Sierra Leone Telegraph: 21 March 2016:
After just 100 days of flying, the bottom of the Fly Salone Airline has fallen off, and the company has been grounded for good, as it seriously failed to meet its financial obligations to creditors, including the Icelandic company from whom they had leased the plane. (Photo: president Koroma welcoming Fly Salone on its maiden flight).
Fly Salone was an enterprise established by two well connected middle-eastern businessmen who are believed to have been granted Sierra Leonean passports and citizenship – messrs Jihad Saleh and Sam H. Sabrah.
And how much they paid for their Sierra Leonean passport and citizenship is another question for another day.
But as most credible financial analysts would agree, this was an enterprise that was doomed to fail, if the company registration document filed with the British Company House by both men, is anything to go by.
It seems from records that the airline had little or no investment and working capital, to have been granted approval by the Koroma government to register in the country and use the nation’s most precious asset – its national flag.
Once again, president Koroma and his ministers have failed to conduct proper due diligence, as the temptation of backhanders and brown envelopes became too strong to resist.
The poor people of Sierra Leone have once again been duped by two men, who ought to have known that without working capital and the capacity to compete in a difficult global airline industry, their venture was doomed to fail.
Whilst these two middle-eastern men were posing as airline tycoons, and busy stitching up a dodgy agreement with Sierra Leone’s transportation minister – Balogun Logus Koroma – a man that critics say is one of the most corrupt in the government, in return for an undisclosed contract-kickback, another scam was being hatched behind closed doors at State House.
A senior adviser to president Koroma – I.B.Kargbo was also busy cobbling a bogus deal with the Lebanese government to dump in Freetown, the industrial and domestic waste that they are unable to manage themselves.
At the height of the Ebola crisis in 2014, the lives of eleven highly qualified doctors and hundreds of nurses and healthcare workers in Sierra Leone were needlessly lost to the virus because the government said it could not afford to buy protective wear.
But transport minister and the president, felt it was urgent and necessary to approve a $12 million loan to purchase 100 buses from China.
According to the government this spending was needed to ease the country’s transport difficulties. It is evidently clear that this was a misplaced priority, from which millions of dollars went into the pockets of officials.
Today, as hundreds of Sierra Leoneans at home and abroad face the prospect of losing the hard earned cash they have paid to the bosses of Fly Salone, one thing is certain – the plane will not be taking off. The company has ceased trading and is going into liquidation.
But what is not clear tonight is whether president Koroma personally acted as financial guarantor in his capacity as head of State for the two middle-easterners to obtain credit from the Icelandic Airlines.
If president Koroma indeed acted as credit guarantor, how many millions of dollars was involved?
Will the tax payers of Sierra Leone as well as customers of Fly Salone, be expected to pick up the losses suffered by the company?
Before the 8th of December 2015, very little was known about Fly Salone, until Aviator UK – a company that supplies aviation services, looking after passengers and equipment at 22 airports from Helsinki to London-Gatwick, made this statement: “We are very pleased to announce our latest new customer at London Gatwick commences operations on Friday 11th December 2015 – FLY SALONE.”
“Aviator is delighted to be selected by Fly Salone as their handling partner at London Gatwick and we look forward to working together,” said Clive Darbon, Commercial Director of Aviator UK.
How much debt is owed to Aviator by Fly Salone is unknown, but the sums involved must run into millions of dollars.
Fly Salone was established last year as the only airline flying directly to Freetown from the UK, with the direct support and blessing of the Koroma government to operate a twice weekly service from London Gatwick to Freetown, using a single Boeing 757-200 aircraft that the two middle-eastern men had leased from Icelandair.
The airline was hailed by the Koroma government as the first registered aircraft flying the Sierra Leone flag in recent years. According to the Icelandic Air, the 200-seater passenger Boeing aircraft had met international safety standards.
The plane is said to have been handed over to messrs Jihad Saleh and Sam H. Sabrah, fully serviced by the Icelandic company, with an approved license, in a lease agreement that included a pilot, technical crew and flight attendants.
On Friday, 11th December, 2015, the Fly Salone Boeing 757-200 left London Gatwick on its maiden flight, with passengers from the United Kingdom, and landed at the Lungi international airport in Freetown on Saturday, 12th December, 2015.
The plane, its two middle-eastern so-called financiers, its Icelandic crew and Sierra Leonean passengers were met and greeted at Lungi Airport by president Koroma and his ministers, including the alleged serially corrupt minister of transport – Balogun Koroma.
Fly Salone Airline was to provide a much needed service between London Gatwick and Lungi twice a week. But today, the airline is anything but flying. It is grounded and going through liquidation.
Its agent – McPhillips Travel, put out this statement to its customers. It does not give much assurance: “To all the Fly Salone passengers who have flying arrangements. We regret to inform you that Fly Salone has ceased trading.
“All passengers will therefore be unable to fly with this airline as the Company will shortly be entering into liquidation. All passengers that have paid for their bookings using Visa/MasterCard debit or credit cards should seek a refund through their bank directly.
“Alternatively if you have taken out a travel insurance policy, you may be able to claim via your travel insurer, citing scheduled airline failure. All other passengers will be contacted in due course with full details regarding how to make a claim which will include a claim form to complete and submit. We are deeply sorry for the inconvenience caused to passengers.”
As for Fly Salone itself, the less said about its statement, the better. It ominously repeats the same uncomfortable statement published by McPhillips:
“To all the Fly Salone passengers who have flying arrangements. We regret to inform you that Fly Salone has ceased trading. All passengers will therefore be unable to fly with this airline as the Company will shortly be entering into liquidation.
“All passengers that have paid for their bookings using Visa/MasterCard debit or credit cards should seek a refund through their bank directly. Alternatively if you have taken out a travel insurance policy, you may be able to claim via your travel insurer, citing scheduled airline failure.
“All other passengers will be contacted in due course with full details regarding how to make a claim which will include a claim form to complete and submit. We are deeply sorry for the inconvenience caused to passengers.”
Will anything good ever come out of Sierra Leone, governed by the notoriously corrupt All Peoples Congress Party (APC)?
Since coming to power in 2007, the number of foreign investors and companies that have left the shores of Sierra Leone, or folded, due to the lack of due diligence and oversight by the Koroma government, makes for shocking reading, including one of the largest iron ore mining companies in Africa – African Minerals, which went into liquidation and was eventually bought at knock down price by the Chinese with the help of president Koroma.
Addax, the bio-energy sugar cane growing and processing company, is still facing serious financial difficulties and is understood to be looking for a buyer. London mining, another seemingly successful company also suffered difficulties. And the list goes on.
Fly Salone may be no more, and the cost to the people of Sierra Leone will never be known. But what is certain is that the government had granted three years tax waivers to messrs Jihad Saleh and Sam H. Sabrah, as sweeteners – valued at millions of dollars.
How much kick-back did the president and his ministers receive?
This comment by a Sierra Leonean is a serious indictment of the Koroma government today: “These goons have been faking us for too long, and they think they could fake the rest of the world with their stale tricks. This government is full of charlatans who go around the world dressed up in very expensive suits, body-hugging t-shirts, and small brains, trying to con investors into pouring money into fake projects. As long as the conmen get their “percentage cuts”, the rest is only a “story”, they reckon.”