Foreign Affairs Ministry staff testifies in Hajj-gate trial

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October 15, 2018

By Hassan Gbassay Koroma

Sulaiman Issa Turay, Head of Consular Section at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, last Friday, October 12,  testified in the on-going 2017 Hajj corruption trial involving top former All People’s Congress APC government officials.

The third prosecution witness in the trial presided by Justice Reginald Fynn told the court that he knew the 1st accused Sheka Sahid Kamara, former Special Assistant to former President Ernest Bai Koroma.

He testified that the accused visited his office for pre-arrangement of the 2017 Hajj. He noted that with the exception of the 6th accused, he recognised 2nd accused, former Vice President Victor Bockarie Foh, 3rd acused Minkailu Mansaray, Deputy Chairman and Leader of the APC and former Minister of Mines and Mineral Resources, and Mohamed Alie Bah, former Minister of State at the Office of the Vice President.

He explained that on 10th August 2017, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation received a diplomatic note verbal from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, informing them that they had dispatched three consular officers to Freetown to grant visas to potential pilgrims to the 2017 Hajj.

Turay said the diplomatic note verbal further pleaded with the ministry to provide the Saudi consular officers with the needed support, adding that the Director-General of Foreign Affairs assigned his office to be in charge and collect the Saudis from the airport.

He said on August 14th 2017, he picked the Saudi officials at the Lungi International Airport and took them to the Bintumani Hotel in Freetown.

He said that on 16th August, the third accused, Minkialu Mansaray, asked that he plead with the Saudis to increase the number of pilgrims as more people were desirous of performing the Hajj.

He said the request was turned down and that he was told that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia had given the opportunity for Sierra Leone to send one thousand pilgrims, but government replied that they were only sending eight hundred.

However, he revealed that the consular officers issued visas to 820 pilgrims in the end.

The ACC had indicted Sheka Sahid Kamara, former Special Assistant to former President Koroma; former Vice President Victor Bockarie Foh; Minkailu Mansaray, Deputy Chairman and Leader of the APC and former Minister of Mines and Mineral Resources; Mohamed Alie Bah; Ibrahim Fackeh Conteh; and Abu Bakarr Carew, former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs, on eight counts of corruption.

According to the ACC, all accused persons on diverse dates between 1st January and 30th September 2017 allegedly  conspired to commit corruption offences by misappropriating eighty thousand United States Dollars (USD $80,000), donated to the Government of Sierra Leone for Muslims to perform pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.

The ACC also alleges that Sheka Sahid Kamara, Victor Bockarie Foh, Minkailu Mansaray, Mohamed Alieu Bah, and Abu Bakarr Carew on dates unknown between 1st of January and 30th September 2017 conspired to engage in a project without prior planning and conspired to undertake preparation for the 2017 Hajj pilgrimage.

The Commission further claims that the accused persons conspired to knowingly mislead the ACC by making statement to the investigators that the sum of US$60,000 was handed over to 2nd accused Victor Foh by 1st accused Sheka Sahid Kamara, when the actual amount was US$80,000.

Again, the ACC says that Sheka Sahid Kamara on dates between 1st July and 30th September 2017 misappropriated the sum of Le300, 000,000 donated to the government of Sierra Leone for Muslims intending to perform Hajj in Saudi Arabia.

In addition, the anti-graft agency alleges that Abu Bakarr Carew on diverse dates between 1st and 30th August 2017 failed to comply with the appropriate procedure by approving the withdrawal of US$314,000 by Sheka Sahid Kamara from the Hajj Account No.003001012636100284 at ECObank.

The matter continues