Sierra Leone Telegraph: 26 August 2018:
An order for the arrest of the former head of Sierra Leone’s immigration service – Mr Kholifa Koroma, has been issued by police in Sierra Leone to INTERPOL.
The order for his arrest comes amid accusations of widespread fraud and corruption at the immigration service under his watch, including the unlawful issuing of Sierra Leone diplomatic passport to non-authorised government officials and private individuals.
An official at the Sierra Leone’s Anti- Corruption Commission (ACC) told the Sierra Leone Telegraph that the ACC has launched what he referred to as Operation “Eagle Claw” to help root out corrupt officials in various government departments.
Over a dozen people involved with producing and issuing service passports for people who are not in government service have so far been arrested.
Those arrested as part of president Julius Maada Bio’s drive to tackle corruption in Sierra Leone, include officials in the Immigration Service, Internal Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Administrator General’s office and private individuals.
In October 2014, Kholifa Koroma announced that 20,000 (Twenty thousand ) passports had arrived in the country from the United Kingdom, and will be made available to the public.
According to the ACC, an order for the arrest of Mr Kholifa Koroma was made after a government report published by the Governance Transition Team (GTT) recommended that “the issuance of Diplomatic passports be urgently reviewed and that the former Chief Immigration Officer, Kholifa Koroma, be investigated for his alleged complicity in the issuance of Diplomatic passports to hundreds of ineligible holders.
And that, “If sold to outsiders, the diplomatic passports could fetch millions of dollars. The former Chief Immigration Officer must be made to account for those passports.”
This is what the GTT report says about the illegal sale or issuing of the country’s passport:
In December 2013, the Government signed a new contract with Netpage, which purportedly represents the old British firm, Thomas de la Rue, to produce epassports for the GoSL. Thomas de la Rue has been under contract with the GoSL since February 2000 to supply machine-readable passports and their associated issuing system for Sierra Leone.
Jamel Shallop, a Lebanese businessman, owns Netpage, which purportedly provides Thomas de la Rue’s services in Sierra Leone. The new contract was for the purchase of “passport issuing and personalization” from Thomas de la Rue to enable Sierra Leone to “migrate from readable passports to ePassports, and the design of new ePassports.”
The total contract cost amounted to £2,195,360, of which the Government paid £1,680,641 upon signing the agreement. The other substantive terms of the contract are simply bizarre. All funds from the sale of the passports were to be given to Jamel Shallop and Co.
Netpage and the Government of Sierra Leone would earn only the Le 10,000 that citizens pay to obtain the passport application form.
The company, in other words, though paid for the service, benefits up to US $100 per passport fee that citizens’ pay to actually obtain a new passport, and GoSL gets only about $1.25.
The GTT strongly recommends the contract with De la Rue and its supposed service provider company Netpage, be urgently reviewed.
Moreover, a verification exercise conducted by the GTT, of the issuance of 1,179 diplomatic passports, revealed that hundreds of ineligible citizens were granted diplomatic passports and that dozens of those passports could not be accounted for.
Two official directives – a 1998 Cabinet Conclusion and a 2007 declaration by President Koroma – restricted ownership of diplomatic passports to the President, Vice President, Speaker of Parliament, Chief Justice, cabinet ministers and deputy ministers, diplomatic representatives and Members of Parliament (this last category was added by President Koroma’s Directive).
However, a list of diplomatic passport holders obtained by the GTT shows such luminaries as ‘housewives’ of senior APC leaders, their business associates and sundry other categories of persons holding diplomatic passports.
The GTT recommends that the issuance of Diplomatic passports be urgently reviewed and that the former Chief Immigration Officer, Kholifa Koroma, be investigated for his alleged complicity in the issuance of Diplomatic passports to hundreds of ineligible holders.
If sold to outsiders, the diplomatic passports could fetch millions of dollars. The former Chief Immigration Officer must be made to account for those passports.