Santigie Bangura: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 6 March 2022:
Last Friday, Sierra Leone’s former minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Samura Kamara, appeared in the High Court No1 in Freetown before the Honourable Justice Adrian Fischer.
Kamara, the front runner in the race to lead the main opposition All Peoples Congress (APC) in the 2023 multi – tier elections, is facing the country’s Anti – Corruption Commission (ACC), on two count charges of ‘Misleading a Principal’ and ‘Misappropriation of Public Funds’
At Friday’s hearing, the ACC’s Prosecution team tendered in court a poorly compiled bundle of exhibits, an awkwardness which the Samura Kamara’s Defence repeatedly pointed out. And during the Prosecution’s rather confused presentation, the fastidious Defence further drew attention to several issues including the fact that a considerable number of pages were missing in most of the documents the Prosecution had served them prior to the commencement of matter.
The presiding Judge, the Honourable Justice Adrian Fisher, had to interject with instruction to the Prosecution to provide the Defence with all the missing pages by the next court sitting.
Kamara’s indictment follows a bombshell report by the US based Africanist Press in which it accused the current administration of misappropriation of funds meant for the rehabilitation of Sierra Leone’s Chancery building and two other Sierra Leone embassy properties in New York.
In its May 25 2021 article titled: “Diplomatic Mission Fails to Complete Renovation Despite Transfers of Over US$3 million”, the Africanist Press shocked the nation when it reported that it had obtained “… evidence of wire transfers and other banking transactions of over US$3.2 million in June and September 2019, for the renovation of the country’s diplomatic mission to the United Nations in New York. Despite such transfers, the report stated that “…no substantial work had been done on the renovations”. As the Africanist Press rightly pointed out, this raised “questions regarding the potential use of the funds that were transferred for the project since 2019.”
Though Samura Kamara had left the foreign ministry since December 2017, the ACC still found it necessary to extend their investigation to his tenure. And as part of its investigation, it had first subjected the former and would –be presidential contender to four interviews in just few months. Kamara had to insist that he would no longer accept such questioning, urging the ACC to proffer charges if they had any case against him.
“I have worked so hard to build my reputation and credibility and will not allow any group of people or institution to destroy it. In the last 10 days I have been to the ACC office for what I cannot understand. Why should I be the target for something that I don’t know much about? I have explained weeks ago and I thought my own part was done, but the ACC still kept coming after me just to send the wrong signal to the people. I will not accept that and would fight to death for my respect and integrity,” Kamara said in a press statement Tuesday, 5th October, 2021,
And so they did, and on Friday, Samura Kamara made his sixth appearance in the High Court. He arrived at about 10am and waited for one excruciating hour before court session started at about 11am with its air – rising ritual of calling the accused persons to the dock. There, in the dock, stood the man who has served his country for over 30 years in the financial sector – where he worked as Governor of the central bank, as financial secretary and as minister of finance and economic development without blemish – to answer to allegations which he says have nothing to with him.
As if mimicking the inattentiveness of the Prosecution, the six 18,000 wall and 36,000 British Thermal Units standing air conditioners in the fully packed court room, were in full blast, while all of the its eight windows were wide opened. On the side of each of the windows, gaping holes on the concrete wall which made way for the waste pipes of the air conditioners remained unattended.
A member of the court gallery, who is an obvious supporter of Samura Kamara retorted that, “if the shabbiness in the upkeep of the court building and the wastage of its resources is not disheartening enough; the apparent wastage of resources in putting Samura Kamara on trial for funds that disappeared in his absence should.”
The bystander was referring to the Africanist Press’s supposition that the misappropriation the funds in question allegedly took place after Samura Kamara had resigned from the foreign ministry in December 2017.
In its July 4 2021 report, “Account Details Expose Foreign Affairs Efforts to Cover Up Diplomatic Corruption”, the Africanist press stated that, “The 2018 and 2019 financial records and bank statements of Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs show precisely how more than Le40.1 billion (over US$4 million) of funds earmarked for the supposed renovation of the Sierra Leone Mission headquarters in New York were withdrawn and diverted between March 2018 and September 2019 by foreign affairs officials in Freetown and their diplomatic counterparts in New York.”
The report went further to state that: “Details of the financial transactions from the banking records of the foreign affairs ministry for fiscal year 2018, during the first months of the Bio Administration, show that foreign affairs officials in Freetown withdrew all of the funds transferred by the Chinese government into the foreign affairs account between June 2018 and September 2018 instead of transferring the earmarked funds to the designated embassy account in New York.”
Apparently, it was this quantum of documents that the Prosecuting Witness 1 (PW1) Joseph Bockarie Noah, was having trouble to orderly tender as Exhibits in the matter. They range from Government Banking Cheques; Credits Advice, and other financial documents from the Accountant General’s Department and the Bank of Sierra Leone (BSL) that were sent to the Sierra Leone Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York; to documents that dealt with the awarding of contract for the renovation of Sierra Leone Permanent Mission in New York; to Status Report of the renovation work.
The bundle further included documents relating to the procurement process of the contract, those that dealt with Cabinet decisions and recommendations, “temporary vouchers” for the payment of the said contract and the Assessment Report. All of these, even according to the Prosecution Witness, fall outside the period Samura Kamara served as minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.
During the hearing of 25 February 2022, PW1 told the court how monies were paid for the Sierra Leone Chancery Building and not a penny was said to have been paid on the instruction or approval of Samuea Kamara.
Regarding the offence of ‘Deceiving a Principal’, PW1 told the court during his February 25 2022 submission that during their investigations the ACC was informed that the then director – general in the ministry of foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, wrote a Memo to the then head of Chancery, Alusine Sesay (now deceased), that based on the legal Opinion received from the solicitor –general, the Sierra Leone United Nations (UN) mission should ensure that the Contractor, Fairfield Construction Associates is in compliance with the relevant United States regulations by providing a valid business license/registration certificate, a valid Tax Clearance and records of audited accounts for the last two years.
The ACC PW1 further told the court on that date (February 25 2022) that the then Head of Chancery, Alusine Sesay, in a briefing note, informed Ambassador Adikali Suma about the above compliance criteria and that due diligence had been done as instructed by Ambassador Khadijatu Bashir, the then director –general in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (MFAIC).
Additionally, PW1 also told the court that the ACC was informed by the then Ambassador Suma that it was the duty of the Head of Chancery who is the Principal Adviser to the ambassador to do due diligence. The question that follows therefore is: where did Samura Kamara mislead his principal when in fact he presented to Cabinet all the above information as received from the Sierra Leone Permanent Mission at the United Nations?
On the specific charge of ‘Misappropriation of $2,560,000, the ACC lead Prosecution Witness, PW1, told the court on February 28 2022, that during their investigations, they were informed by the contractor, Jules S. Davis, that he received the payment of $4,669,559.45 from the Sierra Leone UN Permanent Mission in New York. Again, one therefore wonders why Samura Kamara should be in the dock for ‘misappropriation of $2,560,000, which the contractor admitted to have received as part of the $ 4,669,559.45 payment.
Legal analysts say that the Exhibits presented on Friday, along with the submission by the ACC’s PW1, indicate that Samura Kamara did ensure that Cabinet was guided in reaching a decision as to whether it should proceed with the rehabilitation of the chancery building or not. “The Exhibits also tend to show that Samura Kamara did not approve nor did he direct or order the payment of any funds,” stated one legal analyst who spoke to this writer on condition of anonymity.
Yet, for five hours in a single day, Kamara sat in the dock patiently listening to a painfully messy presentation of Exhibits. No doubts that while the court may have shown a bit of tardiness at Friday’s hearing, the Prosecution displayed a great deal sloppiness. But if this was a scheme to frustrate the accused; then the orchestrators had failed woefully. Throughout those harrowing fours, Kamara remained focused and unfazed; sometimes smiling as the drama unfolded.
The matter was adjourned to Monday 7 March, 2022 when the court is expected to commence cross examination of PW1, Joseph Bockarie Noah. Dr Samura Kamara was represented by a host of counsels including two former attorneys-general Franklyn Bai Kargbo and Joseph Fitzgerald Kamara; a former senior prosecutor and Commissioner of the ACC, Ady Macauley, Melron Nicho-Wilson, Ibrahim Sorie, Lansana Dumbuya, Brima Koroma, and others.