Sierra Leone journalist detained over alleged £1.5 million bribery scandal is released

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.

4 Comments

  1. I still have my doubts and still many questions unanswered. Press releases may have served enough for some people to trumpet the innocence of the Chief Minister. Were they actually expecting the Bank, SL mining and CM to say YES? I expected the denials, therefore my doubts still remain. Many questions still unanswered.

    The APC had published many statements denying corruption but were never enough to shift my views on the devastation they caused us through corruption. Many people with whom I shared similar sentiments were easily carried away by mere press releases defending the CM. Even in the face of corruption, everyone defending his/her own. The HYPOCRISY still.

    I still ponder: why was the journalist swiftly arrested when he had published nothing? Why it took the parties more than half the day to respond? Is this journalist so dumb to manufacture a false account just to defame one of the most powerful men in the country? May be only God and few will ever know the truth. MY DOUBTS, I still bear on this matter at least for now.

  2. I personally believe that Mr. Abdul Fatoma is taking his job so seriously that he often overstepped his scope of authority.
    The function of your organization supposed to be focusing on protecting the Rights of Gay and Lesbians individuals, most notably advocating for Marriage Equality, Anti-discrimination and hate crimes against minority, and HIV/AIDS advocacy.
    This is a criminal matter of harassment and blackmail or extortion which by all definition looks creepy (receiving unlawful and unexpected text message from a stranger or weird person) and the human rights of the Chief Minister has been threatened or violated.

    I personally believe that you are trying too hard to prove to the past APC government that although you are a southerner and a member of OBBA you are not an SLPP which is unnecessary as long as you stay in your lane. Even the sacking of employees has nothing to do with your organization but the labor union and the judiciary, and I personally believe that you sometimes tend to act ignorantly and arrogantly anytime the appropriate authorities tried to correct your mistakes by playing reverse psychology on them by accusing them of arrogance.

    I hope and pray that you will at least give The Sierra Leone Association of Journalists and the lawyer of the suspect to perform their duties rather than trying to steal the spotlight by acting like the Martin Luther King of Sierra Leone.

    • You really got it right ! I think Mr. Fatoma does not exactly know his scope, he has too much to chew. He reminds me of brother Charles. Very capable personalities but they try to overwork themselves with matters that do not concern them. Fatoma has been doing very well though, until this last comment.

  3. Good governance demands recognition that the nation, institution or enterprise is operated for the benefit of all, with an obligation of accountability. Leaders are entrusted with sacred authority to manage in order to deliver benefits to their citizens, recipients or stakeholders, but they must have the courage, humility and self-control to put in place checks on their authority.

    In a statement released by the Office of the Chief Minister, the Chief Minister alluded to attempts made to “extort and harass” in the recent past but provided no evidence to link the journalist to these acts of extortion and harassment…

    Every citizen is entitled to their human and civil rights! Politicians cannot direct the police to arrest journalists who ask uncomfortable questions. We demand a full investigation of the circumstances leading to the arrest of the journalist and a government enquiry into whether the Chief Minister has abused his ministerial code.

    In short, governments must be epitomized by predictable, open and enlightened policy making; a bureaucracy imbued with a professional ethos; an executive arm of government accountable for its actions; and a strong civil society and the Media participating in public affairs; and all behaving under the rule of law.

    Abdul M Fatoma – CHRDI Sierra Leone

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