Sierra Leone Telegraph: 10 August 2017
Last year, president Koroma of Sierra Leone was accused of money laundering in offshore financial accounts, and investments in some of the largest companies in the country as shareholder.
In particular, evidence emerged naming president Koroma as one of the non-executive directors of the largest diamond mining company in the country – Koidu Holdings, only for that information to be brought down from the Bloomberg website hurriedly, when the Sierra Leone Telegraph and other media outlets published the details.
Other senior ministers too, are believed to have laundered tens of millions of dollars in real estates, company shares, and offshore investment portfolios and bank accounts, out of reach of any internal money laundering investigations in Sierra Leone.
President Koroma was today presented with the annual report of the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), as the latest report of the country’s Auditor General which shows that revenue reported in the government’s cash books was potentially understated by Le 11.3 Billion (Leones) makes the news headline.
Although the two financial reports are unconnected, critics point out to the fact that they both however, provide evidence of the quality of governance in the country today, as well as the extent of corruption.
The FIU is a body set up to tackle money laundering and combat terrorism related financing in Sierra Leone.
Although financial laundering is one of the biggest leakages that are damaging the country’s economy, there is a big question mark as to whether the FIU is really doing its work as mandated.
Some observers say that the FIU does not have the financial forensics expertise nor the technical capacity and technological resources to undertake such an important task effectively.
It is estimated that over $200 million leave the shores of Sierra Leone through money laundering every year. In addition, there are several businesses of all sizes that are failing to pay proper taxes, using money laundering and covert tax evasion techniques.
The loss to the National Revenue Authority is phenomenal, but with bribery and corruption rampant in the country, it is unlikely that change is going to come any time soon.
But at the FIU report handing over meeting at State House today, both president Koroma and the FIU team acknowledged the challenges facing the institution.
They spoke about the importance of the FIU focusing on doing the right things, by adopting international standards to addressing money laundering and terrorism financing in Sierra Leone.
The Director of the FIU Ahmed B. Kamara said that his organisation became operational on 31st October 2013, using funds provided by the government.
He said that in 2014, the FIU embarked on aggressive implementation of programmes and activities, addressing the risks and threats of money laundering, and terrorism related financing in Sierra Leone.
In May of the same year, he said, the FIU was mandated by the governing body, Inter-Ministerial Committee to spearhead a national anti-money laundering and counter terrorism financing national risk assessment to identify, analyse and understand the drivers of money laundering and terrorism financing.
But in sharp contrast to the FIU report, is this statement by the Auditor General (Photo) in her report of government’s finances in 2015, which has today made headline news:
“I observed total receipts of Le 206.8 BILLION was recorded in the VIPS…but only Le 195.7 BILLION worth of receipts were reported in the revenue cash book…Hence revenue reported in the cash books was potentially understated by Le 11.3 BILLION.
“It was also noted that customs duty and import Goods and Services Tax, totalling Le 12.2 BILLION and Le 10 BILLION respectively were observed to have been deducted from goods to which duty waivers were granted.
“However, I was unable to confirm that the said amounts were paid to the transit accounts of Customs Services Department and subsequently to the consolidated revenue fund, since both amounts could not be traced to the bank of Sierra Leone bank statement.”
Whilst the ruling APC government is trying hard to put on a brave face to the constant and relenting bad news of high level corruption in the country, it is difficult to see how and where they are going to find the missing millions that remain uncounted for.