Has the president been exonerated of corruption by Mark Heiligman’s latest statement?

24 July 2012

“We cannot categorically state that President Koroma was aware of Sam’s behaviour. Should Mr. Koroma have investigated Sam a little more before trusting him?”

Those are the words of Mark Heiligman, the American businessman who accused the vice president of Sierra Leone – Sam Sumana of taking money from him under false pretences.

In his earlier letter to the people of Sierra Leone, published two days ago, Mark Heiligman not only accused the vice president of theft, but also extended his angry accusation at the president. He said that the president had collaborated in the scam.

In the latest twist to this shameful scandal, supporters and PR agents of president Koroma are already uncorking champagne bottles, in celebration of what they regard as a complete exoneration of the president by Mr. Heiligman.

But what about the vice president? With elections just few months away, is he being used as the fall guy, in an increasingly tense political atmosphere, where there are competing names of APC senior party grandees queueing up to become president Koroma’s election running mate? Or has the vice president slipped on his own banana skin?

In a surprised letter addressed to the people of Sierra Leone today – 24 July 2012, Mark Heiligman has sought to respond to the government’s muddled press statement, issued yesterday, which refers to Heiligman as an unsavoury character who cannot be trusted. 

But Heiligman is unmoved. He continues to hold the vice president responsible for the hundreds of thousands of dollars taken from him by the vice president. He wants his money back – fast. This is what he said:

“To the People of Sierra Leone:

“A letter was recently written by us informing all of you of the nefarious activities of your current Vice President Sam Sumana. While we are sure in our allegations against Sam, we cannot categorically state that President Koroma was aware of Sam’s behavior.

“Should Mr. Koroma have investigated Sam a little more before trusting him? Probably. But sometimes the wolf is well-hidden in sheep’s clothing and even president’s and powerful men can be blinded by fairy tales told by clever men.

“Our beef is with the Vice President. We have no desire to be involved in the politics of Sierra Leone and we have no affiliation with any of your political parties or their ideologies.

“We simply are businessmen trying to get money back that rightfully belongs to us. While trying to get through to Sam, we learned more and more about the man he truly is, not the man he said he was.

“He is being dishonest in many ways, from his official biography to his receipt of favors from those wanting to do business in Sierra Leone. We also learned one very important thing…he is an arrogant liar who has taking advantage of your country and your president.

“With our apologies to President Koroma for seemingly implicating him in Sam’s corrupt activities, we wish to end this discourse with the simple wish for your country that we had when we first started toying with the idea of United Diamond Mining Company.

“The following was our mission statement written in 2004 for the Rapaport Diamond Report magazine. The article was never published, but here is our vision of what we wanted to do to help both ourselves, as businessmen, and to thank and support your country, your people and resources, rather than exploit them.

“The following is a brief history of United Diamond Mining Corporation — the most highly mechanized alluvial mining operation in Sierra Leone.

“Approximately six years ago, Mark Heiligman, Graduate Gemologist and president of Lionsgate Diamond Corporation in Minneapolis began engaging in discussion with Sam Samsumana, a native of Sierra Leone, who was living in Minneapolis with his family after escaping the escalating violence in his homeland.

“It was Sam’s fervent hope and belief that peace would be coming to his country soon and when it did he wanted to be there to mine his father’s land and at the same time help the struggling nation.

“It took a few years to put things together, but Mark and Sam formed a partnership with St. Paul businessman, Dave Kloeber, and United Diamond Mining Corporation became a reality in January, 2001.

“Sam, Dave and Mark spent the next few months planning strategies, acquiring the heavy equipment needed and arranging for shipment to Sierra Leone. Once the basics were put together and the hostilities in Sierra Leone had ceased, Sam was ready to go to Africa and start implementing UDM’s vision for the future.

“After our equipment arrived in Sierra Leone, Sam set up UDM’s headquarters in Kono. As part of UDM’s vision to not only start a successful diamond mining business but also help the country, one of the first things Sam found himself doing was volunteering to use our heavy equipment to clear roads for the U.N. They were very appreciative and we continue to have a good relationship with the peacekeepers in Sierra Leone.

“One of the precepts upon which UDM was founded was that our diamonds would be 100% Kimberley Process compliant. All licensing fees and exporting duties are paid to the government of Sierra Leone.

“We are happy to be a part of the rebuilding of Sierra Leone by providing many secure and well-paid jobs to the people in a country where the unemployment rate is well over 85%. Our employees are provided with on-site medical care for themselves and their families.

“Sam’s late father was a very well respected chief in the area around Kono, and Sam is carrying on his father’s legacy by garnering the respect of the people through his fairness and generosity. The people there are thrilled to be working for a diamond mining company in which, for the first time ever, a native Sierra Leonean has a partnership interest.

“After years of struggle in West Africa and especially in Sierra Leone, the image of diamonds from that part of the world was tainted because of the implications that the profits from the sale of diamonds from the region went to fund rebels and terrorists.

“The world read article after article about “conflict” diamonds and “blood” diamonds. The horrible images of women and children murdered or mutilated during the years of bloody civil war were engrained in our minds.

“But now those images are being replaced with images of hope in a country trying to rebuild itself.

“And now with the help of UDM and one of their own, the people of Sierra Leone can proudly say that the diamonds that come out of the ground today are not “blood” diamonds but “lifeblood diamonds” because the diamond industry (and UDM) is contributing to the economy, complying with all government regulations and, most important of all, helping breathe life back into Sierra Leone and her people.
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“As far as the official reaction to our initial letter by the Minister of Information and Communication published in the Salone Sledgehammer, we understand their concern that the truth be told, but in their response they were reactionary and either very misinformed or just libelously dishonest.

“I am not mentally unstable and I certainly am not “wallowing in poverty” nor have I ever been. There was a time of struggle when the American economy was in trouble that I, along with many other middle class Americans suffered through.

“We are not trying to extort money from Sam Sumana or the government of Sierra Leone and my wife has nothing to do with it. She has always helped me with my business and was privy to all of Sam’s broken promises and betrayals.

“She wrote these letters on my behalf because she is a former journalism student and a gifted writer, so I would greatly appreciate it if the press and the government of Sierra Leone would leave her name out of it…the business choices I made were mine…not hers.

“We simply believe that if a man like Samuel Sam Sumana cannot be true to his former business partners that he once called friends… and pay the business debt to which he is obligated…how can he be true to his people?

“We do not wish to receive any further communication from anyone other than Sam Sam Sumana. We will not turn this into a political ping-pong game. He owes us a debt and he knows it…whatever else he wants to do is on his conscience. He betrayed us.

“He betrayed President Koroma…and worst of all he betrayed all of the men, women and children of Sierra Leone.

“May God bless you all and may God bless Sierra Leone.

Sincerely,

Mark O. Heiligman
Landmark Diamonds & Precious Metals, Inc.” END OF STATEMENT

This statement does not in any way exonerate the president, nor does it further incriminate him. It is for the Anti-Corruption Commission to exonerate the vice president and by extension – the president.

It is worth noting that Heiligman has not withdrawn his accusations. What he has merely done in that follow-up, is to clarify and focus his accusation on the Vice President, whom he is accusing of taking money from him under false pretences.

By issuing today’s statement, it seems Heiligman is ensuring that his allegation is legally sound, measured and focussed.

He need not in the first place have accused president Koroma of direct involvement in the alleged fraud, knowing fully well that money did not change hands between himself and the president.

But, that the president was not aware of the vice president’s alleged criminal activities is highly troubling, and calls into question his judgement of character.

And that is the mud that has stuck for now, until the president himself makes an unequivocal public statement on the matter, while the Anti-Corruption Commission conduct an investigation.

So far, the Anti-Corruption Commissioner – Joseph Kamara has shown no interest in the matter, leaving himself wide open to accusation of encouraging impunity and fattening a sacred cow.

In the meantime, Mark Heiligman has done the right thing, by issuing a press statement today, clarifying his position and retracting his accusation of the president of theft.

The people of Sierra Leone are eagerly waiting to hear from president Koroma and indeed the vice president, about this shameful scandal.

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