The Government of Liberia has issued a search and arrest warrant for Senator Varney G. Sherman, Chairman of President Ellen Johnson’s governing Unity Party in connection with a recent Global Witness Report, linking him and several current and ex-officials to a bribery scandal with Sable Mining of Britain.
According to the report, Sable Mining offered a bribe of US$950,000 to several Liberian officials to amend the country’s concession laws in its favor to exploit Mount Wologis in Lofa County, Northern Liberia.
President Sirleaf constituted an investigative taskforce headed by the Minister of State Without Portfolio Cllr. Jonathan Fonati Koffa, immediately following publication of the damning report in the press last week to probe the allegation.
But Cllr. Sherman, who is also Senior Senator for Grand Cape Mount County, has questioned the taskforce’s credibility and vehemently vowed that he will not present himself for interrogation except in court.
The UP Chairman narrowly escaped arrest Monday, 23 May when riot officers of the Police Support Unit or PSU accompanied four sheriffs from the court along with some members of the taskforce, including the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission, who had gone to serve the search and arrest warrant, deployed at his residence amidst strong resistance from his UP partisans, who barricaded the entrance to the house.
The team of investigators requested entry to the residence of Cllr. Sherman, but Unity Party partisans led by the party’s National Secretary General, Mr. Wilmot Paye and Youth Wing Chairman Amos Tweh, including others blocked the entrance to their chairman home with two vehicles (red jeep with Unity Party inscription and a private car) preventing the sheriffs from entering the premises. The writ also calls for the search of both the home and offices of Cllr. Sherman and his arrest.
Mr. Paye told reporters their action was predicated by the presence of huge troops of police officers and investigators at the UP Chairman’s residence, and to show support. He however cautioned youths of the party to remain calm and peaceful, adding that the best option is to go to court rather than succumbing to the Presidential taskforce. Partisans maintained that their chairman is not refusing to face justice, and if the government were determined enough to reach the outcome of the investigation, the matter should be sent to court.
According to them, the investigation is more political then legal, saying “We´ll resist the police, the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission or the Presidential Taskforce.” Until last evening, the taskforce was unable to execute the arrest or search the home and offices of Senator Sherman. Last week, both House Speaker Alex Tyler and Senator Varney Sherman remained defiant, insisting that they will not face the board of inquiry established by the President, though others accused in the report, including Senator Morris Saytumah of Bomi County and the ex-chairman of the National Investment Commission, Richard Tolbert have begun to submit themselves for interrogation.
Global Witness claimed to have also discovered other payments to unidentified officials only referred to as “Bigboy 01 and Bigboy 02.” In detailing the alleged financial scandal against the officials, the watchdog group disclosed that in 2010, Speaker Tyler was given US$75,000 as consulting fees; $50,000 to then NIC Boss Richard Tolbert; $50,000 to Morris Saytumah; and Willie Belleh, $10,000, respectively.
Commenting on Monday’s attempted arrest, the Youth Wing Chairman of the opposition Congress for Democratic Change, Jefferson Kojii said, the issuance of the writ of arrest and deployment of police at the home of Cllr. Sherman is unacceptable.
According to Kojii, Cllr. Jonathan Fonati Koffa, who heads the taskforce, lacks moral grounds to investigate anything that has to do with corruption or scandal. Report gathered by this paper indicates that some PSU officers along with sheriffs from the court went to the home of Speaker Alex Tyler to serve his arrest warrant, but the Speaker had reportedly left for Ghana.
It is believed that the investigative committee is awaiting his return to the country to execute the arrest. Meanwhile, the Special Presidential Task Force to probe the Global Witnesses corruption report has threatened to arrest any citizen who obstructs justice by any kind of violence.
The Task Force head, Cllr. J. Fonati Koffa, Yesterday at the house of the Unity party Chairman Varney Sherman, claimed that patricians of the Unity Party were seen in a demonstrative mood in order to resist the arrest chairman Sherman.
Speaking at a hastily arranged news conference at the Information Ministry yesterday, Cllr. Koffa noted that they (he and members of the Task Force) were working in concert with the motto: “without fear or favor”, emphasizing that the Task Force will bring to justice anyone found guilty of the allegations.
He also claimed that some people have voluntarily turned themselves over to the task force for investigation, including house Speaker Alex Tyler. He indicated that by 5am on May 23, 2016, a search warrant was taken to the office of Cllr. Sherman, as well as his residence in Congo Town.
Liberia Anti Corruption Commission Chairman James Verdier also boasted that the task force has added more weight to the LACC, stressing that the LACC was working in line with the group to ensure that those involved are prosecuted if the necessary evidences are produced against them.
“Everyday Liberians cry that they want Justice, so the LACC and the task force will not sit down and allow those who were allegedly involved in the scandal to changing the National’s law to go unpunished. No one is above the law; and everyone should abide by it and all citizens accused will be treated equally by the law,” said the LACC Chairman.
By Bridget Milton & By Ethel A. Tweh