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US freezes Varney Sherman’s assets

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-for bribery & corruption

Liberia’s renowned lawyer and senator, Harry Varney Gboto-Nambi Sherman may not be a happy man, as the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctions him for corruption and bribery, blocking his assets.

In a report issued Wednesday, 10 December in Washington, marking observance of International Anti-Corruption Day, the OFAC notes that Senator Sherman, who chairs the Liberian Senate Judiciary Committee, offered bribes to multiple judges associated with his trial for a 2010 bribery scheme, and he had an undisclosed conflict of interest with the judge who ultimately returned a not guilty verdict in July 2019.

“Sherman has routinely paid judges to decide cases in his favor, and he has allegedly facilitated payments to Liberian politicians to support impeachment of a judge who has ruled against him”, the report notes.

It continues that in the 2010 scheme that led to this trial, 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.

The report also documents that in 2016, Sherman was indicted by the Liberian government, along with several other government officials, for their involvement in the USD 950,000 bribery scheme, and that three years later in 2019, the presiding judge acquitted all individuals accused of being involved in the bribery scheme, noting that Sherman’s acts of bribery demonstrate a larger pattern of behavior to exercise influence over the Liberian judiciary and the Ministry of Justice.

“Sherman is designated for being a foreign person who is a current or former government official responsible for or complicit in, or directly or indirectly engaged in, corruption, including the misappropriation of state assets, the expropriation of private assets for personal gain, corruption related to government contracts or the extraction of natural resources, or bribery.”

The report on Senator Sherman is part of a wider action taken by against several corrupt individuals in Africa and Asia, respectively with serious consequences for their activities.

The Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control is targeting corrupt actors and their networks across several countries in Africa and Asia. It says Wednesday’s actions are taken pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13818, which builds upon and implements the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act that targets perpetrators of corruption and serious human rights abuse.

“On International Anti-Corruption Day, Treasury remains fully committed to imposing costs on those who facilitate corruption at the expense of the people,” said Deputy Secretary Justin G. Muzinich.

“To raise public awareness for anti-corruption initiatives, International Anti-Corruption Day has been observed annually on December 9 since the United Nations General Assembly adopted the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) on October 31, 2003. There are currently 187 States parties to the UNCAC. In addition to sending a message against corrupt behavior, Treasury uses its tools to increase transparency, accountability, and the rule of law. With these designations, Treasury encourages all governments to implement anti-money laundering reforms to address corruption vulnerabilities.”

It says as a result of Wednesday’s action, all property and interests in property of persons involved, including Senator Sherman that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons are blocked and must be reported to OFAC. Besides, any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by one or more blocked persons are also blocked.

“Unless authorized by a general or specific license issued by OFAC, or otherwise exempt, OFAC’s regulations generally prohibit all transactions by U.S. persons or within (or transiting) the United States that involve any property or interests in property of designated or otherwise blocked persons. The prohibitions include the making of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services by, to, or for the benefit of any blocked person or the receipt of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services from any such person.”

UN Secretary-GeneralAntónioGuterres, in a statement Wednesday, lamented that corruption drains resources from people who need them, undermines trust in institutions, exacerbates the vast inequalities exposed by the coronavirus, and hinders a strong recovery, saying, “We cannot allow stimulus funds and vital emergency resources to be diverted.”

Mr. Guterres says recovery from the pandemic must include measures to prevent and combat corruption and bribery. “We need broad partnerships to strengthen oversight, accountability and transparency, building on the global anti-corruption tools provided by the United Nations Conventions against Corruption.”

He says action against corruption should be part of broader national and international reforms and initiatives to strengthen good governance, tackle illicit financial flows and tax havens, and return stolen assets, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals, and emphasizes, “We must take the opportunity for ambitious reforms and initiatives at the first-ever General Assembly special session against corruption next year.”

Senator Sherman has not commented officially on the report that has dragged his public image and reputation into the mud. Story by Jonathan Browne

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