Press release | April 15, 2018

Shamed mining magnate Andrew Groves told ‘blatant and utter lie’ in bribery scandal comeback bid

Updated 31 July 2019 - see below

A controversial entrepreneur claims Liberia has cleared him of bribery allegations and hopes his mining licences will be relisted in London. But the man who headed the team prosecuting him has slammed the claims as “a blatant and utter lie”, Global Witness reveals in a report today. Now Global Witness is calling for the London Stock Exchange to bar his dodgy business interests for good.

When Andrew Groves set up Sable Mining with former England spin-bowler Phil Edmonds they were lauded as “resource rock-stars”. But it was forced to delist from London’s loosely-governed junior stock exchange, Aim, after a 2016 Global Witness report The Deceivers revealed the pair had bribed senior Liberian politicians and scammed investorsallegations the duo strongly denied. Mr Groves is now hoping Sable’s Zimbabwe mining assets will be relisted on the main London Stock Exchange through another company, Contango Holdings. No doubt mindful of this goal, he issued a public statement in February announcing the exoneration of himself and Sable Mining, now renamed Consolidated Growth Holdings. The statement announced there had been a “comprehensive review by the Liberian authorities” into the charges. Giving the impression of quoting from this purported review, it claimed the review concluded: “Sable Mining and Andrew Groves had not ‘in any form, manner or shape interacted with any public official within the Liberian Government in an improper or illegal manner’.”

But according to a senior Liberian official this is untrue. Fonati Koffa oversaw the Liberian task force charged with investigating the bribery allegations until early January, in which role he prosecuted some of Liberia’s most senior politicians. He is now head of Liberia’s House of Representatives Judiciary Committee. Asked to comment on Groves’ claims, Mr Koffa said: “This is a blatant and utter lie. There is no comprehensive investigation I am aware of that exonerated these people. As former chairman of the task force I would have been notified.”

Both a senior official still involved with the prosecution and Liberia’s deputy information minister Eugene Fahngon also told Global Witness they were unaware of any review.

Groves’ statement had claimed all charges against him and Sable were “irrevocably dropped”. Mr Koffa acknowledged a nolle prosequi – a decision to drop charges without necessarily conceding innocence – had been filed. But he warned: “If Groves ever sets foot in Liberian jurisdiction those charges could easily be reinstated.” He also said the nolle prosequi was “improperly filed”.

“We remained convinced of their complicity and guilt,” he said.

Mr Koffa’s comments suggest that the unattributed quotes forming the centrepiece of Groves’ audacious declaration were not, as a reader would infer, the view of the Liberian authorities. Instead they appear to have been statements made to the Liberian press by Groves’ own lawyer, Sayma Syrenius Cephus.

His good name supposedly restored, Groves told Bloomberg he planned to sell his Zimbabwean mining assets to Contango Holdings. According to stock exchange announcements they will be listed on the more prestigious London Stock Exchange, rather than Aim. A Contango spokeswoman claimed Groves will have “no involvement in Contango and/or its Zimbabwe business after the transaction”. However, she admitted he will be a shareholder— and therefore stands to profit if the company prospers. Not only that, but Groves said in the Bloomberg interview: “I’d like to build it into a mid-tier mining company.”

He then boasted of knowing the new Zimbabwean president Emmerson Mnangagwa for 15 years and his many local contacts. It is clear that - far from a simple asset sale - Groves intends to be intimately involved with the new venture.

Daniel Balint-Kurti, Head of Investigations at Global Witness, said: “The authorities in Britain should pay attention. Edmonds and Groves’ bribery scheme was only part of a trail of trickery and intimidation stretching right across Africa, aided by secretive offshore companies. “

“With the Liberian authorities faltering in their case against Groves and Sable Mining – at least for now – Global Witness is calling on the scandal-ridden Aim and UK law enforcement to take action at last. And the London Stock Exchange must not let a Groves concern get a foothold in its respected marketplace.”

“The junior market has become a haven for rogue companies – and now one of the most notorious hopes to clamber up onto the main London Stock Exchange,” Balint-Kurti said.

Aim has continually insisted it has “absolutely the right regulatory framework”.

Contacted about Groves’ public statement, his spokesman said: “Mr Groves and Sable Mining always maintained they had not acted in an improper or illegal manner, and the Liberian authorities have reached the same conclusion.”

The spokesman would not say who conducted the purported review, nor provide Global Witness with a copy. He added that Mr Edmonds was no longer a shareholder and said neither man had acted illegally or unethically at any time.

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.



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