Greater Diamond Reacts To:
In Taylor's Liberia, Thieves Ar Thriving And So Is Corruption
By The Liberian Democratic Future*
April 8, 1999
The Chief Executive of the Greater Diamond Group in Liberia, the eccentric South African businessman, Niko Shefer, has strongly assailed an article carried in the July/Sept '98 edition of The Perspective entitled: In Taylor's Liberia, Thieves are Thriving & So Is Corruption. Mr. Shefer characterized the article as been "fraught with inaccuracies which, in the instance and for the sake of good and honest press, you should consider researching and rectifying."
Mr. Shefer's strong reaction comes in the wake of the Magazine's comprehensive documentation of Greater Diamond's role in a well crafted and elaborate schemes to defraud the Liberian people of hundreds of thousands of dollars in custom revenues. To make its case vivid, The Perspective cited Memorandum coming out of the Ministry of National Security, written by one of President Taylor's Deputy Minister called John B. Wonpoe Yormie. Yormie's Memorandum expressed grave concern about then Minister of Lands, Mines & Energy, Jenkins Dunbar, " . . . knowingly aided and abetted the perpetration of [fraud] against the government of Liberia [US$354,653.00] in custom revenues" arising from duty free privileges unmeritorious extended to Niko's Greater Diamond Group.
The Perspective revealed the presence of a shoddy business dealing by Jenkins Dunbar, Emmanuel Shaw, Cyril Allen, etc., with questionable South African businessmen Niko Shefer and Felix Kramer. The article methodically quoted documents it had obtained about Greater Diamond, including a faxed letter from the Director of the Board of Greater Ministries International, Rev. James W. List of Tampa of Florida, on May 6, 1998 to Jenkins Dunbar requesting him to intervene with the Liberian government on behalf of the Group in Liberia. Perhaps, acting on Rev. List's request, later, Dunbar wrote a couple of letters to effect a duty/free tax exempt status for the Greater Diamond Group, which was eventually granted by the Ministry of Finance.
Our investigation in that article also revealed a disturbing pattern associated with Niko Shefer and Felix Kramer's Tandan Group of South Africa. Quoting unimpeachable sources, we hinted that the ignominious failed Amalia Diamond Concern was infact associated with Shafer's Tandan Group in South Africa, a claim vigorously denied by Shefer. What has come to be a familiar style of Mr. Shefer reveling in an ever unending P.R. stratagem with the World's press, perhaps, to put a masterful spin on Greater Diamond's blemished image, the Greater Diamond Chief Executive instantly e-mailed us a hastily prepared reaction after reading The Perspective's story, probably online.
In a reaction severely short on specifics, but dredgingly long on generalities, Mr. Shefer only marginally alludes to the many factual data and numbers cited by The Perspective relative to his company's questionable business image around the world but instead, Shefer faults the article with inaccuracies. Mr. Shafer's letter did not point out what those inaccuracies in The Perspective's article were that he was taking issues with. Instead, Shefer cited a plethora of collateral contributions the Greater Diamond Group was making to rural areas in Liberia. For example, Mr. Shefer reaction in count seven of his letter, stresses, "Greater Ministries humanitarian assistance projects in Liberia are conducted through the Greater Ministries Africa Foundation ..." The Perspective has neither disputed nor questioned the capillaceous nature of the Greater Ministries Organization. The Organization is at liberty to use whatever capillary tube it chooses to connect with its various cells and/or sub-organizations in Africa or else where it deems appropriate.
The Perspective is concerned with the Greater Diamond given the appearance of a religious and humanitarian group and profiting from all the attendant benefits of tax exemptions while at the same time, engaging in active business dealing in Gold and Diamond in Liberia. Greater Diamond, like other businesses, has a social responsibility in the community it conducts business in. Consequently, while we have been unable to determine the veracity of Greater Diamond's claims of " . . . building clinics for primary health care in rural area, distributing container loads of medicine free, distributing clothing, food, shoes, tools, etc., free of charge to the poor in rural communities . . . ," we are indeed delighted for the provision of these services if they're indeed being provided; as it would make the case for a laudable social responsibility for Greater Diamond in Liberia. But our warm embracement of such claim by Niko will for the time being, be guided by a big "IF" disclaimer without being or appearing to, play to malevolence.
But as Niko reacts to The Perspective's article, he clearly tries to distance himself from Taylor's perennial scandal-ridden Presidential Advisor, Emmanuel Shaw, perhaps, due to the confluence of recent events in Liberia. Sensing his hands are uppermost in terms of Taylor's ears and influence over his former patrons, Niko Shefer, in an uncharacteristic boldness, berated Shaw, Jenkins Dunbar and Cyril Allen in a virulent attack many observers suspect have a Kamikaze flair associated with it, considering the overall scheme of things in Liberian politics. In a letter to The Perspective, Shefer assailed Shaw by arguing that "Greater and Mr. Shefer, in particular, [have] been constantly and unreservedly advocating the dismissal of Dunbar, Shaw, and Allen from the government in Liberia. It has been their opinion, and continuous advice to the president, Mr. Taylor, that the continued presence of the likes of the above mentioned in government postings is a disgrace to Liberia."
Shefer goes on further to intimate in his letter that "In fact, it is mooted that Shefer was instrumented in the dismissal of Shaw from his posting in the South African Oil Authority's Consultancy posting, fundamentally because he believed, we are told, that Shaw's involvement was dishonest." With Shefer emboldened ever and ever, many eschewed his tactics for being naively condescending to three of Taylor's important inner-circle acolytes he might need one day if he ever got in Taylor's cross-hair. Observers warned Niko that the Taylor regime is still essentially a three-dimensional checker game with a false move in a distant corner of the board could ignite a jarring and riveting effect on the rest of the board. The Perspective's resident political observers paint a portrait of a regime riven by political infighting and disorganization and presided over by a president whose erratic rages and seldom sentimental spasm makes him a compulsive leader to be feared in a runaway train headed for the cliff.
Many observers think Niko Shefer might be getting too comfortable as his relationship with Taylor flourishes and might mistakingly develop a false sense of not needing those fingers (Shaw, Dunbar, Allen, etc.) that once fed him and chop them off in a suicidal impulse. Many of these observers eschewed Shafer's sneering vituperation of Shaw, Dunbar and Allen as not being too smart, and questioned the wisdom of such cold blooded voyeurism by a South African businessman with a long litany of scandals and criminal convictions from Switzerland to Bryanston, South Africa.
Shefer, perhaps alluding to The Perspective's assertion that he had a questionable business history, his letter to The Perspective tried to exonerate him from the overwhelming facts thrown at him. Probably unaware of The Perspective being in possession of his criminal profile from Switzerland to South Africa, Shefer mightily tried a little self-embellishment by providing The Perspective of whom Shefer really is. Like his recent press statement addressing the Liberian Press on the arrest of Reporter Isaac Meyongar of the Heritage Newspaper, after the Paper reported Shafer's business partner, Felix Kramer was on parole and scheduled for sentencing hearing in South Africa. Shefer paints a sanctimonious picture of a man admired and respected within the context of the law. His letter to The Perspective asserts "Shefer is well respected in government and business circles in South Africa and other African countries, and has a reputation of sound business acumen and principles, maintains a very low profile, is particular about NEVER involving himself in business with government or government officials and has no liabilities at all to any financial institutions."
Whatever Shafer's motive might have been in wanting to mislead The Perspective and by extension, the public, is not clear to us. When he asserts that he's "well respected" in South Africa, he knows that's patently untrue. According to Taryn Lamberti, in an article on Shafer's activities over the years, and his conviction trial, Shefer was paroled in 1995 after serving less than half of a 14-year jail sentence for fraud and forgery in the amount of R40m in the Johannesburg High Court in South Africa. Subsequent to his release, Shefer was indicted again on 11 counts of fraud and forgery for "fraudulently obtaining" foreign currency "worth R116,926,631.41 in South African currency from the JeppeTrust Bank during 1987 and 1988." Shefer posted bail and was released by Judge IWB Villiers.
Shefer was extradited from Switzerland to face trial on fraud charges. Shefer reportedly hinted his parole was deliberately delayed by former Witwaterands Attorney-General Klas Von Lieres and former Correctional Services Minister, Adriaan Vlok to ensure he remained in prison until a second extradition application would have been successfully secured from the Swiss authorities. Why would a man with such unenviable legal problems deliberately sets out to mislead others about his problems. "Sound business acumen," maybe. "Principle," definitely not.
The Greater Diamond Chief Executive concludes his reaction letter to The Perspective with such tortured lectures " we hope that you may, for the benefit of Liberia, rectify some of the misconception you may have created." What "misconception," we are tempted to ask Shefer? While we are flattered by the Greater Diamond's Chief masterful spin and his appeal to our patriotic majesty, we still find him grossly unable to address his self-inflicted troubles but instead, find sufficient consolation and energy in dealing a biting blow to his shameless and ignominious nemesis, Emmanuel Shaw. We are, however, standing by the entire text of the article until we are proving wrong.
Meanwhile, seven key Executives of Greater Ministries have been arrested by Federal agents. According to Michael Fechter of the Tampa Tribune, "A federal investigation that lasted at least three years led to a 20-count grand jury indictment focusing on mail fraud and money laundering against Payne, his wife, Betty Payne, John Krishak, Patrick Henry Talbert, Haywood Eudon ``Don'' Hall, David Whitfield and James Chambers.
U.S. Magistrate Thomas B. McCoun III agreed with prosecutors' requests that all but Gerald Payne be freed on bond. Chambers, who lives in Altamonte Springs, was not at the bond hearing. The other defendants are from Hillsborough County."
*The Liberian Democratic Future (LDF), publisher of The Perspective, is a think-tank democratic, & research organization