MONROVIA, Montserrado – Defendants in the Global Witness corruption case have pleaded not guilty to court charges.
Grand Cape Mount’s Senator Varney Sherman; former House Speaker Alex Tyler; the former National Investment Commission chairman, Richard Tolbert; Bomi’s Senator Morris Saytumah; former Lands, Mines and Energy minister, Eugene Shannon; E.C.B. Jones; and Christopher Hayes Onanauga were indicted on May 24 last year on charges of economic sabotage, bribery, criminal conspiracy, and criminal solicitation among others.
The defendants were accused by Global Witness, a UK-based corruption watchdog that focuses mostly on investigating exploitations of natural resources, of collaborating to undermine the Public Procurement and Concession law to give Sable Mining, also a British company, a non-competitive acquisition of mineral rights over the Wologizi Mountain in Lofa.
Their response followed the opening of their trial after nearly 11 months of legal battle.
With the defendants’ plea of innocence, the burden is now shifted on state lawyers to prove its case before the court.
Meanwhile, lawyers defending the indictees have also rejected a juror trial. They say they would prefer the judge to take absolute responsibility as provided for by the civil procedure law of Liberia.
At the same time, one of the 26 witnesses named by the government’s lawyers, Johnnie Momo has rejected that responsibility. Momo, who is also the key lawyer for Tyler in the bribery case, said Sherman is his former boss, which would make it difficult for Momo to testify against Sherman.
His decision prompted state prosecutors to remove him from their witness’ list.
Except Saytumah, who was exempted due to the court’s failure to inform his legal team about Monday’s appearance, the judge imposed a US$200 fine on each of the defendants following their failure to appear in court on the opening day of the trial.
Representatives for Global Witness are among a list of personalities expected to testify for the government.