What was intended to be a major move by former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to redeem her administration’s hotly criticized laissez fair policy on corruption following reports about one of the biggest scandals during her tenure appeared to some citizens, particularly the alleged culprits, as a witch-hunt allegedly perpetrated by the former president to settle scores with her political opponents. The case had been lingering and dusting in the throes of complicated dynamics but it was recently given some impetus for the first time since the advent of the George Weah administration, and wounds created amongst the protagonists are seemingly recharged. Taking the witness stand a few days ago, one of the prime defendants in the case, Cllr Varney Sherman, with much venom descended on the original precursors—former President Sirleaf and her independent prosecutors—charging them with witch-hunt. He repudiated the charges against him and others. But the Special Prosecutor hired to oversee the case, Cllr Fonati Koffa, did not let inks to get dry on Cllr Sherman’s assertions before launching a powerful riposte. The Analyst reports.
At the dying days of the administration of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a major scandal alleging involving top officials of government was unveiled by a British integrity watchdog group, Global Witness.
The group reported that at least US$950,000 was dished out by a mining company, Sable Mining, to influence the passing of a major mining concession agreement between the company and Liberia.
The alleged culprits included then former and present officials of the Sirleaf administration. Cllr Varney Sherman was singled out by the report as playing a key role in the disbursement of the money.
While others thought that former President Sirleaf had awakened from lethargy in the fight against corruption—a fight she had long snored over—others said he actually was targeting Cllr Sherman, a former Chairperson of her former ruling Unity Party, who had become critical and fierce opponent at the latter days of her tenure.
It was not surprise that when Cllr Sherman took the witness Monday, July 1, he would empty his gut on what he had long conceived about the case and about the role the former President played.
On the witness stand, the Grand Cape Mount County Senator and Chair on Senate Committee on Judiciary, Claims and Petition said the entire care was a master plan by former President Sirleaf to get even with him on his stern stands against her policy.
He also did not stop at the former President, but included in the tirades the then Special Prosecutor of the case, Cllr Fonati Koffa, alleging that Koffa’s role bordered vendetta against him for discouraging the former President from appointing him (Koffa) as Minister of Justice.
According to Cllr Sherman, Cllr Koffa whom he said received US$4.5 million to prosecute the case lacks knowledge of the Liberian legal system and could not therefore properly handle the case.
Rep. Koffa Reacts
But the former Sable Mining case prosecutor has come out with his rebuttal to assertions made by Cllr Sherman on the witness stand.
Cllr. Koffa said during a well-attended press conference yesterday that he had refrained from making public comments in order to allow the legal process sail properly but was now constrained to address the public because it appeared “what is happening in the criminal court concerning the sable mining trial is not a normal practice of prosecution having the burden of prove and defense defending against the allegation.”
The asserted that the testimony of defendant Varney Sherman about the alleged bribery deviated and distracted from whether or not the 62 pieces of evidence entered in the record are in fact factual, but instead engaged in a “tarry of personal attacks and innuendo, political witch-hunt, massive money spending and inexperience”.
He said the case cannot be interpreted as a witch-hunt by the former government because it was rather the Global Witness that came up with a report alleging corruption, making several allegations against defendant Varney Sherman and a host other public officials.
The Grand Kru Representative clarified further: “President Sirleaf sent the matter to the solicitor general at the time, Betty Lamin, who was found conflicted because she had worked at Sherman and Sherman and in fact she has worked with this particular client before. The former Minister-designate, Cllr Fredrick Cherue, because of his close relationship with defendant Sherman. That is how the case got back to the assets recovery team in the form of Presidential Taskforce.”
Under Liberian law and practice when a member of an institution is conflicted in that case, Cllr Koffa said, “the entire Ministry of Justice is conflicted which was why an independent prosecution was given the case and all of the institutions of government succumbed to my supervision in order to investigate and prosecute that case.”
Rep Koffa debunked Cllr Sherman’s claims of witch hunt because, according to him, it was a foreign corruption watchdog group that reported the matter and the only Liberian person knew that global witness was writing a report was defendant Sherman, because he was the one that Global Witness contacted.
He said there is “no knowledge and no conspiracy with global witness,” adding, that the Guardians Newspaper wrote an admission from Sable Mining that they received an email from Cllr. Sherman entitled ‘Confidential’ about Sable Mining account with Sherman and asked only one copy only.
Cllr Koffa said Sable Mining admitted to the fact of their email, that they received this email listing a series of bribes that Cllr. Sherman allegedly paid $950,000 from account received by him and the amount paid.
He also recalled that Yahoo, a multi-million dollar American organization, produced information traced from Cllr. Sherman’s computer through Yahoo server in Indiana, the USA, to Sable Mining office computer IP addresses.
He displayed the pieces of evidence and said they be made available to any IT expert.
He added: “The BBC did a documentary “Little brother big secrete” which is available on their website on these same allegations, and that there are Sable Mining’s own admission not only receiving the email but that they shifted back to their local representative and the lawyer representing Sherman.
“The evidence in court right now shows defendant Sherman owns bank records of transactions made corresponding to the email sent,” Cllr Koffa said.
Responding to Cllr Sherman on the veracity of evidence leading to jury indictment, Cllr Koffa explained: “If everything that was submitted in the court and admitted into evidence after their stringiest fight to get the email not admitted to the Supreme Court later determined that they have to be marked and admitted into evidence; if that is not evidence then I don’t know what it is. Political witch-hunt, and a jury, grand jury of course the defendant and myself know that those evidences, but under our law every Liberian is equal before a grand jury and I was not in the room, but look at these pieces of evidence and they are the one that brought the indictment.”
He clarified that a grand jury of Liberian citizens, whose names he said court must release to be asked by journalists so, to prove that he was not in the jury room when the indictment was concluded.
“I was not in the room,” he said. “These were the things presented and they asked the judges how did you determine that these people are likely guilty of these crimes. I did not go to bring any handcuff to anyone house to say I am arresting you today for a crime without an indictment.”
Cllr. Koffa said the grand jury indicted Cllr Sherman and others and that he was not in the room neither was Madam Sirleaf in the room, when the jurors looked at the evidence, and at the end of it they said they looked at the evidence and they believed that a crime was committed so there is an indictment.
“With this, how can someone say they were illegally charge?” he quipped.
The asserted further: “The other allegation he made against me is the taskforce I headed received from Government US$4.5 million or $4.1 million. Cllr Sherman made some other innuendos outside of the court records and we can go back and force on that. I challenge Cllr. Sherman or anyone making this allegation to produce authentic government records to show that the taskforce under my supervision received US$4.5million to prosecute him.”
He further said said if the Taskforce had received $4.5million, it would have been justified and Cllr. Sherman will now be giving a testimony from south beach today.
“But I am telling you that I challenge them and the reason why this is important on the issue of $4.5million is because we have prosecutors and investigators day and night with their credibility on line,” Cllr Koffa said. “That I received $4.5 million is defamatory and slander on his face and I challenge Cllr. Sherman. I challenge anyone making those allegations to produce those records and let the Liberian government authenticate”
Cllr Koffa said the Sable Mining case from its very inception has been and is a critical hallmark the fight against corruption in Liberia and “it will continue to hunt us as long as a just verdict is brought down.”
“Yes, maybe somebody might walk away free tomorrow, but public knows, we know the fact; we know the evidence, no amount tirades in court will spare you. A crime was committed, a grand jury indicted, and a prosecutor brought to bed.”