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British mining CEO faces criminal charges in Liberia

[MONROVIA] The chief executive of British firm Sable Mining will face charges in connection with allegations that the company presided over a vast network of corruption, Liberian investigators said on Friday.

Andrew Groves was indicted by a presidential anti-graft taskforce probing claims made by campaign group Global Witness that Sable paid out bribes worth US$960,000 to gain a foothold in the country's lucrative iron ore industry.

Mr Groves, a British citizen, has denied the allegations, and the charges against him were not released.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has already requested co-operation with the British authorities over the case, in a letter to Prime Minister David Cameron.

Richard Tolbert, a former banker and ex-head of Liberia's National Investment Commission, the body overseeing the tendering process for mining projects, will also face unspecified charges, according to a statement issued by the taskforce naming both men.

Klaus Piprek, a South African national and onetime country director of Sable in Liberia, was also indicted.

Mr Groves and Mr Piprek are now the subject of an Interpol alert.

In a statement sent to AFP, Mr Groves said he was surprised to learn the Liberian authorities had charged him "without having put any allegations to him and without having provided him with any evidence or with an opportunity to respond".

He said no evidence had been presented to support the charges, which he said he thought were "politically motivated ahead of the imminent presidential elections".

Mr Groves said he strongly rejected any allegation that he had acted illegally in relation to Sable's activities in Liberia.

Sable co-founder and former England international cricketer Phil Edmonds, a former chairman of the company, was named as a "co-conspirator" but has not been formally charged.

The firm is alleged to have channelled bribes to key officials through their legal fixer, top lawyer and ruling party chairman Varney Sherman, to curry favour for iron ore concessions.

Mr Sherman was himself indicted and arrested for "economic crimes" on May 25, and bailed along with parliamentary speaker Alex Tyler.

All the Liberian politicians so far implicated in the case are members of Mr Sirleaf's own Unity Party.

"When the president of Liberia announced that Liberia was opened for business, she did not say that Liberia was for sale," said minister and taskforce head Jonathan Koffa.

"We are in the midst of uncovering the largest conspiracy to steal our mineral resources in our lifetime," he was quoted as saying in the statement.

Sable's payoffs allegedly led to the passage of a 2010 law allowing the mining minister to declare some mining concessions "non-bidding" areas, which could be handed out without a tender process.