Sierra Leone Telegraph: 12 November 2019:
Police in Freetown have this evening released Sallieu Tejan Jalloh – the managing editor of the Times Sierra Leone newspaper, who was yesterday evening arrested by armed police officers and locked up in detention at the CID in Freetown.
Sallieu was arrested after sending an SMS text message to the country’s chief minister – professor David Francis, seeking clarification on an alleged $1.5 million bribe paid into the chief minister’s Ecobank account in Freetown.
Critics say that the arrest of the journalist was aimed at silencing the journalist and to prevent him from publishing the evidence.
“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 (Photo above) by the journalist arrested yesterday.
Although Sallieu has been released from detention this evening, the police in Freetown are yet to make a statement explaining the reasons for 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.
This evening the Office of the Chief Minister has published this statement:
“Allegations of USD $1.5 Million and Arrest of Journalist
“The attention of the Office of the Chief Minister has been brought to a spurious allegation making the rounds on social media that the sum of USD $1.5 million was paid to a private Ecobank Account belonging to Professor David Francis. The allegation also purports that the alleged payment was made by a supposed mining company referred to as “SL Mining”.
“Further to such nefarious allegations, there have also been reports that a certain journalist referred to as Sallieu Tejan-Jalloh of the Times newspaper has been detained by the Criminal Investigation Department of the Sierra Leone Police on the pretext that it was in connection with a text message sent to the Professor David Francis seeking clarification on the said allegations.
“Based on these allegations, the Office of the Chief Minister wishes to state the following for the general public:
“First, the allegation of the payment of USD $1.5 million to a private account owned by Professor David Francis is not only false but a calculated attempt to smear the image and reputation of Professor David Francis.
“Second, Professor David J. Francis ONLY owns an international travel card account at Ecobank for ease of official travels and therefore any allegation of a payment of such colossal sum is both mischievous and profoundly ignorant.
“Third, Professor David J. Francis, guided by his ethos of transparency, also wishes the public to know that he has instructed the bank to waive his data protection rights should the bank wishes to make any official statement on the allegation.
“Fourth, the Office of the Chief Minister also urges the general public including members of the Press to contact “SL Mining” to enquire about such allegation or of any payment whatsoever that has ever been made to Professor David J. Francis.
“Fifth, On Friday 8th November 2019 Professor David J. Francis received a text message from a certain mobile number requesting comments on four questions. As a matter of fact and contrary to the alleged USD $1.5 million, question 3 in the text message specifically states “We also learnt you allegedly received a kickbacks of Five Hundred Thousand Dollars from SL Mining. True or False?”. This means even the allegations are self-contradictory.
“Sixth, the text message also claimed that the enquiry was being made not only by Tejan Jalloh of Times SL but it also named the following: Abubakarr Kargbo of Standard Times, Ibrahim Alusine Kamara of Sierra Express Media and Amara Samura of New People Online.
“Therefore, the allegation that a certain Sallieu Tejan Jalloh of Times newspaper was detained ONLY in connection to a text message when other supposed journalists were named seeking the same clarification and they have not been detained is preposterous.
“Seventh, after receiving the text message, Professor David J. Francis immediately informed the heads of Anti-Corruption Commission and the Criminal Investigation Department reporting the text message as a case of extortion and harassment.
“Eight, Professor David J. Francis also wishes to inform the public that this is not the first time he has received messages from unknown numbers with messages of threats, extortion and harassment. Therefore, Professor David J. Francis has always reported such text messages to the authorities for investigation.
“Ninth, Professor David J. Francis did not give any instruction for the detention of journalist but however strongly believes that the Police should carry out criminal investigation on serious allegations without undue pressure.
“The Office of the Chief Minister wishes to state that Professor David J. Francis has built his reputation over several decades through hard work, integrity, humility, transparency and high moral values. His decision to serve as Chief Minister was because of his love for country and passionate commitment to transform Sierra Leone through the leadership of His Excellency President Julius Maada Bio.
“Therefore, Professor David J. Francis’ commitment to public service can neither be derailed nor his hard-earned reputation be smeared by bogus allegations which are malicious and deliberate.
“Finally, Professor David J. Francis also wishes the public to know he remains committed to Press Freedom but believes that Journalists should practice their profession without malice, manipulation and casting aspersions.”
But the professor’s statement leaves several questions unanswered, such as why he should go public on a matter that is being investigated by the police? Why would the minister be given a bank card by Ecobank despite the minister saying he does not have an account with the bank? The statement has sparked further controversies surrounding the allegation.
The Sierra Leone Telegraph was this afternoon informed by a source at the Anti-Corruption Commission that the ACC is investigating the alleged bribery payment into the minister’s account.