MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) — The chairman of Liberia's ruling party and the speaker of the house of representatives have been charged for allegedly participating in a bribery scheme to get government officials to change a mining law to help a British firm.
Sen. Varney Sherman and Speaker Alex Tyler appeared before a criminal court Wednesday. They were charged with bribery, criminal conspiracy, economic sabotage and criminal facilitation, according to state radio. Both men denied the allegations and were released on bail.
The charges stem from a report by the environmental group Global Witness which alleged that Sherman, a lawyer in 2010 for Sable Mining, distributed $950,000 to top Liberian officials to persuade them to alter the mining concession law to help the British firm secure rights to the Wologizi iron ore concession in northern Liberia in 2010. The report also alleged that the current Speaker of the House, Tyler, received money to alter the law.
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf set up a taskforce to investigate those named in the report.
The head of the taskforce, Fonati Koffa, said there had been arrest warrants out for those named in the report. He said the Justice Ministry, which is a member of the presidential taskforce, will now prosecute.
In a press statement reacting the report, Sherman called the claims improbable, adding "to the best of my knowledge, none of these alleged payments were ever made to any of these Liberian officials."
He declined to talk about any financial deal between him and Sable Mining, saying that as a professional lawyer he was prohibited by law.
Speaker Tyler had called for an independent investigative panel outside of government, saying only an independent panel could render fair justice.
The Wologizi Mountain, on the borders with Guinea and Sierra Leone, remains untouched.