23 July 2012
The dust is yet to settle on the timbergate corruption affair in Freetown. A court case involving a business partner of the vice president, accused of taking bribe on behalf of the vice president, is ongoing.
In a new scandal, the vice president is now being accused of taking hundreds of thousands of dollars, under false pretences from two businessmen in the USA.
When a cocaine loaded plane was intercepted at Lungi airport in 2008, by undercover police acting in concert with international security agencies, it sent shock waves across the country and abroad. Senior politicians and ministers in the present ruling APC government were implicated.
The minister of transport – Kemoh Sesay, was accused at best, of gross neglect of duty, as his brother was found out to be one of the leaders of the drugs syndicate responsible for the haul of cocaine being shipped out of the country.
A police investigation led to the arrest and conviction of several people including the minister’s brother. The minister is back in president Koroma’s government, serving as political adviser.
Just months ago, the vice president – Sam Sumana was implicated in an undercover TV documentary by Al – Jazeera, showing the apparent involvement of the vice president and a cohort of his business partners to unlawfully grant licence for the export of timber from the country, in return for large sums of money.
One of the accused – Momoh Conteh, has been indicted by the country’s Anti-Corruption Commission and is now standing trial in Freetown for corruption.
Despite calls for the impeachment or resignation of the vice president from office, the president – Ernest Koroma doggedly resisted.
But there are now new allegations of serious fraud, committed by the vice president – Sam Sumana himself, in the period leading up to the 2007 elections and his appointment by president Koroma as vice president.
The allegations are contained in an open letter written by an American businessman – Mark Heiligman to the people of Sierra Leone. The letter inter-alia says:
“My relationship with Sam began about two years before the civil strife in your country ended. He came into my office one day to discuss the possibility of helping us in the diamond business. At that time he was a parking attendant in a Minneapolis parking lot, an honest job, but evidently not worthy of mentioning in his political biography. Sam and I immediately became what I would consider friends and soon we were planning a major diamond mining operation that would be ready to hit the ground running when the war was over.”
“With the financial backing of an extremely successful Minneapolis businessman, my diamond expertise and Sam’s connection to Sierra Leone, we began a company called United Diamond Mining Co. (A Minnesota Corporation).”
“When Sam first got to Sierra Leone, we were pleased to learn that he had helped the United Nations build roads using our equipment. He set up our operation and employed and empowered many citizens of the Kono district by providing jobs at a good wage and providing health care and other necessities to help the people in the area.”
“The next time Sam called, he told Mr. Kloeber to send some containers of clothing for Sam to sell in order to maintain and fuel the mining operation. Mr. Kloeber complied and sent $300,000 worth of clothing to Sierra Leone which Sam took possession of and allegedly sold. Once again, there was no communication and no receipt of diamonds.”
“It became obvious to us that he had used our money to secure his political future, as well as that of your president. When a run-off election became necessary, Sam and Mr. Koroma once again turned to us for a “loan” of $34,000.00 to pay for the run-off.”
“We threatened to expose them to the world media…and what do you know…Sam responded…sent Dave Kloeber a check for $20,000 with the promise to send more payments every month until the debt was paid. He acknowledged the debt by sending the $20,000…but never sent another dime. He was so small-minded as to think that we would be satisfied with this feeble attempt to pay his debt to us. When asked when the rest would be forthcoming…no response.”
These are very serious allegations made against the second most powerful office in Sierra Leone, and the response of president Koroma’s government has been swift, though muddled.
A press statement issued yesterday – 22 July 2012 by the minister of information and communication, on behalf of both presidents Koroma and Sumana, denies the accusation and seeks to lampoon the American businessmen as conmen.
The government’s press statement says that:
“A strange and extremely unclear article written by one Mark O. Heiligman in a futile effort to discredit President Ernest Bai Koroma and Vice President Sam Sumana of Sierra Leone on the eve of Presidential, Parliamentary and local elections has been described by government sources as a macabre activity to win cheap political point by the totally hapless opposition.
Mark O. Heiligman in his article on “The New People” online clearly utilizes untruth and discourteous language to suggest that President Ernest Bai Koroma was a party to the corporate effort of Dave Kloeber and Vice President to mine and export diamonds to the United States.
Mark Heiligman in exhibiting a sense of dishonesty deliberately refused to inform his readers that the corporate activity in which he and Dave Kloeber were involved was a transaction that took place between 2000 and 2003, well before President Ernest Bai Koroma and Vice President Sam Sumana were elected into office.
The Vice President, Sam Sumana who takes great exception to the manner in which the President has been brought into Mark Heiligman’s destructive diatribe has stated authoritatively that President Ernest Bai Koroma had no business transaction with either Mark or Dave and he also stated that the President has never set eyes on them.
The article itself, written in a most unprofessional manner, clearly suggests that Mark Heiligman has deliberately attempted to rope-in President Ernest Bai Koroma to make it appear that the President was part of the diamond transactions involving Vice Sam Sumana and his erstwhile business colleagues.
What turned out to be the most dishonest and unacceptable presentation is the suggestion by Mark Heiligman that he used a mere USD 32,000 to bankroll an entire presidential election in Sierra Leone.
Furthermore, the dishonesty of Mark Heiligman is exhibited in his own acceptance that he is targeting President Ernest Bai Koroma because he expected him to have taken an action against his Vice President.
The use of foul language to describe the president of Sierra Leone and to insinuate that the President is corrupt is a totally insufficient argument to prove any point. Reliable sources in the United States have clarified that Mark Heiligman who had a business transaction with Vice President Sam Sumana well before he [VP] assumed office is now totally broke and wallowing in poverty and hence his determination to employ blackmail tactics to extort money from the Government of Sierra Leone.
The question must be asked – why does Mark Heiligman suggest that the President is a party to a transaction which he knows nothing about, especially when he [Mark Heiligman] has written to the President “Once again we found ourselves to reach out to you to try and resolve the unfinished business we have with your Vice President, Samuel Sam Sumana and therefore by default, you.”
This type of presentation can only come from a vicious and desperate man who uses ‘default’ as a vehicle to attempt to discredit a highly respected president not only in Sierra Leone but throughout Africa.
Why should anyone attempt to belittle a president who has served as Vice Chairman of the African Union, Chairman of the AU Committee for the Restructuring of the United Nations, and indeed a President who was applauded by his colleague heads of state when he presented himself for a peer review in Addis Ababa, and a President who is ranked twelfth most effective leader in Africa? This attempt to discredit such a president can only be carried out in collaboration with “The New People” online, an opposition publication.
And of course has been recognised as a democrat and a reformer per excellence by the Africa American Institute cannot be a leader whose effort can be wiped out by a diamond hustler such as Mark Heiligman.
Mark Heilligman can only be a hustler in search of quick money when he in an e-mail to Vice President Sam Sumana wrote “Here are my options for you to tell me which one will work for you… have diamonds brought to us cut and finished 2ct plus or have someone to meet me in New York city where my friend and family have been buying diamonds for eighty years and will gladly buy it at good discounted price.”
That Mark Heiligman is attempting to arm-twist the President of Sierra Leone to pay him money which he does not deserve is one clear lesson that in future, so-called investors in the diamond trade, who think they must bypass the process of doing the trade can easily in desperation turn out to be blackmailers.
That Mark Heiligman and his wife Susan sent truckloads of e-mails to State House to demand money which the president knew nothing about is also a matter of grave concern.
But the question must be asked – why are the details of an alleged transaction that took place between 2000 and 2003 are surfacing only now when the President is preparing for a presidential election?
Better still why did Mark Heiligman continue to send E-mails to the President complaining about payments when the transaction can at best be seen a civil matter that had nothing to do with the Executive Arm of Government?
The response to the questions will be seen as follows:
• To provide fodder for the opposition to discredit the President during the campaign period.
The bottom-line and the point that needs great emphasis is that Mark Heiligman’s tilted article has not proven that the President of Sierra Leone was a part of the tripartite diamond transaction or was a part of a spider web arrangement that suggested an unpatriotic act.
President Ernest Bai Koroma stands tall as a patriotic and dedicated citizen of Sierra Leone who has not set eyes on either the dishonest accuser, Mark Heiligman or Mr Dave Kloeber, the other partner.
The popular President Ernest Bai Koroma remains unstoppable as he moves rapidly to win the 2012 Presidential elections. Never mind the contrived yet baseless negative propaganda.” END OF STATEMENT.
This attempt by the government to at best down-play those allegations, is not going down too well among many Sierra Leoneans.
There is widespread call for an investigation by the Anti-Corruption Commission into the veracity of the evidence possessed by the American businessmen.
Both presidents have been accused of swindling hundreds of thousands of dollars, bringing their offices into disrepute.
Whether the intention of those American businessmen was to plunder the country’s resources or not, is not the issue. The fact is that both presidents have been accused of taking money under false pretences.
It is argued that, the honourable course of action, which would have been expected of the president and vice president, realising that they were being courted by rogues, was for them to have passed on the evidence of an attempt to corrupt, over to the police.
Sadly, if these allegations are true, then it would appear the vice president instead took the money, kept quiet and spent it on election campaigns, which catapulted both men to power at state house.
The president once said that, there will be no sacred cows in his government. Observers now believe that there are sacred cows and sacrificial lambs in the government, depending on how much one contributed to the president’s electoral chest.
Whatever public relations message the government’s press statement is trying to convey, the fact remains that, the vice president – Sam Sumana appears to have a case to answer. He took money from Heiligman and co under false pretences, and that is wrong.
It matters not whether the vice president had thought he was taking the money from a crook or otherwise. Taking money under false pretences, is plain wrong and unconscionable.
The ACC must have an interest in this case.