October 1, 2022

Sierra Leone’s graft agency, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has proved to be indecisive in the interview of former President Ernest Bai Koroma in respect of various corruption allegations. The ACC slams corruption allegations against the former President, but no specific crime has been pronounced yet, a move that creates high public speculations.

ACC’s indecisiveness rests on its inability to show specific offences for which the President is being interviewed. The public continues to wonder about the conduct of an interview without showing whether the former President is invited for clarifications or for a crime. A press release of 25th November, this year, being the latest, interview with the ex-President has been completed, but a subsequent interview cannot be ruled out should the need arise.

“The 2nd day of interview which was conducted at one of the commission’s secured ‘Safe Houses,’ commenced at 11am and was concluded at 4:30pm. Should there be need for further interview, the same will be communicated to Ex-President Koroma and his legal team,” a portion of the release reads.

The two press releases of 23rd and 25th November, 2020 issued by the ACC contained no offence in respect of which the former President is being interviewed. The absence of an offence in the press release contradicts a position earlier taken by the ACC against former President Koroma.

Initially,   the former President was accused of unexplained wealth and later money laundering forbidden by the criminal laws of Sierra Leone. In legal spheres, unexplained wealth is about the acquisition of wealth suspected to have been illegally earned while money laundering also means the illegal acquisition and disposal of wealth. The two offences are serious within legal circles, and can lead either to pecuniary or custodial punishment or both.

The public however is perturbed about the immediate change of strategy in the interview of the former President by its failure to show an offence. Assistant Public Relations Officer, Mr Morris Ibrahim Kanteh confirms to Nightwatch via mobile phone that ACC puts out information that the public should know.

He promised to update the public about the interview of the former President on a need- to-Know basis. The two interviews, according to ACC press releases, went slightly above five hours. A credible source has however intimated this press that the interview of the former President is about the authentication of signatures that appeared on documents of public expenditure.

The source further indicates that government officials may forge signatures of the former President on public documents to fast track financial transactions. Section 17 of the Constitution of Sierra Leone, 1991 says no person shall be deprived of his personal liberty except as may be authorised by law.

The section cites ten instances that legally justifies the deprivation of one’s liberty and Paragraph (f) of the same section indicates that upon reasonable suspicion of someone to have committed or is about to commit an offence, his personal liberty must be deprived of him.

In this case, it is unclear whether the former president is being treated as a wanted person or as a witness for subsequent prosecution. The interview of the former President has lately undermined state security.

It is clear that at any time the former President is invited by the ACC, fear and panic grips the country evidenced by the loneliness of the streets. Traders would hardly go to market centres, pupils find it difficult to attend school, and few commercial motorists and drivers venture the streets. The fear lies in the unpredictability of the consequences that would follow in an event the former President is hurt by the ACC.

However, other Sierra Leoneans have argued from a contrary perspective that the law is supreme and that the former President is equally subject to the laws of the land.

This means, the former President could be prosecuted in any court of law in Sierra Leone if sufficient evidence exists that point out his culpability. One of the greatest security threats to peace in Sierra Leone unfolded in the northern headquarters of Makeni where a team of ACC detectives backed up by the police had hoped to meet with the former President for an interview.

Residents in Makeni who had suffered intermittent waves of brutality and killings saw the appearance of ACC team as another attempt by government to lord it over them.

Makeni residents strongly resisted the ACC and the police with the help of cult members. In what appears a professional move by the police and the ACC, they returned to Freetown without any form of brutality, but still hopes that the interview would be conducted at all cost.

In a leaked audio depicting a phone conversation between the Inspector-General of Police, Ambrose Michael Sovula and the former President, the former prevailed on the latter let in the ACC team for the interview.

In the discussion, the former President made it clear that he was quite ready for the interview in the interest of peace and security. Former President Koroma said he would never be a party to the disruption of peace he has worked for throughout his presidency.

“I have answers to all questions from the Anti-Corruption Commission,” the former President said.

In the conversation that ensued between the IGP and the former President, a group of rioters and cult men were at the entrance to sympathise and protect the former President. In the ACC’s second move, former President Koroma was invited to Freetown for an interview at the ACC headquarters in Freetown.

Despite the fear and euphoria generated by the invitation, the former President failed to show up as scheduled owing to what his legal team referred to as a fear for the former President’s safety. The grounds for fear were well established as President Bio with his team of ministers was in the provinces on official functions at a time the former President was to arrive in the city.

At last yesterday, the long-awaited and much trumpeted interview has taken place in what a place referred to as ACC’s secured ‘Safe Houses.’ The former President was accompanied and flanked by a battery of legal luminaries to witness the interview.

Media reports confirmed that the interview of the former President was also witnessed by members of the diplomatic community. A close and intimate relationship exists between the Commissions of Inquiry and the ACC in ensuring democratic accountability in Sierra Leone.

The nexus became apparent in a press briefing held at the Cathedral House in Freetown where the ACC Chief, Ben Kaifallah spoke about the preparedness of his institution to investigate all those named in the White Paper.

“ACC is busy preparing to investigate all those persons of interest against whom adverse findings have been made by the Commissions of Inquiry,” Mr Kaifallah assured.

Bolstering his stance, the ACC boss sounded a note of caution to all government officials to treat public finances with the greatest respect, adding that situation of a state capture will no more be tolerated. The seriousness with which ACC Chief promised to treat COI findings was re-echoed when Mr Ben Kaifallah said even audit reports would no more be swept under the carpet.

“The days in which audit report are treated as mere opinions are far gone,” he stressed.

The allegations emanated from a report of the three defunct Commissions of Inquiry set up by government to investigate activities, programmes, policies and entire governance processes of the past government of President Koroma.

Investigation into how the former government handled state finances in the governance project of the state was the most important and overriding objective. The former President is back in Makeni as the interview has been completed with no specific offence.

But, speculations continue to rise about whether the ACC would bring charges against the former President or not. Should the ACC press corruption charges against former President Koroma, he goes down in the history of Sierra Leone as the first President to be humbled in respect of corruption allegations.

Sierra Leone waits to see the drama that unfolds.