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How Liberia’s President Entraps Her Political Foes: Accuse Them of Corruption

Washington D. C- When President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf took over a war-ravaged Liberia in 2006, she made one promise to the people that stuck and gave them hope that this was a new beginning for a country that has seen so much decadence and corruption. She promised to make corruption ‘Public Enemy Number One.’

But as the years went by Africa’s first woman President who became a darling of the West and garnered so much respect worldwide, became an accomplice to the same corruption that once haunted her predecessors, Samuel K. Doe, and Charles Taylor.

Since then President Sirleaf has either shielded corrupt public officials or participated in the act herself by appointing her children and friends to lucrative public positions without any remorse.

The President’s sons served in her government despite huge public outcry terming it as nepotism, something Mrs. Sirleaf accused her predecessors of.

The de facto Government of Liberia

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s adult Children: Charles, Robert, Fumba, Adama, and James Sirleaf on Inauguration day.  Charles is the deputy governor of the Central Bank of Liberia (the de facto governor); Robert is the de facto ‘prime minister,’ senior presidential advisor, custodian of the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL), and special envoy to heaven and earth; Fumba is director of the country’s National Security Agency, and James controls the family owned private bank ‘(International Bank, Liberia Limited) and other businesses in and outside of Liberia while Adama runs a series of family related ‘nonprofits’ that are supposedly meant to help Liberians. and Liberia

A recent investigation into the role of public officials in the Sirleaf-led administration by the international group Global Witness shows that the Sirleaf administration ran a cartel that pillaged the economy by seeking bribes from international concession companies to pass key legislation for the acquisition of important natural resource deposits.

The Global Witness report titled “The Deceivers” published on May 11, 2016 alleged that Sable Mining Africa, LTD acquired stake in Delta Mining, which was operating in Liberia, and devised a scheme and system to bribe officials of the Government of Liberia to change the procurement laws for Sable Mining to obtain prized mineral concessions are below market prices, principal of which of the Wologhzi mountain range in Lofa, County, Liberia.

President Sirleaf (right) with former House Speaker Tyler

The report revealed that Sable Mining could pay bribes and make other questionable payments to key official of the Liberian government through its lawyer, who happens to be a Senator in the Liberian Parliament and at the time was Chairman of the ruling party to which Sirleaf belonged.

The report alleged that Sable Mining officials themselves also made some of these payments directly amounting to bribes and questionable payment from all sources and this totaled a whooping nine hundred fifty thousand UNITED STATES DOLLARS (US$950,000).

The taskforce set up by the President to investigate the GW report has made some startling findings that points to a systematic pay-for-play organized by members of the Sirleaf-Unity Party-led administration.

In an interview with the Task Force led by former Chairman of the Liberty Party now head of the Presidential Task Force Fonati Koffa in South Africa on August 11, 2016, Hiene Van Niekerk, Africa Chairman and owner of Delta Mining a trail of how the bribes were made to senior Sirleaf officials was revealed.

Mr. Van Niekerk told investigators that Delta Mining and Sable Mining Africa entered a business arrangement in early 2010 and this arrangement was intended for Sable Mining to acquire Delta Mining per documents in our possession. Van Niekerk said Delta Mining told Sable Mining about Wologisi. He also gave the investigation copies of several documents including Application for Exploration License dated March 2010 submitted by Sable Mining and some business.

Mr. Van Niekerk said the then Chairman of the ruling Unity Party Cllr. Varney Sherman asked him to contribute of US$200,000 to the Party for its convention in 2010. Detailing the request of bribe from the UP strongman, Van Niekerk stated that he asked Cllr. Sherman whether it was legal to make such payment in Liberia and Sherman said “Yes”. Neikerk also admitted being recipient of several emails from Sherman and others, including email sent from Sherman on August 30, 2010 transmitting payments spreadsheet titled “State of Sable Mining’s Account with Sherman and Sherman” as at 30 June 2010.

Investigators have established that during the period 2010 through 2011, Sable transferred to Cllr. Sherman through his law firm Sherman & Sherman varying amounts for different purposes including unlawful payments.

“Of the amounts transferred Cllr. Sherman was instructed to pay and did pay an amount of four hundred forty thousand UNITED STATES DOLLARS in bribes and make other questionable and unlawful payments to influence officials of the Government of Liberia to change the PPCC laws by adding a non-bidding clause,” investigators states.

The task force allegedly established that Cllr. Varney Sherman sent a Financial Report dated June 30, 2010 under the caption “FOR EYES ONLY-ONE COPY ONLY” which was an expenditure report regarding funds transferred by Sable Mining Africa to Liberia and showing the illegal payments that were made in addition to other payments. Yet he claims he knows nothing.

Ruling Unity Party Chairman Varney Sherman (upper) and former House Speaker Alex Tyler (below)

Van Niekerk also told the investigators that former Lofa County Senator and now Managing Director of the Liberia Petroleum Refining Corporation (LPRC) Sumo Kupee in Lofa asked him during a meeting in Lofa County to erect a Merry-go-round for children playground in the county. During Senator Kupee’s meeting with investigator’s he denied knowing anything and/or anybody from Delta Mining and Sable Mining Africa.

As President Sirleaf sought reelection in 2011 a corruption cartel was operating right under her nose with key officials of her government and her party involved. Klaus Piprek.  Piprek, former Country Director for Sable Mining Africa has agreed to testify in the formal accusation of these officials who solicited bribes from his company. In a four-hour interviewed was conducted in Johannesburg, South Africa, he stated that in 2008 or 2009, Heine contacted him van Niekerk and he was asked to join Delta Mining DMC to set up a business in Liberia for mining the Western Cluster.

Mr. Piprek told investigators that the bid for Western Cluster failed and he was approached by Van Niekerk about the acquisition of DMC by Sable Mining Africa, LTD and he was subsequently introduced to Andrew Groves in Johannesburg, South Africa.

He along with Groves came to Liberia in April of 2010 on a private chartered plane which landed at Roberts International Airport. Mr. Piprek recalls that he observed Mr. Groves carrying a vanity case. At some point on the drive from the airport, Mr. Groves opened the case and remarked to Piprek, “this is what half a million dollars look like.”

He told investigators that upon arrival at the airport, they were picked up by someone he did not know and at some point, went for dinner at where turned out to be Eugene Shannon’s residence.

Shannon then Minister of Lands Mines and Energy and E. C. B. Jones his deputy entertained the guests. But Shannon told investors that he has had no contact with Sable Mining, even though he entertained Van Niekerk and took away the vanity case containing the US$500,000.

The investigators found that on April 14, 2010, Andrew Groves, Klaus Piprek and Heine Van Niekerk did board a private jet, Flight #S000, aircraft call sign ZSLAC, from South Africa and flew to Liberia as special guests of the Ministry of Lands, Mines, and Energy. Aboard that plane, Groves carried a Vanity case which he displayed inflight as containing five hundred thousand United States Dollars (US$500,000).

The US$500,000 was brought into Liberia and subsequently paid to Eugene Shannon, then Minister of Lands Mines and Energy and E. C. B. Jones, then Deputy Minister of Lands Mines and Energy at a private dinner hosted by Eugene Shannon at his home. The US$500,000 payment was later accounted for in the ledger of Liberian Iron Ore Investments Ltd., a Liberian subsidiary of Sable Mining. The entry showed US$500,000 cash from Groves and the payment to “Big boy 1” for two hundred fifty thousand UNITED STATES DOLLARS (US$250,000), and “Big Boy 2” for two hundred fifty thousand UNITED STATES DOLLARS (US$250,000) per Investigators.

Alex Tyler offers home for rent

Former House Speaker Alex Tyler would offer up his house for the company to rent and use as office. The company was looking to find suitable premises for accommodation, helicopter landing facilities, and offices. The place turned out to be very expensive and was rejected upon discussion with van Niekerk. However, on August 6, 2010, (Piprek) got a call from Tyler for a dinner at Boulevard café; during which he informed Tyler that they were not taking up the property. Also during the meeting, Tyler advised that he (Tyler) knew the importance of the PPPC act changes to Sable mining and that he could help Sable mining get the changes quickly for several US 250,000.00. (This is a sitting lawmaker and Speaker of the House requesting bribes to do his job).

The Nobel Prize is a set of annual international awards bestowed in several categories by Swedish and Norwegian institutions.
In spite of all these, the world knows President Sirleaf as a Nobel Prize Winner

Piprek stated that van Niekerk sent him an email exchange between himself (van Niekerk) and Sherman indicating clearly that the company should not entertain Tyler’s request and that Sherman would take care of the discussions with Tyler. Sherman appeared irritated that Piprek was engaged in discussions with Tyler.

With this damning report on corruption by public officials in the Sirleaf-led government and in her party, either the iron lady has failed deliberately to fight corruption or she does not have the political will to do so.

That on April 22, 2010, Two Hundred Thousand United States Dollars (US $200,000.00) was paid by Sable Mining through its lawyer, Cllr. Varney Sherman intended for the convention of the ruling Unity Party.

  •      That on April 23, 2010, Fifty Thousand United States Dollars (US $50,000.00) for Richard Tolbert, Chairman of Liberia’s National Investment Commission (NIC);
  •      That on April 26, 2010, a payment of Fifty Thousand United States Dollars (US $50,000.00) was made to Morris Saytumah;
  •   That on July 29, 2010, Five Thousand United States Dollars (US $5,000.00) was paid to Cletus Wotorson as Consulting Fees;
  •   That on July 29, 2010, a payment of Five Thousand United States Dollars (US $5,000.00) was made to Sumo Kupee as consulting fees
  •     That on August 23, 2010, Five Thousand Five Hundred United States Dollars (US $5,500.00) was paid to Ernest C. B. Jones, then Deputy Minister at the Ministry of Land, Mines, and Energy;
  •   That on June 6, 2010, a payment of Ten Thousand United States Dollars (US $10,000.00) was made to Willie Belleh of the Public Procurement and Concession Commission;
  •      That the authenticity and genuineness of the email and the contents of its attachment are confirmed by Sable Mining – London, Klaus Piprek, and Hiene Van Neikerk, all of whom were recipients in the email thread on the one hand, and an Independent Information Technology (IT) Expert also independently confirmed the authenticity of these emails. (Exhibit).
  •         That two separate amounts of ten thousand UNITED STATES DOLLARS (US$10,000) each paid by Varney Sherman and Heine van Niekerk to Invincible Eleven Sports Association of the Chairman of the National Investment Commission, Richard Tolbert was President at the time. (Statement of Dr. Tolbert, Deposit Slip, I.E. Fundraiser Program of May1, 2010, Statement of Sable Mining Account with Sherman and Sherman as at 30 June 2010)
  •        That the scheme is further evidenced by the fact that Richard Tolbert did demand and has maintained the demand, that the Invincible Eleven Sports Association repay him a sum more than US$ 20, 000 for his out of pocket expenses. Dr. Tolbert’s demand for reimbursement of over 20,000.00 paid by Cllr. Sherman and Hein van Neikerk was a pass through of the contributions made by Sherman and Van Niekerk from the Sable Mining account which was being used for bribery and money laundering. (Exhibit: Promissory Note between Dr. Tolbert and IE Sports Club).
  •      Alex Tyler, then Speaker of the House, was paid seventy-five thousand UNITED STATES DOLLARS (US75, 000) as indicated on Cllr. Sherman Spread Sheet forwarded to Sable Mining and further confirmed by the West Africa Operations Weekly Income and Expense Sheet of Sable Mining. That at the time of this payment Alex Tyler was not working in the minerals industry, is not known to have worked in the mineral industry, and as such the designation as “consulting fees” was intended to disguise the scheme. (See: West Africa Operations Weekly Income and Expense Sheet; Sherman & Sherman Spreadsheet “Statement of Account – One Copy Only – For Your Eyes Only)
  •       That the payment to Alex Tyler is confirmed in the spreadsheet prepared and submitted to Sable Mining by Cllr. Varney Sherman as payment for the revision of the PPCC Act. (See Sherman & Sherman Spreadsheet “Statement of Account – One Copy Only – For Your Eyes Only.”)
  •       That Alex Tyler demanded the sum of two hundred fifty thousand UNITED STATES DOLLARS (US$250,000) from Klaus Peprik, as bribery to ensure the passage of the revised PPC Act with the provision favorable to Sable Mining. (Exhibit: email exchange between Cllr. Sherman and Heine van Nierkerk, Statement of Klaus Peprik’s Statement)
  •          That Heine van Nierkerk did send an email to Cllr. Varney Sherman dated August 7, 2010 complaining that Speaker Tyler was demanding two hundred fifty thousand UNITED STATES DOLLARS (US$250,000) to process the Act through the “Senate” (sic).

Video Credit: Bush Chicken

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Wade C.L. Williams

Wade C.L. Williams is an investigative reporter and chief of the news desk for FrontPageAfrica newspaper and website. Some call her the most powerful newswoman in Liberia where few women have been able to make a career in the media, let alone reach the top ranks. Since joining New Narrative www.newnarratives.org in January 2011 she has interviewed warlords and written about discrimination against homosexuals, which brought death threats against her. Wade was one of several reporter’s whose lives were threatened during the coverage of elections in 2011. When her publisher was forced to flee the country, she kept the paper running.
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