Sierra Leone Telegraph: 12 November 2019:
Sallieu Tejan Jalloh – the managing editor of one of Sierra Leone’s newspapers – Times Sierra Leone, was yesterday evening arrested by armed police officers and locked up in detention at the CID in Freetown, after publishing a statement promising to reveal evidence of a $1.5 million bribe, allegedly paid into the Bank account of the government’s chief minister – Professor David Francis by a mining company.
According to the BBC’s Umaru Fofanah, commenting this morning on social media on the arrest: “Police in Sierra Leone have confirmed the detention last night of journalist Sallieu Tejan-Jalloh of the Times newspaper. The head of CID, Chief Superintendent John Alpha told me that it was in connection with an SMS the journalist sent to the county’s Chief Minister Prof David Francis, enquiring about an alleged payment of $1.5 million into his private bank account by SL Mining which had its license cancelled recently by the state. Police are now at Ecobank seeking to confirm the alleged payment, the CID boss told me. The Chief Minister could not be reached for his comment.”
The arrested journalist is reported to have planned to publish full details of the bribery transactions today. (Photo: Sallieu Tejan-Jalloh).
It is understood that the SMS text message sent by the journalist to chief minister Francis, was simply to request confirmation of the source of the $1.5 million allegedly paid into the chief minister’s Ecobank account in Freetown.
Critics say that the arrest of the journalist last night, was aimed at silencing the journalist and to prevent him from publishing the evidence.
It is believed that the journalist had received warnings in the last few days to back off from publishing that evidence.
The arrest of yet another journalist by the SLPP government raises questions about the seriousness of the government’s intention to repeal the notorious 1965 Public Order Act, which successive governments have arbitrarily used to harass, intimidate, arrest and detain journalists in the country.
If the corruption allegations against chief minister David Francis are true, then this will be the first high profile corruption scandal to hit president Bio’s government, since he came to office last March.
According to details of the SMS text believed to have been sent by the journalist for the chief minister to comment on the allegations before deciding whether to publish the evidence, it would appear that the country’s Financial Crimes Intelligence Unit (FIU) had discovered the $1.5 million in the minister’s bank account in their investigations.
“Good evening sir, please be informed that we are currently investigating an issue of financial crime allegedly involving the Chief Minister. It was alleged that the FIU discovered the sum of USD1.5 million which was paid on diverse dates in your account at the ECOBANK. There are issues of alleged bribery from a mining company that also requires your response. We are already concluding our investigation and we would therefore need your own side of the story before publications. Thanks and we look forward to hearing from you.” That was the content of the SMS text sent to the chief minister by the journalist arrested yesterday.
The police in Freetown are yet to make a statement about the arrest of the journalist, who from the above SMS text message, does not appear to have committed a crime by merely trying to cross check his allegations with the chief minister, before going to press.
Chief Minister Professor David Francis is the most powerful minister in the Bio-led government, and possibly the most unpopular minister in the country. If he has abused his powers and influence over the police, by ordering the arrest of the journalist, then his role in the government must now be untenable.
Many believe that the role of chief minister is an unnecessary duplication of the vice president’s role, and must be scrapped to save the government hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.
These bribery allegations, if proven to be true, will test the commitment and conviction of president Bio and his fight to end corruption in high places in Sierra Leone. Will chief minister Francis be regarded as a sacred cow? Only time will tell.