Presiding Judge Peter Gbeneweleh on Tuesday, July 30, acquitted former Hosue Speaker Tyler and seven other defendants of bribery charges.
The eight defendants were arraigned by the court during the February 2019 Term on multiple counts of economic sabotage, bribery, criminal facilitation, conspiracy, and solicitation. But they denied the charges.
They were indicted by state prosecutors in 2016 after a Global Witness 2016 Report accused them of allegedly receiving US$950,000 in bribes from British Company Sable Mining to change the Public Procurement and Concession Commission (PPCC) Act of 2005 in favor of the company to mine the Wologisi Mountain in Lofa County.
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.
He 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.
Senator Sherman, who was escorted by his wife, told reporters outside of the court that the ruling was the “work of God”.
“For now, I have nothing to say but the ruling was the work of God,” said Cllr. Sherman.
Tuesday’s ruling was greeted with jubilation from hundreds of supporters, friends and family members who gathered in the courtyard in support of the defendants.