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Liberia’s ‘best-connected lawyer’ arrested in UK-linked bribe probe

Image courtesy of Sherman & ShermanA Liberian lawyer who heads the country’s ruling party was arrested Wednesday for allegedly paying bribes on behalf of a UK-listed mining company once chaired by former England cricket star Phil Edmonds.

Varney Sherman, left, head of his own law firm, is often described as the west African country’s best-connected lawyer, the Guardian said.

He was arrested Wednesday in the capital Monrovia.

Global Witness, the anti-corruption NGO, published a detailed report this month about Edmonds and his business partner, Andrew Groves. The report was based on leaked files.

Global Witness said it appeared a company controlled by Edmonds and Groves, Sable Mining Africa Limited, had paid bribes in Liberia and employed several local officials. “When the law got in their way in Liberia, they paid bribes to change it,” the NGO said.

Sable Mining is listed on London’s AIM exchange.

Global Witness said said the leaked documents include “a spreadsheet listing bribes to top Liberian officials, messages orchestrating stock market scams through offshore companies, and a forensic report detailing their security agent’s hacking operations.” 

The company, along with Edmonds and Groves, have denied any wrongdoing.

Sherman has also denied the bribery allegations.

A grand jury in Liberia Wednesday also reportedly indicted the speaker of parliament and Sable Mining.

The Guardian said it has seen the leaked files. Included is a confidential email sent in August 2010 by Sherman in his role as Sable’s lawyer.

The Guardian said,

The message entitled “CONFIDENTIAL – Sable Mining’s Account with Sherman,” lists a series of transactions, including: payments as high as $50,000 (£34,000) that appear to have been made to several well-placed Liberian officials; plus a transfer for $75,000 that is labelled “Payment (facilitation) revised PPCC Act” – seemingly a reference to the country’s Public Procurement and Concession Commission Act, which impacted on mining rights.

When the payments referred to in the email were made, the Guardian said, Groves was chief executive and Edmonds was chairman of Sable.

Edmonds resigned as chairman of Sable in 2014. Groves still serves as chief executive. Both now live outside the UK, according to a letter they sent to Global Witness.

They were both born in the former Rhodesia, Edmonds in what is now Zambia and Groves in what is now Zimbabwe.

Edmonds went to Cambridge and then became famous as a cricket player for England’s national team. After his cricket career, he went into business with Groves. Together they formed nine companies that were traded on the AIM stock exchange.

Global Witness said it conducted a year-long investigation and received leaked emails from several sources.

“We saw [the emails] in their original electronic form,” Global Witness said, “which meant we could add another layer of authentication by analysing the metadata — IP addresses buried in electronic messages that track the route between sender and recipient.”

The NGO said it found “evidence of serial bribery in Liberia.”

Edmonds and Groves told Global Witness the allegations were based on testimony “from discredited, disaffected and biased former business associates,” accepted as fact without due investigation.

Global Witness said although “a dossier on fraud and corruption allegations at . . . Sable Mining was submitted to the Serious Fraud Office in 2013, no action appears to have been taken.”


Richard L. Cassin is the publisher and editor of the FCPA Blog. He’ll be the keynote speaker at the FCPA Blog NYC Conference 2016

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