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Doubt casts over Liberian lawyers

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-LNBA reacts to U.S sanctions against Cllr. Sherman

Liberian National Bar Association (LNBA) president Cllr. Tiawon Gongloe says the United States Treasury Department’s decision to sanction one of Liberia’s brilliant lawyers, Cllr. Senator H. Varney G. Sherman has cast doubt over all Liberian lawyers, warning that they all may be presumed the same if self – cleansing isn’t done.

“Nobody in the Bar feels good about this decision because it casts doubt over all Liberian lawyers, and he’s one of our brilliant lawyers, many people are following him, he’s a role model for lot of lawyers in terms of the knowledge of the law and all of that,” Cllr. Gongloe told an interview with judicial reporters Tuesday, 26 January.

During the interview, Cllr. Gongloe differs with the reaction made against the U.S. Treasury Department by the Liberian Judiciary which claims that the information contained in the statement issued by the US Treasury Department is insufficient to serve as a basis for sanction against Sherman and the referenced judicial actors.

Cllr. Gongloe warns that rather than being more protective, Liberians should be introspective, do a lot of soul – searching and see what is possible to make them look good as a country.

“All of us in the legal profession, in the civil society, in the government, it is about how we look collectively to the world. It is about our collective security, our development. If one of the shining stars in the legal profession is perceived this way, that is not good for us,” Cllr. Gongloe explains.

“We have to be honest to ourselves that the United States and its organs … are better equipped for evidence than we are,” Cllr. Gongloe argues.

He argues that this decision did not come from the State Department which speaks politically. Instead, Cllr. Gongloe notes that it is the Treasury Department which is a technical department, urging that when something comes from the Treasury Department, it must be taken more seriously than even the State Department.

The LNBA president states that he cannot say that the U.S. Treasury Department acted without evidence, a contrast to the Liberian Judiciary’s reaction to the U.S. institution’s sanctions against Sherman and others.

He notes that the Treasury Department acted within the confines of the law, thus advising all lawyers in Liberia including Justices, Judges and everyone to police and guide themselves because the world is watching them on a daily basis, especially with the internet service available.

Cllr. Gongloe reminds Liberian authorities of how the past government of imprisoned former President Charles Ghankay Taylor was challenging the U.S. and the United Nations to show evidence to back their claim about Taylor’s involvement in neighboring Sierra Leone’s war.

“The government at that time was saying: Where is the evidence? Where are the satellite footages showing people crossing from Liberia to Sierra Leone? That argument did not hold water. It didn’t change anything,” Cllr. Gongloe recalls. He notes that the international community went ahead through the special court and indicted Taylor, tried and convicted him.

But he says everyone is being watched, and therefore cautions all lawyers in Liberia to be careful because the world is smaller than one may think.

“There are too many things that can record, just don’t do anything wrong because there’s no secret in public office or in the practice of law. Whatever you do wrong will leak out, so let us be ethical,” Cllr. Gongloe cautions.

On 10 December 2020, the U.S. reported that Senator Sherman who chairs the Liberian Senate Judiciary Committee, offered bribes to multiple judges associated with his trial for a 2010 bribery scheme, accusing him further of having an undisclosed conflict of interest with the judge who ultimately returned a not guilty verdict in July 2019.

The U.S. report indicated that Senator Sherman was hired by a British mining company in an effort to obtain one of Liberia’s last remaining mining assets, the Wologizi iron ore concession during which he advised the company that, in order to obtain the contract, they first had to get Liberia’s procurement and concessions law changed by bribing senior officials.

Reflected in the report also is a case concerning a 2016 indictment of Sherman by the Liberian government, along with several other government officials, for their involvement in the USD $950,000 bribery scheme.

Three years later in 2019, the report states that the presiding judge acquitted all individuals accused of being involved in the bribery scheme, and adds that Sherman’s acts of bribery demonstrate a larger pattern of behavior to exercise influence over the Liberian judiciary and the Ministry of Justice.

But Liberia’s judicial branch of government insists that the information contained in the statement issued by the US Treasury Department is insufficient to serve as a basis for sanction against the referenced judicial actors here, weeks after Senator the US placed sanction against Senator H. Varney G. Sherman for bribing judges. By Winston W. Parley

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