Sierra Leone’s former chief of staff Richard Konteh acquitted – nolle prosequi

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 14 April 2017

A court document received by the Sierra Leone Telegraph, has confirmed unofficial report that the High Court in Freetown on Tuesday, 11th of April, 2017, threw out the forgery and corruption charges made against the former State House Chief of Staff – Richard Konteh (Photo above).

The Master and Registrar of the High Court issued a signed declaration upon the orders of the Director of Public Prosecutions, pleading nolle prosequi – ‘no case to answer’, after High Court Judge – Justice JB Allieu threw the case out because of lack of evidence.

Richard Konteh (Photo) – a relative of president Koroma, was sacked from office in June 2014, after strings of corruption allegations were made against him, including forgery of president Koroma’s signature in order to circumvent a banning order imposed by the government on the exporting of timber from Sierra Leone.

He is also alleged to have amassed over $40 million by personally granting contracts to mining companies, as well as from public procurement kick backs, including contract for the printing of goods and services tax (GST) receipt stationery.

Under his ministerial leadership at the ministry of trade and economic development, Konteh was said to have been responsible for granting over $200 million a year in tax waivers to importers with whom he had personal, political and business connections, under the direction of the president.

But after three years of police investigations and a series of long-drawn adjourned court appearances, the case against Richard Konteh has this week collapsed. He is now a free man – and as critics say – ‘free to enjoy his millions of dollars loot’.

In June 2014, Richard Konteh was detained by police after President Koroma made a public statement alleging serious corruption offences against him, based on vital evidence he had received.

But he was released on bail and made at least two court appearances before the case was adjourned in November last year.

Questions are today being asked as to why such a high profile High Court case involving a senior government minister, who had been sacked by the president, after allegedly forging the president’s signature to defraud the State, can simply collapse on grounds of nolle prosequi – ‘no case to answer’.

Political alliances in Sierra Leone are changing fast – like shifting sands, as the 2018 elections approach. There are old scores to settle; skeletons locked up at State House that need to be buried; and evidence of wrongdoing by those close to the president and higher up the food chain, destroyed.

Several weeks ago, the Attorney General’s computer records were hacked by unknown persons, and vital information stolen. His Bank credit card was also stolen. Why?

Analysts say that the Attorney General has tons of evidence and information regarding the impropriety, corruption and abuse of office of several high profile public officials in the country, which he had collected whilst serving as head of the country’s Anti-Corruption Commission.

This they say explains why his computer records have been hacked; especially now that he is the Attorney General and minister of justice, empowered by law to prosecute on behalf of the State.

Critics have always been puzzled as to why president Koroma did not hand over all the evidence of corruption and fraud he had collected on Richard Konteh to the Anti-Corruption Commission in 2014, rather than calling on the police to investigate.

The answer is now very clear. As in the Ebola corruption scandal – with over $14 million stolen by state officials, whilst seriously sick people were left for dead, president Koroma had once again by-passed and prevented the Anti-corruption Commission from carrying out investigations and from prosecuting Richard Konteh.

Since reports of Konteh’s acquittal, there has been no official statement from the government. It seems everyone higher up the government, including the Attorney General’s office are keeping tight-lipped.

The Sierra Leone Telegraph has been trying to obtain comments from the Attorney General’s office and the State House Communications Unit, but there has been no response.

Senior officials at the country’s Anti-Corruption Commission told the Sierra Leone Telegraph that they have no comment to make, as the Commission was not responsible for investigating or indicting Richard Konteh.  This is the declaration signed by the Master and Registrar of the High Court of Sierra Leone, acquitting Richard Konteh:

 This week’s decision of State House to withdraw all charges of corruption and fraud levied against Konteh may now pave the way for him to put his presidential ambition back on track. But under the laws of Sierra Leone, anyone charged with a criminal offence and found guilty, cannot contest the presidential election.

There are suspicions Konteh’s corruption charges may have been dropped, upon the orders of the president, on the condition that Konteh will relinquish his ambition to contest the presidential election next year.

And so the plot thickens. When president Koroma made the following allegations in 2014 against his chief of staff Richard Konteh, was he trying to mislead the public?

“It has come to the attention of His Excellency the President that Dr. Richard Konteh, Chief of Staff in the Office of the President was not open and transparent in the conduct of official negotiations for a mining agreement with a private sector operator, thereby violating established policy, undermining existing institutional arrangements, and exposing government to potential loss of revenue. In another matter involving the illegal export of timber from Sierra Leone, the Sierra Leone Police are investigating an unauthorised executive order allegedly issued by Dr. Konteh granting an open-ended mandate to the timber harvesters, processors and exporters (SL) LTD to undertake the export of an unlimited quantity of value-added processed timber, in direct contravention of the approval granted by His Excellency the President for a fixed quantity of 30 containers only. Against this background, His Excellency the President has decided to relieve Dr. Konteh of his duties with immediate effect while the police continue with their investigations.”

Was the president seriously trying to throw Konteh under the bus? Or, was the president pretending because the international community wanted him to be seen taking swift action as part of efforts to weed out corruption in the country?

After all, Richard Konteh himself had lauded the president’s so called fight against corruption. This is what he said in a speech just before evidence emerged about his alleged corruption offences:

“President Ernest Bai Koroma will spare no one in the government’s quest to weed out endemic corruption in government,” said Richard Konteh, as he rejected criticisms from political opponents that the government’s declaration of fighting corruption is a publicity stunt.

“We believe that it is only when we can sufficiently fight graft that we can indeed set the country in the right direction to be able to achieve the prosperity that our president wants … over the next five years,” says Konteh. “We as a government are committed and will continue with this fight and we hope that our partners will also join and support us in this fight.”

“We do acknowledge that corruption continues to be a problem, but we are determined to fight it.”

“We are intensifying the efforts to try and capture people who are involved in corrupt practices and to bring them to book.”

In 2014, at the time Richard Konteh was alleged to be very busy milking the State, Transparency International reported that Sierra Leone has the highest incidence of bribery in sub-Saharan Africa. The report said that 84 percent of those polled in Sierra Leone admitted to paying a bribe.

In response to the report, Konteh said that the administration was embarrassed by the report, but was implementing measures to combat graft.

“We are very concerned about that type of corruption rating, but we take note of the fact that it is more an issue of perception,” said Konteh. “Government is ensuring that it cleanses its house; and that government officials found guilty of corruption are indicted, and where they are found guilty, they lose their jobs.”

That was in March 2014. Three months later – June 2014, Konteh was sacked by president Koroma – after uncovering massive evidence of corruption perpetrated by Konteh from ‘right under his nose’ at State House.

There have been previous high profile court cases in Sierra Leone in the last few years, where president Koroma had issued orders to declare ‘nolle prosequi’ – no case to answer. But this week’s nolle prosequi has baffled every right thinking Sierra Leonean that believed the president, when he said that he had uncovered serious evidence of fraud, corruption and abuse of office, which led to his sacking of Richard Konteh.

Richard Konteh is now a free man. But will he now launch his campaign to become president in 2018; or has he sold over his constitutional right to become president, in return for nolle prosequi?

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