By Sheriff Mahmud Ismail
The Anti- Corruption Commission (ACC) indicted Saidu Nallo, head of the Sierra Leone Chancery in New York, United States of America and five others; including Dr Samura Kamara.
Kamara served as Sierra Leone’s minister of foreign affairs and international cooperation until November 2017. Together, the six inductees were charged with 48 counts of various offences.
According to an ACC press release, ACC/PR/21/034, ‘Dr Samura Kamara was charged with One count of deceiving a principal and One count of misappropriation of public funds amounting to Two Million, Five Hundred and Sixty Thousand United States Dollars ($2,560,000), meant for the reconstruction of the Sierra Leone Chancery Building in New York.”
But bank transfers/wires tendered in evidence so far, show that the nearly five million dollars disbursed in respect of ‘the rehabilitation and refurbishment’ of the said Chancery building took place in 2019.
In November 2022, the Africanist Press, an investigative online media outfit based in the United States, published startling evidence highlighting the period the funds were transferred.
As the Africanist Press put it: “These 2019 bank transactions included evidence of wire transfers from the Bank of Sierra Leone (BSL) that show precisely how Le36.4 billion (over US$3.6 million) was transferred from the Foreign Affairs Ministry’s account to the Republic of Sierra Leone Embassy account in New York between 14th June 2019 and 5th September 2019 by Foreign Affairs officials to the Sierra Leone Mission in New York.”
The US based Africanist Press went further to assert that, “These bank transfers included eight wire transfer transactions totaling Le20,070,845,946 (about US$2.1 million) by Foreign Affairs officials between 24th May 2019 and 24th September 2019.”
The Africanist Press also pointed out that “Two other SWIFT transfers (FT1916454098 and FT1924808290) in the amounts of Le7,665,845,933.49 (about US$800,000) and Le9,329,999,975.14 (about US$1 million) were also carried out on 13th June 2019, and 5th September 2019. The report said these transfers “were noted specifically as payments towards the renovation of the Chancery Building of the Sierra Leone Mission in New York.”
After more than four years of investigation and about two years of trial, Justice Adrian Fisher, who is presiding over the case, ordered a ‘Locus in Quo’ visit to the site of the building albeit without any procurement or engineering experts.
Whatever the purpose and intent of the court -ordered site inspection were, from the videos and still images emerging on site, there is no evidence whatsoever of any rehabilitation work for which nearly five million dollars have been reportedly disbursed. The videos and photos of the building depict a completely inhabitable, dilapidated and abandoned building.
Seeing images of the derelict state of the Chancery building, Sierra Leoneans have reacted with consternation disappointment and anger. Many wonder why Samura Kamara is in this trial in the first place and not his successors, when all the disbursements were made in 2019, two years after Samura Kamara had left the Ministry of foreign affairs.
Samura Kamara resigned from the position of Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation in November 2017. This follows his nomination as presidential candidate for the then governing All People’s Congress (APC). Kamara lost the 2018 presidential elections to Julius Maada Bio and his Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP). Since then, President Bio has appointed three ministers of foreign affairs and international cooperation – Ali Kabba, Nabila Tunis and David Francis.
Curiously, rather than investigating the SLPP ministers -Ali Kabba and Nabila Tunis- under whose watch the funds were reportedly disbursed and misappropriated (as the bank statements , photos and videos portray); it is the APC erstwhile foreign minister, who has been targeted.
Not surprisingly, independent political observers and legal analysts hold the view that this trial of Samura Kamara could be politically motivated and they do so for good reasons. Through political chicanery, none out of the other 17 registered opposition political parties would be able to field in a presidential candidate in the coming Presidential elections.
Samura Kamara is the Leader and presidential candidate of the main opposition APC and is the strongest and probably the only contender to the incumbent President Julius Maada Bio in the June 24 presidential elections, barely three months away. Dragging Kamara to court on charges relating to processes, procedures and funds took two years after he had left office give strong impression of deliberate efforts to decapitate and immobilized the opposition.
Democracy advocates, Sierra Leone’s international partners, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union (AU), the Commonwealth, the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), have all expressed concern over the tethering of democracy in Sierra Leone and urged for multiparty, inclusive, peaceful, free, fair and credible elections. They have also implore the judiciary not to be in cahoots with politicians to derail the democratic process.
As elections draw nearer, Sierra Leoneans wait in palpable anxiety for the outcome of the many describe as the drama unfolding in the country’s judiciary.