Global Witness exposes bribes to top Liberian officials by UK mining company and Varney Sherman

Liberian government pledges to investigate

A Press Release Issued By Global Witness on Wednesday 11th May 2016

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
May 12, 2016



A Global Witness exposé released today has uncovered over US$950,000 in bribes and other suspicious payments by UK mining firm Sable Mining and its Liberian lawyer, Varney Sherman. Responding to Global Witness’ findings, the government has pledged to investigate and hold those culpable to account.   

The report, The Deceivers (1), shows how in 2010 Sable hired Varney Sherman, Liberia’s best-connected lawyer and current Chairman of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s Unity Party, in an effort to secure one of Liberia’s last large mining assets, the Wologizi iron ore concession in northern Liberia. Sherman told Sable that in order to obtain the contract the company must first get Liberia’s concessions law changed by bribing senior officials, according to a source familiar with the discussions. The account is backed up by leaked emails and company documents seen by Global Witness. (2)

According to the documents, Sherman then began distributing Sable’s money to some of Liberia’s most important government officials.

“Sable and Sherman paid bribes in order to change Liberia’s law and get their hands on one of its most prized assets, the Wologizi concession,” said Jonathan Gant, Senior Campaigner with Global Witness. “The government must act fast and investigate Sable, Sherman, and the officials they paid.”

The table below details the bribes listed in an account statement by Sable and Varney Sherman’s law firm, Sherman & Sherman:


Position in 2010

Explanation in source documents

Bribe (US$)

Alex Tyler

Representative, Speaker of the House

“Consulting fees”


Richard Tolbert

Chairman, National Investment Committee

“Consulting fees”


Morris Saytumah

Minister of State for Finance, Economic and Legal Affairs [Now: Senator]

“Consulting fees”


Willie Belleh

Chairman, Public Procurement and Concessions Commission

“Consulting fees”




Global Witness uncovered other payments by Sable to officials and unidentified people referred to as “Bigboy 01” and “Bigboy 02.” While it is not clear why the company made these payments, some of those involved are key to approving contracts. 

Fombah Sirleaf, son of President Johnson Sirleaf and head of Liberia’s National Security Agency also benefitted from Sable’s largesse. In 2011, Sirleaf went on a US$7,598 hunting trip to South Africa paid for by Sable, spending over US$1,000 in a gun shop alone. There is no evidence that Sirleaf provided Sable with any favours, although he was clearly a useful person to know.

The table below details other questionable payments made by Sable:


Position at time of payment

Explanation in source documents

Payment (US$)

Fombah Sirleaf

Director, National Security Agency

South Africa trip expenses, phone bills


Sumo Kupee


‘Consulting fees’


Cletus Wotorson

Senator, Speaker of the Senate

‘Consulting fees’


Richard Tolbert

Chairman, National Investment Committee [Also: President, Invincible Eleven football club]

Donation to Invincible Eleven


Ernest C.B. Jones

Dept. Minister, Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy

‘Accommodation’ for Jones and Chris Onanuga, a company fixer



‘Bigboy 01’




‘Bigboy 02’






At the time that these payments were made, Sable Mining was headed by British businessmen Phil Edmonds and Andrew Groves. The Deceivers shows how, in addition to their misadventures in Liberia, the pair have siphoned millions from investors and hired a security agent who spied on and intimidated their business rivals. Details of Edmonds’ wealth are rare, but in 2012 he was reportedly worth some US$14 million. (3)

Despite the company’s corrupt tactics, Sable has not been awarded the Wologizi contract. However, in January 2015, Sable announced that it had received lucrative rights to transport iron ore from its Guinean concession to the Liberian coast on a railroad used by ArcelorMittal. (4) According to Sable the deal will greatly reduce the costs of its Guinean operations. The Liberian government states that it is negotiating with Sable, but has not yet given the company rights to the railroad. (5)

“The Liberian government has pledged to ‘spare no efforts’ investigating Sable’s activities in Liberia and has said it will ‘bring to justice anyone found to be culpable’.” said Gant. “After recent prosecutions of officials for bribery in the oil and forest sectors, it is time for the government to tackle bribery in the country’s biggest sector: mining.”

Sherman, who has represented investors such as Chevron and Firestone, has also benefitted from his dealings with Sable. A $200,000 payout from Sable’s funds labelled ‘political contribution – UP convention’ is dated 22 April 2010, less than three weeks before a Unity Party conference where Sherman was elected party Chairman.

At the same convention, Unity Party members elected Henry Fahnbulleh as Secretary General. Sherman opposed this and publicly demanded Fahnbulleh’s resignation. Documents seen by Global Witness show how, on 24 June, Sable paid out US$25,000, labelled as ‘Political contribution – UP Secretary General resignation.’ Fahnbulleh quit the next day.

If it is found that they broke the law, Liberian government officials should be removed from office and prosecuted, while Sherman should be disbarred and also face criminal charges. For its part, if Sable broke the law Edmonds and Groves should be prosecuted and Sable’s transportation licence should be revoked.

“Edmonds, Groves, Sherman, and the Liberian officials they paid should not be able to profit from corrupt, back-room deals,” said Gant. “Only through these actions will Liberia demonstrate that it is serious in its fight against corruption.”

When asked to comment on Global Witness’s findings, Sable said it conducts its business ‘in a responsible and ethical manner.’ It said it had conducted a review into the payments in 2011, but that no evidence implicating the company’s Board of Directors was found and financial controls were tightened as a result. The payments documented by Global Witness were made by Delta Mining, in which Sable had only a minority interest, the company said. But the payments came from Sable’s account and not Delta’s, a spreadsheet detailing bribe payments shows.

Global Witness attempted to contact those listed as having received payments or gifts. Tolbert, Belleh Kupee and Wotorson all denied taking bribes from Sable. Tolbert, however, did acknowledge accepting payments to the football team. Saytumah, Tyler, ECB Jones and Fombah Sirleaf did not respond to letters hand-delivered to their offices. Sherman declined to comment on grounds of confidentiality, although he acknowledged that his firm made unspecified payments from its Sable client account.


(1) To read the report, visit
(2) In Liberia it is illegal – a bribe – for someone to pay an official with the intention of having the official undertake a government act on behalf of the company or lawyer. Similarly, it is illegal for an official to receive money with the intention of undertaking a government act. Documents obtained by Global Witness demonstrate that Sable and Sherman distributed the above payments, but do not demonstrate that the targeted officials received the payments. 
(3) Sunday Times, Rich List, 2013.
(4)  Sable Mining Africa Limited, Agreement to Utilise Established Rail Corridor to Port of Buchanan, 26 January 2015.
(5) Like Sable, ArcelorMittal has previously prized this railroad and claimed exclusive usage rights during its first contract with the Liberian government. Following publication of the 2006 Global Witness report Heavy Mittal? the government renegotiated these usage rights with the company.


Mae Moore
If the President herself Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is notorious for bribing, at least as evidenced by Court records that she instructed Clemenceu Urey and othet NOCAL officials to bribe legislators to cross similar deals what else is expected of the Chairman of the ruling party who is a lawyer who does not want to end up dead behind the Office of the very corrupt Ellen Johnson Sirleaf?
Mae Moore at 07:18AM, 2016/05/12.
Moses K. Flomo
Why will Varney Sherman tell the conmen to give bribe in order the change the Liberian law?
As correctly stated, “In Liberia it is illegal – a bribe – for someone to pay an official with the intention of having the official undertake a government act on behalf of the company or lawyer. Similarly, it is illegal for an official to receive money with the intention of undertaking a government act. Documents obtained by Global Witness demonstrate that Sable and Sherman distributed the above payments, but do not demonstrate that the targeted officials received the payments.”
But Mr. Sherman and the Conmen did just that: they gave bribes to lawmakers and influential people in the Sirleaf Gov’t, including Bigboy 1 and Bigboy 2.
By the way, who are the Bigboy1 and Bigboy2 that received $250,000 a piece? Who are the other bigboys apart from the Speaker and the President Pro-Tempore? Could Bigboy # 1 and Bigboy#2 be President Sirleaf and VP Boakia respectively? I am just curious.
Mr. Editor, could address this?
Moses K. Flomo at 12:10PM, 2016/05/12.
Mae Moore
Is giving "cold water" giving bribe in our society?? Is lobbying to change a statute or law illegal? These are THE ISSUES or questions to be dealt with or answered by the judges. The Sherman and Sherman law form shall simply toy with the judges. In the Case of big boy 1 & 2,(Ellen and Boakai) case close since Liberia is not Brazil where the president is suspended and faces trial! Presidential immunity from prosecution while in office is the source of corruption in Liberia.
Mae Moore at 02:31PM, 2016/05/12.
sylvester moses
A National Chronicle article speculating about the formation of an interim government in the US led to a police raid at the offices of the the newspaper, and the reported interrogation of Vice President Bockai by the police director himself. So since the Speaker of the House, Hon. Tyler, and the President Pro Tempora of the Senate then, Hon. Cletus Wortorson, were named in the Report, who are Big Boy numbers 1 and 2? Indeed, the inductive leap many have made is that 1 and 2 have to be higher in the government than Tyler and Wortorson - go figure.

What we're saying is that there's enough in the Global Witness report, or a cause to start an investigation instead of President Sirleaf asking for more proof; otherwise, the misconception that she and the vice president are Big Boys 1 and 2 would grow as time goes on. This is a case that won't go away, not with the world focused on corruption which is destroying poor countries in the region. We would advise the president to put stubborness aside, and escalate a probe to deescalate the suspicions: it is a serious matter which can't be deflected by damage control tactics.
sylvester moses at 05:31AM, 2016/05/13.
Mae Moore
Both this Global Witness thing and the so call Kenya auditor general Robert Ouko's scam ARE ALL THE DIABOLICAL DOINGS OF ELLEN JOHNSON SIRLEAF. Fombsh Sirleaf's name is only placed on that list to deceive.R
Mae Moore at 11:13PM, 2016/05/13.
Garsuah Gborvlehn
Why has The Perspective not yet published Cllr. Varney Sherman's REPLY/REBUTTAL/ANSWER to Global Witness' allegation/report??? Fsir/objective/balanced reporting!!! For God in heaven sake!!!
Garsuah Gborvlehn at 02:56PM, 2016/05/15.
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Five nights at freddy’s
Is this the "REVOLUTION"? I guess this is the "Revolution." That Dr.Henry Boima Fahnbulleh Jr who made a believer out of many of us in the 1970s, is now part of a government considered the worst in terms of corruption and other forms of abuses against the Liberian people, has remained conspicuously silent leaves his critics to conclude that it is "see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil."
Five nights at freddy’s at 10:19PM, 2017/10/09.

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