September 27, 2018
By Patrick Jaiah Kamara
Inside a crowded courtroom, former Vice President Victor Bockarie Foh and his co- accused were accompanied by their All Peoples Congress (APC) comrades, including their standard bearer in the 2018 elections, Dr. Samura Kamara, and many other ex-government officials.
As usual, the Sierra Leone Police had put up checkpoints where they stopped and searched people entering the main court building on Siaka Stevens Street in Freetown. Heavily armed police officers, dressed in riot gear, were also deployed around the precinct of the court.
This case, which is by far the biggest, since the inauguration of the anti-graft body in 2000, first came up in court on August 22, but no witness testified in the matter.
Yesterday, Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) prosecutor, Calvin Mantsebo, summoned the commission’s senior investigator, Joseph Bockarie Noah, to start the ball rolling.
In his almost four hours testimony, Noah told the court that he recognised all accused persons. He said he was tasked to conduct investigations on alleged financial malpractices that took place in the 2017 Hajj programme, together with other colleagues.
At that juncture, the ACC prosecutor attempted to tender the statement of the first accused, Sheka Sahid Kamara, onetime Special Assistant to ex-President Ernest Bai Koroma, but his lawyer, Yada Williams, objected to the tendering of the said document on the grounds that it was only served on him yesterday and that he needed time to go through it.
“Four weeks ago, the court gave order to the ACC to serve us within a week. It was only yesterday that they served us the statement. The prosecution wants to do this trial by ambush. They cannot serve us yesterday and want to proceed today. We do not have any background that this witness is coming today. Their action is unfair. The prosecution should not come here with a Nigger approach,” he said.
But his objection was fast overruled by the presiding judge, Reginald Sydney Fynn, noting that the statement has been served on them at least a day before the hearing.
Meanwhile, the witness told the court that to progress with his investigation, he served various notices on ECOBANK, Sierra Leone Commercial Bank (SLCB), and the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s’ Affairs (MSWGCA) to release records in their possession regarding the 2017 Hajj and all of them complied accordingly.
The witness said he later received copies of bank statement from SLCB and ECOBank, together with deposit slips in respect of the first accused Sheka Sahid Kamara.
He revealed that the accused and his wife jointly operated one of the Hajj accounts held at ECOBank. He tendered two deposit slips, each bearing the sum of Le300 million and Le250 million.
Also, two bank statements from SLCB, account named National Hajj Committee, holding Leones, and National Hajj Coordinating Committee, the dollar account, respectively 15 and 12 pages, were tendered as evidence.
As for the MSWGCA, the witness said he was able to gather several correspondences between the former minister, Sylvia Blyden, and the Office of the Vice President.
In one of those correspondences, the witness said Ms. Blyden wrote to the Acting Manager of SLCB to release US$500,000 and similar letter was also released from the Vice President’s office to the then Minister of Social Welfare, authorising payment of US$1 million to the Hajj committee in Saudi Arabia.
These letters and many other documents were tendered to form part of the court records.
The other accused persons – erstwhile Minister of Mines and Mineral Resources and Deputy Chairman and Leader of the APC, Alhaji Minkailu Mansaray; former Minister of State in the Office of the Vice President, Mohamed Alie Bah; former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs, Abu Bakarr Carew; and social worker Ibrahim Fackeh Conteh – are to answer to eight counts of conspiracy to commit corruption offences, engaging in a project without prior planning, contrary to the Anti-Corruption Act of 2008, misappropriation of public funds, and willfully failing to comply with procedural guidelines.
The commission also alleges that Sheka Sahid Kamara and Victor Foh conspired to misappropriate public funds in the sum of US$80,000 donated to the government of Sierra Leone for the benefit of Sierra Leonean Muslims.
The trial continues on Friday, 28 September; it is expected that the witness will be cross-examined by the defense counsel.
The alleged Hajjgate corruption happened in 2017 when some Muslim pilgrims complained of being duped by some committee members charged with overseeing the process.