Global Witness and other international whistle blowers who few years ago advocated for the prosecution of several former and current government officials of their alleged link of receiving US$950.00 in bribe from a British Company to change the Public Procurement and Concession (PPCC) Act of 2005 in favor of the Company to mine the Wologisi Mountain in Lofa County were yesterday acquitted the presiding Judge of Criminal Court “C” Peter Gbeneweleh late Tuesday evening at the Temple of Justice on Capitol Hill are said to be pondering the ruling.
Due to the seriousness of this case, which drew the attention of the than Government of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to establish a Special Presidential Taskforce headed by Cllr, Jonathan Fonati Koffa now a lawmaker in the Housed of Representative to probe into this case involving The eight defendants including Cllr. Varney Sherman, former Chairman of the former ruling Unity Party.
During his probe, several evidences were reportedly collected from several local and international firms both in the UK and the United States, as Global Witness, an international watchdog vowed to follow the case to its conclusion, but with this latest development of acquittal, these institutions are wondering of this verdict by the court.
However, after the end of the month-long trial, Judge Gbeneweleh, who served as both a jury and Judge, ruled that the prosecution did not prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt as stated in the indictment, and further ruled that the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses were nothing but “hearsay”.
Judge Gbeneweleh went to say that the prosecution key witness Heine Van Niekerk’s, who lived in South Africa, refusal to come to testify in the case negates the bribery allegation against the Defendants.
Niekerk, a Sable Mining executive, was named by the prosecution as a witness who provided the e-mail exchanges between him and key co-defendant Varney Sherman who is alleged to have received the money from Sable Mining to bribe government officials to change the PPCC Act of 2015.
Judge Gbeneweleh added in his ruling that the affidavit provided by Niekerk did not meet the requirement of the Hague Convention of 1969. “Wherefore and in view of the foregoing the Defendants are not guilty of the offenses charged in the indictment; they are hereby discharged from further answering to the multiple offenses charged in the indictment without delay,” Judge Gbeneweleh said.
The Judge further that the constitutional and statutory rights of the defendants were restored with immediate effect while he also ordered the Defendants criminal appearance bonds be returned to them by the Sherriff of the court.
The Judge named the acquitted Defendants as Co-Defendants Senator Varney Sherman, ECB Jones Jr. Christopher Onanuga, former Speaker Alex Tyler, Richard Tolbert, former chairman National Investment Commission (NIC)
Others were Eugene Shannon, former Minister of Mines and Energy; Senator Morris Saytumah and Wille Belleh, former Chairman of the Public Procurement and Concession Commission (PPCC).
Prosecution lawyer Cllr. Jerry Garlawolo took exception to the ruling and gave notice to the court that they shall take advantage of the law and the court noted his exception.