scene and what I can say to you is that the UP remains unbending and that will be shown in 2017.”
At the posh law firm of Sherman & Sherman, sheriffs of the court were also prevented by employees of the firm from implementing a reported search and seizure warrant to search the office of Cllr. Sherman.
Task Force Has ‘No Legitimacy’ UP Weighs in
Like the partisans, some UP lLLLawmakers have also questioned the procedure used to get Cllr. Sherman. Representative Mariamu Fofana of Lofa County says the taskforce has no legitimacy to investigate those accused in the Global Witness report.
“From the legislative point of view we are questioning the legitimacy of the taskforce that was constituted by the President,” she says.
“We believe that there are legitimate institutions in this country clothed with the authority to do investigation whenever there are allegations of misconduct or when there are allegations of corruption.”
“I want everyone to be patient and live within the confines of the law. I support my chairman—I support Varney Sherman in whatsoever stance that he takes. I believe that he is innocent and I think we should all allow that to stand until he is proven guilty or otherwise,” she said.
Representative Clarence Massaquoi(Bong County), says he believes that members of the first branch of government can only be arrested if their crimes bordered on security.
“I don’t know whether this issue falls in that category. Cllr. Sherman is not just a member of the ruling Unity Party, he is also a member of the Legislature and I am sure this will also draw the attention of the entire legislature and I am certain that there will be a position.
“I came to observe as a partisan and also as a member of the first branch of government. And unless I see an arrest warrant I cannot say this is an arrest scene. Constitutionally there are immunities that cover members of the first branch of government and Sherman is no exception.”
Article 42 of the Liberian constitution states: “No member of the Senate or House of Representatives shall be arrested, detained, prosecuted or tried as a result of opinions expressed or votes cast in the exercise of the functions of his office.
Members shall be privileged from arrest while attending, going to or returning from sessions of the Legislature, except for treason, felony or breach of the peace. All official acts done or performed and all statements made in the Chambers of the Legislature shall be privileged, and no Legislator shall be held accountable or punished therefor.”
Edwin Genoway – [email protected]; Henry Karmo, [email protected]