By Hawa Amara
Alie Suma, a timber ‘tycoon’ who was few months ago endorsed by Presidential Youth Aide, Mahmoud Bai Bangura, was last Friday remanded at the maximum security prison at Pademba Road for allegedly defrauding the Government of Sierra Leone millions of Leones by evading payment of export tax for the exportation of four hundred and fifteen (415) x20 feet containers containing value-added timber.
Mr. Suma was arraigned at the Freetown Magistrates’ Court No. 2 on three counts of conspiracy to defraud contrary to law, forgery contrary to section 4 (1) of the Forgery Act and altering forged instrument contrary to section 6(1) of the Forgery Act.
According to state prosecutors, the accused on diverse dates between 1st January and 29th May 2014 in Freetown, with intent to defraud, conspired with other persons to defraud the government by way of evading export tax for the export of four hundred and fifteen (415) x20 feet containers containing value-added timber.
Prosecutors also allege that the accused on a date between 26th February and 30th March 2014, in Freetown, with intent to defraud, forged a letter titled Export of Value-added process timber, dated 26th February, 2014, purporting to show that an-open executive clearance was granted to Timber Harvest, Processors and Exporters Sierra Leone Limited, to export value processed timber, knowing same to be false.
Also, the prosecution said that the accused, during February 2014 at Delmas office on No.19 Charlotte Street in Freetown altered another letter titled Export of Value added process timber, date 26th February 2014, purporting to show that an-open executive clearance was granted to his Timber Harvest, Processors and Exporters Sierra Leone Limited to export value processed timber, again knowing same to be false.
The accused was represented by defence counsel C.F. Edward, M.P. Sesay, U. Koroma and J. Cole, while the state had M.M. Sesay, M.N. Bittar, A.V. Koroma and A.Z. Bangura.
Lead defence counsel M.P. Sesay applied for bail on behalf of the accused, stating that the offence for which the accused is charged is bailable, citing section 79 (2(3) of the Criminal Procedures Act.
He assured the court that accused will in no way interfere with the prosecution or jump bail if bail was granted, and further submitted that the 36th edition of Archibald clearly indicates that bail should not be used as means of punishment.
He said the accused is a businessman who has employed nine hundred and eighty (980) youth in his timber business.
Lead prosecutor M.M. Sesay vehemently objected to bail, stating the magnitude of the offences and the fact that the accused has been running his timber business without a license. He asked the court for an adjournment because of the absence of witnesses.
After listening to both sides, Magistrate Kamanda refused the accused bail and adjourned the matter to 19 June 19 for further hearing.
The case may not be unconnected to the sacking of the erstwhile Chief of Staff at State House, Dr, Richard Conteh, who is now being investigated by the police on allegations of insider dealings and a host of egregious economic crimes.
Suma was hailed by the local media as ‘timber tycoon’ following the official opening of his reported $4m investment in Waterloo, few kilometres outside Freetown.
During the ceremony, in January 2014, Presidential Youth Aide, Bai Mahmoud Bangura, was effusive in his praise for Mr. Suma, assuring local youth that the factory will create an illusionary hundreds of jobs for many indigent and unemployed youth, as well as increase revenue for government.
However, the question that begs for an answer is whether the Presidential Youth Aide was oblivious of indeed aware of the questionable character of the Mr. Suma, especially when the Timber Association had in 2013 suspended the latter for acts and omissions bordering on financial probity.
In September 2013, the Timer Association of Sierra Leone suspended Mr. Suma from it ranks after he was granted concession licenses to ‘exploit timber in the Bombali and Port Loko District forests respectively by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security.’
According to Messrs Allan Barrie and Alpha Kalon, Mr. Suma’s many crimes were:
v That despite numerous efforts made by the association to persuade Mr. Ali Suma to pay the sum of Le2.5 billion owed some members from the association for timber they supplied him during the six months grace export period, Mr. Alie Suma had failed time without numbers to pay after all payments plan and date given by him to meet his credit worthiness.
v That Mr. Alie Suma did not own any nursery production site in the Northern region and has never embarked on any tree planting exercise on his own neither took part in the tree planting exercise undertaking by the association to reforest and aforest 250 acres of depleted and degraded areas in the northern region with 1,500,000 trees.
v That despite the current ban on the harvesting on timber in Sierra Leone for exportation, Mr. Alie Suma is presently extracting timber and exploiting the forest in the Sanda Magbolontor Chiefdom, Port Loko District and Sanda Loko Chiefdom in the Bombali District at an alarming rate beyond geometrical projection.
v That Mr. Alie Suma is in the habit of marshalling youths in the name of association as members thereby impersonating and misrepresenting the association at relevant ministries, at state house and other media houses which is a crime that is tantamount to litigation in a court of law.
v That his factory situated at Waterloo Western Rural District is only meant to cross-cut timber into various sizes and not capable to add 60% value as stated in the revise policy for setting up a wood factory in Sierra Leone let alone own four (4) factories as he is purporting.