Sierra Leone Telegraph: 19 August 2017
The leading contender for the ruling APC party’s 2018 presidential race – Mr John Bonoh Sisay is today denying serious allegations of bribery and corruption published this week.
According to the publication, a secret inquiry by listed Australian miner Iluka Resources has embroiled Sisay, a cabinet minister and high ranking officials in what is described as an international bribery scandal.
If true, this scandal could seriously derail John Sisay’s bid for the presidency, a campaign many believe has now cost him millions of dollars.
Fairfax Media says that Iluka Resources has uncovered the suspected bribe payments, after it added one of the world’s largest Rutile mines to its portfolio via the takeover of the London listed Sierra Rutile Ltd for $375 million in December.
John Sisay was the Chief Executive Officer of Sierra Rutile Ltd, until recently, when he resigned his job to put forward his name for the ruling party’s presidential candidacy.
Critics of Sisay (Photo) are accusing him of being the most unfit and corrupt candidate to join the presidential race.
His donation of millions of dollars to president Koroma – his cousin, to help meet the costs of running the government and supporting the ruling party, is said to be a corrupting behaviour, unbecoming of someone who is vying for the presidency.
According to the publication, Mr Sisay oversaw bribe to senior government officials in the ruling APC government, so as to secure mining licences inherited by Iluka.
The impropriety it says was uncovered during a post-acquisition investigation commissioned by Iluka Resources and conducted by corporate lawyers Freehills, and that Anti-corruption investigators in the UK and Sierra Leone are now examining the evidence, with inquiries likely to take many months.
But in a statement published yesterday – 18th August 2017, John Sisay made this statement, denying the allegations:
“The African Chronicle published an article on Thursday 16 August entitled “As John Sisay named… Iluka Resources caught in bribery scandal.” The article contains a number of false allegations against me that are now in the hands of my lawyers with instructions to take action as necessary to defend my reputation. However, whilst I wait for legal redress, there are key allegations that need urgent correction:
“As Chief Executive Officer of an AIM listed company myself and my board operated in compliance with the highest ethical standards at all times and in full compliance with AIM rules, standards and regulations. At no stage whilst CEO of Sierra Rutile did I authorise improper payments of any kind to any Sierra Leone Government officials for any reason. Moreover, Sierra Rutile operated in accordance with government standards and all major decisions including any around the issues specified in the African Chronicle were approved by the board of Sierra Rutile Limited.
“I categorically deny the allegation that I oversaw the payments of bribes, whether in the form of payment of travel costs or otherwise, in order to secure mining licences.
“At no time since its acquisition of Sierra Rutile in December 2016 has Iluka, its accountants or its lawyers raised with me any issue concerning any payments made by the company whilst I was CEO. Nor have I had any contact from any investigators, whether in Australia, Sierra Leone, the UK or anywhere else. The original publication by the Sydney Morning Herald on Wednesday 16th August was the first time that I was aware of any allegation of impropriety made against me and my former company.
“At no stage was I given the opportunity to comment on this article before its publication, which I regard as a clear and highly dubious breach of recognized professional standards of journalism.
“Finally, from the timing of the publication of these false allegations and from the fact that recklessly they were not put to me for comment in advance of publication, I believe it is clear that the intended effect is to influence the up-coming party leadership elections and interfere with the proper democratic process. It will not work. I trust the people of Sierra Leone to be far too smart and proud to let foreign outside influences impact on their vote.
“I will continue giving every ounce of my energy to the service of the people of Sierra Leone to create a better, more prosperous and stronger country for the benefit of all.”
So what are the details of the bribery and corruption allegations against Sisay? This is what was published this week:
A secret inquiry by listed Australian miner Iluka Resources has embroiled a leading Sierra Leone presidential candidate, a cabinet minister and high ranking officials in an international bribery scandal.
Fairfax Media can reveal that Iluka Resources uncovered the suspected bribe payments after it added one of the world’s largest Rutile mines to its portfolio via the takeover of the London listed Sierra Rutile Ltd for $375 million in December.
The UK firm’s former chief executive is multi-millionaire London businessman and Sierra Leone presidential candidate John Sisay, one of the West African nation’s most powerful men.
Mr Sisay, who is a cousin and close associate of President Ernest Koroma and who is touring Sierra Leone as he campaigns to become the country’s next leader, is at the centre of Iluka’s corruption inquiry. The probe threatens to impact the presidential campaign and, given the potential fallout, the fortunes of the Perth based Iluka.
Anti-corruption investigators in the UK and Sierra Leone are now examining the alleged corruption, with inquiries likely to take many months.
Bribes for licences
The alleged corruption includes allegations Mr Sisay oversaw bribe payments to senior government officials to secure mining licences inherited by Iluka. The impropriety was uncovered during a post-acquisition investigation commissioned by Iluka Resources and conducted by corporate lawyers Freehills.
The inquiry has also implicated Sierra Leone cabinet minister Diana Konomanyi, after it was discovered Sierra Rutile spent more than $50,000 to provide her with international flights.
The potential fallout from the acquisition and subsequent inquiry looms as a nightmare for Iluka, despite the firm acting as a model corporate citizen in notifying international authorities of the suspected bribery as soon as it was detected. It also highlights the dangers of acquiring businesses in high risk jurisdictions.
In comments missed by the media but reported to the ASX in April, Iluka’s chairman Greg Martin – who also chairs Sydney’s desalination plant – hinted at the alleged corruption uncovered by the company. Photo: Supplied
Iluka risks prosecution, fines, the potential fracturing of its relationship with senior government figures in Sierra Leone and possible shareholder legal action.
The revelations also thrust Australia’s struggling anti-foreign bribery regime back into the spotlight and highlight what some experts, senior police and companies say is a gaping hole in the system: the failure to provide a tangible benefit to companies who transparently and immediately disclose corruption discovered during an internal inquiry.
Had it disclosed the alleged bribery in the US, Iluka would stand a greater chance of cutting a deal to avoid sanctions or prosecution, although under UK and Australian regimes, this is much harder.
Payments by presidential candidate
A Senate committee is examining why there has been limited disclosure, detection and prosecution of bribery involving Australian multinationals. Since 1999, Australian authorities have launched just two prosecutions with one of the cases – the details of which can’t be disclosed for legal reasons – mired in years of delays and legal challenges.
Several companies, including Rio Tinto, Leighton Holdings (now CIMIC), Getax, Sundance Resources, engineering firm SMEC and defence giant Tenix, have been implicated in the alleged bribery of heads of state or overseas officials but have not faced any charges. Much of this alleged improper conduct has been uncovered or exposed by Fairfax Media.
Evidence uncovered by Iluka and forwarded to the UK Serious Fraud Office suggests payments authorised by Mr Sisay were used to allegedly bribe senior mining officials to secure government approvals.
The Serious Fraud Office is also assessing documents that suggest Sierra Rutile paid for at least $50,000 in undisclosed international travel, including flights from Freetown to London, for Ms Konomanyi, the minister for Lands, Country Planning and the Environment. Ms Konomanyi is reportedly considering becoming Mr Sisay’s running mate in the presidential campaign.
In an exclusive interview, the director of Sierra Leone’s corruption commission, Ady Macauley, told Fairfax Media that he had launched his own bribery inquiry into Sierra Rutile’s activities.
“We have written to the management of Iluka to tell them we have commenced an investigation. It can take many, many months and you can never predict what you might see,” he said.
Chairman hints at corruption
In comments missed by the media but reported to the ASX in April, Iluka’s chairman Greg Martin – who also chairs Sydney’s desalination plant – hinted at the alleged corruption uncovered by the company. He revealed the firm had ditched three exploration licences granted to Sierra Rutile “under circumstances inconsistent with Iluka’s Code of Conduct”. Those licences have been reapplied for “according to proper procedure”. (Photo: Sierra Rutile).
“Although these licences did not have value attributed to them during the acquisition process, and while the outcome of the re-application is not financially material to Iluka, the company considers it is vitally important to be ‘walking the talk’ in relation to expected standards of conduct.”
Mr Martin did not explicitly state the company was investigating bribery in Sierra Leone or had notified the SFO, although it is understood this is because Mr Martin did not want to jeapordise ongoing investigations.
Iluka has mineral sands mining operations in Australia, Sierra Leone and in the US. Rutile is a material used in paint, plastics and sunscreen and the firm acquired by Iluka has been touted as a major success story in a country blighted by poverty, civil war, corruption and the infamous ‘blood diamonds’ trade.
Mr Sisay, a former student union president of London University’s Goldsmith College, recently ramped up his campaign to replace his cousin as Sierra Leone’s next president, travelling the country and launching a social media strategy. London’s The Independentrecently reported there was a “strong chance” Mr Sisay would replace President Koroma when he steps down in 2018.
“We south Londoners are pretty damned determined when we set our mind to something,” Mr Sisay told the newspaper.
The corruption allegations uncovered by Iluka involve evidence suggesting Mr Sisay approved a $110,000 bribe payment funnelled via a West African logistics company, Imatrix 101 Ltd, and deposited in a third party bank account. An amount of $110,000 was separately paid by Sierra Rutile to Imatrix, according to company invoices.
Earlier this year, Iluka – the world’s largest producer of Zircon – flagged increasing revenue in line with rising demand and mineral sands’ prices. From a low of $6.56 earlier this year, Iluka has regularly traded above $9 a share.
Iluka declined to comment noting the issues were with regulatory authorities.
kindly donate to our Freetown Flood Disaster Emergency Appeal. We’re raising £50000 to Help victims of the massive flooding in Freetown, Sierra Leone, which has taken the lives of hundreds of people, with thousands now homeless.
Please go to our JustGiving Crowdfunding Page and help make it happen: