-Palo tells court in tears
June 22, 2020
By Hassan Gbassay Koroma
First accused in the ongoing treason trial, Retired Major Alfred Palo Conteh, last Friday, told the court in tears that he ‘holds no grudge, animosity or hate against President Julius Maada Bio, adding that he has no intention to kill him as alleged by the state.
The retired military man, who is before the High Court with two others for treason and other related offences, took to the witness stand last week after a no-case submission bid made on his behalf, was ruled against.
“I must say to this court that, I hold no grudge, no animosity and no hate against President Bio and I have no intention whatsoever to kill the president,” he said in tears.
“Going to State House with a pistol and ten live rounds to kill the president where over 50 security personal with AK47 and machine guns are, means I must be mentally ill. If that was my plan, I would have worn a suicide vest,” he told the court and the jury.
He told Justice Alhaji Momoh Jah Stevens that, his intention was to render a ‘free’ service to his motherland by using his little experience he had during the fight against Ebola in 2014 to 2015 and implement it in the fight against the coronavirus in the country.
Palo Conteh, who introduced himself as a barrister and a politician, said he served the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces for 16 years before he retired as a major.
He said in 2007 he was appointed Defence Minister by former President Ernest Bai Koroma, a position he occupied until 2014 when he was eventually appointed Chief Executive Officer at the Ebola Response Centre.
He told the court that in 2016, he was also appointed Minister of Internal Affairs and in 2018 he was moved back to the Ministry of Defence where he served until after the 2018 elections.
He said serving as Defense and Internal Affairs Minister, he had a full set of security personal, but they were withdrawn from him after the 2018 elections, which he said was not the norms.
He said after serving in that capacity, he was supposed to have at least one security personnel.
He told the court that he needed a weapon for his personal security, noting that during his tenure as Defense Minister, he was attacked by some ex-combatants even though he had security personnel attached to him.
He said whilst serving as Internal Affairs Minister, he waged war on the ‘clique’ boys and commercial bike riders, with the view to restoring sanity in Freetown and save lives.
He told the court that prior to his first visit at State House on 16th March, 2020, he received a call from Finance Minister Jacob Jusu Saffa, who informed him that the President Bio was inviting him to a COVID-19 related meeting at 3pm.
He said he was very excited to meet with the president as the invitation extended to him was in recognition of his hard work during the regime of former President Koroma.
He further explained that he went to the meeting with his pistol, but he left the pistol in his car because there were no boys around at that time, thus noting that in the meeting he told the president that he was going to render his service for free of cost to the nation.
He said his second visit was on Thursday, March 19th 2020, after receiving a call from one Retired Major General Taluva, who informed him that they have done the draft COVID-19 strategic document as instructed by the president in their first meeting and that they are going to present it at State House at around 9am.
He said he went to State House and when he entered the compound he saw four to five boys running after his car and the boys directed him where to park.
He said the boys later opted to wash his car which he consented, adding that because of the presence of the boys he decided to take his bag along, which was containing his pistol.
He said he proceeded to the State House reception and when he got there he did not place his bag on the scanning machine but walked by the side of the machine and went straight to a security desk that was occupied by a male and a female officer.
He further stated that when he got to the desk he tried to hand over his bag to the officers for safe keeping, but they insisted that he took it along with him.
He said the bag was taken from him after he told the officers that he had his personal pistol in it.
He said he proceeded to the meeting with no alarm raised by any security personal whilst he was at the waiting room in the office of the State Chief Protocol together with others.
He said later, one Lieutenant Colonel Kposowa accompanied by one Mohamed K. Alliue and other security personal walked into the waiting room holding his bag and asked him if he is the owner and that he replied saying yes.
He told the court that he informed the personnel that he owns the pistol in the bag and that he declared it at the reception.
He said he further told them that he has license for the gun which he removed and showed to them.
He said Lieutenant colonel Kposowa took out the pistol from bag, removed the magazine and counted the carriages, and later told him that he was no longer going to be allowed to be part of the meeting with the president.
He said he eventually handed over to the criminal investigation officers of the Sierra Leone Police.
He said he was taken into a room at State House, where he was interviewed for over an hour, adding that the allegation against him was unlawful possession of firearms and that he was later released to go home.
He said later at around 5pm, Mohamed K. Alliue, called and asked him to go to the Criminal Investigations Department to collect his pistol, but that when he went there it was not given to him with the excuse that until they have instructions from the Inspector General of Police.
He said on Friday, Mach 20th, at around launch time, Mohamed K. Alliue called to enquire his whereabouts but that he told him he was at home.
He said he was asked to come outside and open his gate which he did and two vehicles with armed Operational Support Division Officers of the Sierra Leone entered his compound.
He said Mohamed K. Alliue later served on him a search warrant, and that they searched his house but nothing of police interest was found.
He said his personal laptop computer was taken away and he was invited to the Criminal investigations Department.
He said at the Criminal investigation Department, he was interviewed for the second time and the allegation against him was unlawful possession of small firearms.
He said at the conclusion of the interview he was arrested and detained at the Criminal Investigations Department.
He further told the court that on the following day he was moved to the central prisons at Pademba Road and on the 26th March, whilst in custody he was again interviewed on allegations of carrying small arms and treason offences.
He said his response to the treason allegation was “God forbid, noting that his final interview was done on March 29th and that several questions were put to him but he responded that all the allegations against him were baseless.
He further told the court and jury that he was not aware of any offence of being in possession of weapon at State House, adding that his weapon wasn’t loaded.
He explained that as a trained military personnel he never allowed the magazine to go fully into the pistol compartment, nothing that a gun can be only loaded when it’s kock and carriage goes into the chamber.
Addressing the court and panel of jury, earlier in the opening of the defense’s case, lead defense counsel for the first accused,Dr. Abdulai Osman Conteh, said by law an accused is not forced to testify in the matter unless he consented to do so.
He told the jury that there is no law in the Sierra Leone constitution which says a person should be charged with treason for taking a weapon to State House, adding that the prosecution presented 13 witnesses who testified in the matter, and three witnesses were presented and dispensed.
He said on the 19th of March, 2020, the first accused went to State House with no intention to cause problem.
He said the prosecution had alleged that the first accused went to State House and failed to go through the scanning machine, but that the state has not make available to the defense team the footages of the CCTV camera at State House despite several requests.
He said the footages of the CCTV would have shown what exactly happened at State House in that particular day, but that the state has refused to produce the footage evidence on to the closure of their case.
He called on the attention of the members of the jury to take note and make decision on the absence of that important evidence.
He said the case of the 1st accused was that on the invitation of the president, he visited State House to have a meeting relating to the fight against COVID-19, which led to him standing trial for the offence of treason.
He said the first accused had gone to State House to render national service to his country.
He further addressed the court that the accused went to State House with no malice intent, but to render the experience he had in the fight against the Ebola virus in 2014-2015, in the current fight against the COVID-19 in the country.
He said witnesses testified that they were never investigating the first accused for the offence of treason offence, but that they were investigating him for the case of possessing small arms.
He said the witnesses also testified that it was at the Office of the Attorney General where they included treason.
The opposition key figure, who served in the All People’s Congress government as Defense Minister, Internal Affairs Minister and also National Ebola Response Coordinator, was charged together with the Deputy Commissioner of the Sierra Leone National Commission on Small Arms Commission, Retired Colonel Saa Anthony Sinnah and Prince George Huges.
State prosecutor, Adrian Fisher, alleges that the first accused, Alfred Palo Conteh, on 19th March, 2020, was caught with an unlicensed small arm at State House.
The State Prosecutor also alleges that Saa Anthony Sinnah and Prince George Huges abetted the said crime, and that on a date unknown between 26th February and 3rd March 2020 in Freetown, procured the commission of an offence in contravention of Regulation 31 of the Arms and Ammunition of 2014.
He claims that the 3rd accused person, Prince George Jusu, being Justice of the Peace offered by law to make any statement on oath for any purpose and being lawfully show, made a statement which is material for the purpose of the matter which he knew to be false or did not believe to be true.
Mater comes up again on Tuesday 23rd for the prosecution to cross-examine the first accused.