Sierra Leone Telegraph: 12 April 2014:
In what has been described in the streets of Freetown as a landmark court judgement, handed down on Thursday, 10th April, 2014, by the High Court, two National Revenue Authority (NRA) officials and three Eco Bank staff, were found guilty of corruption.
They have been sentenced to serve custodial terms in the country’s notorious Pademba Road prison.
The Sierra Leone Telegraph and several other journalists in the country have been campaigning for custodial sentence to be granted on anyone convicted of corruption in Sierra Leone, as a deterrent to a crime, which is costing the country hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue annually.
But is this verdict a case of selective justice, or is it a genuine attempt by the Anti-Corruption Commission and the High Court to get tough on Corruption?
The human cost of corruption in Sierra Leone – one of the poorest nations in the world, is immense. Every year, about 50% of adults die before they celebrate their 45th birthday. This statistic may sound incredulous, but listening to radio obituary announcements in the capital Freetown is not for the faint-hearted.
While most of the deaths reported annually are caused by preventable diseases, the country’s healthcare system is deprived of much needed funds, medicines and facilities, because of rampant corruption.
President Koroma has been subjected to fierce criticisms for doing far too little in stamping out corruption.
And so too is the Anti-Corruption Commissioner, who has been accused of slaughtering sacrificial lambs, whilst sacred cows are being allowed to graze at State House.
Several ministers and senior government officials have escaped justice, with the help of a feeble and partisan Commissioner at the helm of the ACC.
It is for this reason that crucial question still remains, despite yesterday’s landmark custodial sentence, whether ministers and senior ruling party officials will ever serve jail term for corruption in contemporary Sierra Leone.
Announcing the court verdict yesterday, the ACC Media Unit, which is headed by the newly appointed deputy commissioner – Sholay Davies, said that the High Court of Sierra Leone, presided over by Justice M.A. Paul, on 10th April 2014, imposed custodial sentences on all the convicts, in addition to monetary fines, totalling Two Billion, Five Hundred and Fifty Million Leones (Le2,550,000,000).
All five were convicted for offences including: Conspiracy to commit a corruption Offence, misappropriation of public revenue, possession of unexplained wealth and failure to fully declare assets to the commission – all contrary to the Anti-Corruption Act of 2008.
The first accused – Solomon Hindolo Katta – a customs officer at NRA, was sentenced to six years imprisonment and required to pay Two Billion Two Hundred Million Leones (Le2,200,000,000).
Idrissa Fornah – an officer at the NRA, was also sentenced to six years imprisonment, and fined Two Hundred Million Leones (Le200,000,000).
Momoh Turay – a worker at the EcoBank, was sentenced to three years imprisonment and required to pay Forty Million Leones (Le40,000,000).
Emmanuel Sesay – also of the EcoBank, was sentenced to three years imprisonment and fined Forty Million Leones (Le40,000,000).
And Mrs. Catherine Katta – another EcoBank staff was also sentenced to three years imprisonment as well as fined the sum of Seventy Million Leones (Le70,000,000).
The case, which started in June 2013, was successfully prosecuted by Mr. Ady Macauley for the Anti-Corruption Commission, after 17 people were indicted and charged with the following offences, under the Anti-Corruption Act 2008:
Misappropriation of Public Revenue, Fraudulent Reduction of Customs Charges, Corrupt Transaction with Agents, Accepting an Advantage, Being in Control of Pecuniary Resources Disproportionate to Official Emolument.
The seventeen accused – many of whom have been cleared of responsibility for the crime, were: Ibraham B. Lavally (Customs Officer, NRA), Solomon Hindolo Katta (Customs Officer, NRA), Inah James (Customs Collector, NRA), Adetunji Desmond Cole (Collection Assistant, NRA), Bakie Minah (Customs Officer, NRA), Everton Faulkner (Customs Collector, NRA), Abu Bakarr Kamara (Collection Assistant, NRA), Idrissa Fornah, Alias ORKALA (Officer, NRA), Elizabeth King (Officer, NRA), Ishmail Dainkeh (Banker, ECO Bank), Isata Osaio Kamara (Bulk Cashier, ECO Bank), Sharka Kpanabum (Former employee, ECO Bank), Momoh Turay (Banker, ECOBANK), Emmanuel Sesay (Banker, ECOBANK), Catherine Katta (Banker, ECO Bank), Santigie Kargbo (Alie and Santos Clearing and Forwarding Agency) and Abdul Mutalid Kamara (Delivery Clerk, Sierra Leone National Shipping Agency.
During the court proceedings early this year, it was heard that one of the accused – Ibrahim B. Lavalie, operated a total of six bank accounts and had declared only two of those accounts to the Anti-Corruption Commission, in accordance with the law, Joseph Foray – a member of the ACC financial investigative team, told the High Court.
Foray testified that in November 2008, the two bank accounts declared by Ibrahim B. Lavalie were held at the Sierra Leone Commercial Bank (SLCB), with a balance of four million, five hundred and three thousand, nine hundred and sixteen Leones (Le4,503,916) and six million and three thousand, nine hundred and sixteen Leones (Le6,003,916) respectively.
He said that at the end of that financial year, the accused person’s account increased to more than ten million Leones (Le10m) in each account.
Foray also told the court that an investigation into the bank accounts and bank transactions of Lavalie between the periods 2009 to 2013, showed that the accused operated six bank accounts with a balance of Le294,676,450.60 held at the Guaranty Trust Bank.
The court also heard that in addition, Lavalie had a balance of Le275,679,491.58 at the Ecobank; Le198,950,812.66 at the Rokel Commercial Bank; Le141,223,761 at the Sierra Leone Commercial Bank; and two other accounts at the Union Trust Bank, with a balance of Le242,750,764, and a dollar account holding US$42,500.
The ACC investigator – Foray, told the court that Lavalie’s total salary and other emoluments for the aforementioned period were estimated at Le93,398,922.88.
Evidence were gathered from bank statements and the laptop of the accused.
Foray told the court that whilst the accused was in being held in custody at the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), he instructed the withdrawal of Le100 million from his GT Bank account on 14 June 2013, and paid the sum of US$9,000 to one of the other 17 accused – his wife – Mrs. K. Lavalie, from his Union Trust Bank account.
The case continues in the High Court as Ibrahim Lavalie and others await their fate.
“Ecobank Sierra Leone Ltd., part of the Ecobank Group, has at its heart a mission to contribute to the integration of socio-economic development of Africa and of Sierra Leone.
“This deep commitment to the country’s future means that we operate with the highest standards of ethics and compliance with the law.
“In the light of recent events in Sierra Leone, we wish formally to offer the following statement:
“Ecobank Sierra Leone Ltd. will never collude with, protect or harbor any member of staff who attempts to sabotage the economy of the Republic of Sierra Leone.
“When our own internal investigations revealed that a small number of employees had been acting illegally in collusion with officials of the National Revenue Authority, we took immediate and decisive action: our assigned armed guards detained the suspected staff and handed them over to the Sierra Leone National Police (CID).
“Within one hour, we reported the matter to the Commissioner General of the NRA and sought her authorization to arrest the NRA officials involved. As a result, two of the NRA officials suspected to be part of the ring were arrested by the Police CID and officials of the bank.
“We have subsequently strengthened our control systems to ensure that such activities are eliminated.
“Through its actions, Ecobank has clearly demonstrated that it will not allow itself to be used as a conduit to plunder state funds or be used by criminals to perpetrate any criminal act. Ecobank Sierra Leone Ltd. sees itself as a partner in the fight against corruption and will continue to disclose any incident of fraud to the authorities.
“We are pleased to note that many of our cherished customers have praised our swift response to this incident and we wish to reassure them that the operations of the bank have not been affected, deposits remain secure and the bank is very liquid.
“As a top rated African institution and well respected banking group, we will continue to uphold our reputation earned over many years. Ecobank Sierra Leone Ltd. takes pride in its integrity and will protect its credibility to the end.
“We will continue to cooperate with the law enforcement agencies and the Anti Corruption Commission to ensure that the perpetrators, if found culpable, are made to face the full rigors of the law to serve as a deterrent to others.”
But as the five corruption convicts began their long jail sentence at Pademba Road prisons on Thursday, the Anti-Corruption Commission is being accused of ‘selective justice’, as government ministers and senior ruling APC party officials escape conviction for massive corruption. (Cartoon: Courtesy of Sierra Express Media).
Critics of the government say that whilst this NRA & Ecobank custodial sentence handed down by the court, may be regarded by many in Sierra Leone as a landmark judgement, questions still remain:
Will the ACC be bold enough to fully investigate and bring to justice, those government ministers that are responsible for depriving the national coffers of millions of dollars in revenue through corruption?
And will the courts also be tough enough to hand down jail sentence to those ministers and senior APC party officials found guilty of corruption?