Sierra Leone Telegraph: 17 July 2021:
On Monday 12th July 2021, the Sierra Leone Court of Appeals handed down a 34-page unclear judgment in the Appeal filed by former Minister of Health Miatta Kargbo. Legal, political, and financial commentators insist that the State does not have a genuine case of unexplained wealth supported by evidence against Miatta Kargbo.
Commentators are wondering why the Appeals Court dismissed Miatta Kargbo’s case, given the evidence supporting her appeals, if not for political reasons since she is a member of the All Peoples Congress Party (APC) and served under former President Ernest Bai Koroma that ruled the country from 2007-2018.
The Commissions of inquiry were established by the Sierra Leone Peoples Party and President Maada Bio that won the 2018 Presidential elections in Sierra Leone.
The case of Miatta Kargbo’s personal account at Zenith Bank as the source of the judgment of unexplained wealth does not seem to make sense to legal scholars, political analysts, and especially even financial analysts because to start with, the former Minister opened both Zenith accounts in 2016 – two years after she left office.
The lawyer representing Miatta Kargbo, Melron Nicol-Wilson, tendered into evidence detailed bank account statements, transactions, and supporting documents over the life of both accounts – four years.
Also tendered into evidence was a judgment Miatta Kargbo won in 2017 in a case against Guonji Company Limited in a matter presided over by Justice Sengu Koroma (now Justice of the Supreme Court of Sierra Leone) in the Fast-Track Commercial Court in Freetown was awarded over US $160,000.
These monies were directly transferred into her US Dollars and Leones accounts at the Zenith Bank account. Unfortunately, the Judgement which is questionable and more political than legal, used the account payments against Miatta Kargbo.
Melron Nicol-Wilson also in a motion for leave to adduce fresh evidence pursuant to Order 27 of the Court of Appeal rules of 1985, attached National Petroleum payment records and cheque deposits made into Miatta Kargbo’s account from the income she received monthly from fuel tankers she operated as a businesswoman.
These fuel tankers were procured in 2011 before Miatta Kargbo become Minister from a loan she acquired from one of the Sierra Leonean banks. Miatta Kargbo paid off her tanker loans in 2018.
Nicol-Wilson tendered all evidence in court. But the most interesting outcome of this case was that the amounts the lawyers for the State have been sharing in the public domain as unexplained wealth and ascribed to, seem like lump sums in Miatta Kargbo’s account, are actually incremental deposits over four-year period.
One may wonder that it is possible that if Miatta Kargbo worked for 18 months with a salary of $6,000 which accounts for $108,000, including a lawsuit award of $163,800, which is equivalent to Le1,228,500,000 (Le 1.2 Billion) assuming an exchange rate of Le7,500 in 2017, that she is capable of having the said amounts of US$102,000 and Le1.9 Billion. In addition, Miatta Kargbo received an end of service benefit from the Government of Sierra Leone, which amounted to about Le550 million.
One financial analyst commented that with these totals alone, any reasonable individual or financial expert could conclude that all funds in Miatta Kargbo’s account acquired after leaving office could be accounted for and is NOT unexplained wealth.
Melron Nicol-Wilson stated that Miatta Kargbo was not given an opportunity to rebut allegations of unexplained wealth in her bank accounts during the COI, and unfortunately, the counsel for the State in the Court of Appeals – Robert Kowa, objected to a Motion seeking to bring in fresh evidence rebutting the allegations at the COI, and the Court of Appeal refused to accept the evidence that explained monies in Miatta Kargbo’s account.
Kowa mentioned in the appeals that it is not the duty of the Court of Appeal to look at new evidence at the Appellate stage but rather to see if the conclusions arrived at the Commission of inquiry were just and supported by evidence. This is unfortunate since the Court of Appeal has a right to remedy a wrong by a lower court – in this case the Commission of Inquiry which is the equivalent of the High Court.
The Court of Appeal dismissed the entire Appeal but ironically agreed that the 20 ambulances were indeed supplied and stated in paragraph 49 as follows:
‘We see no reason to interfere with the Sole Commissioner’s Findings, save for the fact that all Ambulances procured were delivered. We will not uphold the findings that USD 1,050,000.00 remained unaccounted for in relation to Ambulances procured by the Ministry of Health. The Ambulances were duly purchased and sent to Sierra Leone’.
Justice Biobele Georgewill in his Commission of Inquiry report had found Miatta Kargbo wanting for non-supply of 20 ambulances amounting to One Million and Fifty Thousand United States Dollars and had ordered that the money be refunded by Kargbo. The judge had also stated that she had unexplained wealth and found her guilty of the offence of failing to declare her assets as provided for under the Anti-Corruption Act.
Legal commentators have stated that Nicol-Wilson should have won the appeal by winning the issue of the ambulances as a major ground as per Sierra Leone Appellate rules. The Court of Appeal indirectly agreed that Justice Biobele Georgewill erred in law and fact and, was wrong in his findings and conclusions when he stated that Miatta Kargbo should refund over One million united states Dollars for Ambulances that were not procured and supplied during her tenure in Office as Minister.
The indictment against the sole commissioner is even stronger when in the records before the Court of Appeal containing transcripts of proceedings at the Commission of inquiry, two witnesses called by the State to testify against Miatta Kargbo stated that the ambulances were procured and supplied in two tranches of 16 and 4 – making a total of 20.
Miatta Kargbo still has one more layer of Appeal – The Supreme Court of Sierra Leone where she will have a final opportunity to clear her name and set the records right.