Sable Mining: bribes and questionable payments in Liberia

Updated 31 July 2019 - see below

15 April 2010: $500,000 in two equal payments marked “Bigboy 01” and “Bigboy 02”.

22 April 2010: $200,000 for the convention of the ruling Unity Party, paid out to Sable’s lawyer Varney Sherman. Sherman was elected chairman of the party at the convention unopposed after his opponents “were persuaded to back off”, according to a local newspaper.

23 April 2010: $50,000 for Richard Tolbert, Chairman of Liberia’s National Investment Commission and one of the most important decision-makers in Liberia’s tendering process for mining rights. Tolbert denied taking bribes from Sable.

26 April 2010: $50,000 for Morris Saytumah, Minister of State for Finance, Economic and Legal Affairs, attached to the presidency.  In March 2011 Saytumah, after he left office, wrote a letter for Sable—backdated to April 2009—saying that “the Government will assist the Delta Mining in its bid for any iron ore reserve that it may be interested in and has the technical and financial capacity to operate”. 

28 April 2010: $10,000, labelled as “Sherman’s contribution to IE Sports Association”, with the funds coming out of Sable’s account. This was a reference to the Invincible Eleven soccer team and associated teams, of which Richard Tolbert was president.

5 May 2010: $10,000 labelled as “Heine’s contribution to IE Sports Association”, headed by Tolbert (see above). Heine van Niekerk was chief executive of Sable’s Liberian affiliate.

24 June 2010: $10,000 paid to Willie Belleh, chairman of the Public Procurement and Concessions Commission, who held a key position in the tender process for mineral concessions and helped review the procurement act. Belleh denied receiving any payment.

24 June 2010: $25,000 labelled as “Political contribution – UP Secretary General resignation”. Henry Fahnbulleh, recently elected Secretary General of the ruling Unity Party, resigned under pressure from Varney Sherman the day after the payment was made. 

29 July 2010: $5,000 for Lofa County Senator Sumo Kupee. 

29 July 2010: $5,000 for Cletus Wotorson, at the time the Speaker of the Senate. Kupee and Wotorson’s payments are listed in internal company records. Kupee and Wotorson denied receiving any payments.

23 August 2010: $4,500 labelled “accommodation ECB Jones and C Onanuga”. Ernest CB Jones was deputy mining minister, while Chris Onanuga was Delta’s long-standing fixer before and after its purchase by Sable.

25 August 2010: $75,000 for Alex Tyler, Speaker of the lower house of Liberia’s parliament at the time.

12 May 2011: Sable made a purchase worth $1,070.87 at Twin Bore Agencies, a Johannesburg gun shop, for the Liberian President’s son, Fombah Sirleaf. It is unclear what was purchased. Sirleaf is head of Liberia’s National Security Agency.

13 June 2011: $6,532 to take Fombah Sirleaf on an all-expenses-paid hunting trip in South Africa.

2 August 2011: $5,000 to Eugene Shannon, a former mining minister who lobbied a cabinet minister Morris Saytumah to write his backdated letter backing Sable’s claim to Wologizi. Shannon denied receiving any money from Sable.

August 2011 to Jan 2012: $1,565.28 on a telephone and bills for Fombah Sirleaf. 

Total: $958,668

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Update: On 30 July 2019, following a trial at criminal court C in Monrovia, Liberia, Judge Peter Gbeneweleh, acting as judge and jury, acquitted those on the indictment of all charges, it was reported. The defendants faced counts of economic sabotage, bribery, criminal facilitation, conspiracy and solicitation and had denied the charges.