August 10, 2021
By Jeneba A Conteh
The All-People’s Congress Member of Parliament, Hon. Emmanuel Saidu Conteh and two others are still before the court on preliminary investigations for alleged importation of arms and ammunitions and other related offences.
Yesterday, the prosecution offered no evidence against all the four accused persons on the previous file and brought fresh charges against the opposition Member of Parliament and two others.
Meanwhile, two of the four (Sheriff Jalloh and Michael Alpha Fornah) that were previously charged, were discharged, while one more person, Agness Korto Reffle, was roped in with fresh charges of aiding and abetting and has been remanded together with Unisa Bangura, while the opposition lawmaker is on bail.
The three accused are before the court on seventeen count charges of conspiracy to commit felony to wit the illegal importation of arms and ammunitions, transfer of small arms into Sierra Leone without valid license, importation of small arms into Sierra Leone without a Small Arms and Ammunition permit, aiding and abetting the importation of small arms into Sierra Leone, among other related charges. But they were not allowed to take a plea.
Proceeding with the new file, the state called on its first witness, Mohamed Massaqoui, a custom officer attached to the National Revenue Authority (NRA).
Massaqoui said in his evidence in chief that, he is responsible to protect revenue, facilitates grade, checks restricted and prohibited goods, verifies container inspections, and signs and stamps all documents for the release of items.
He said on the 2nd July, 2021, he was on duty when he received a phone call from one Mohamed Sannoh and that upon the receipt of the said information, he went to the site immediately where he met Sannoh, with a police officer (ASP Isatu Kargbo), an intelligent officer Mr. Kamara, and one Victor Muarana an intelligence attached to the port.
He said he was informed that they detected a grey plastic bag containing arms and ammunitions.
He said the team told him they have cross checked the contents in the plastic bag and had counted the ammunition therein.
He said at that juncture, he asked the OSD officer to take the plastic bag while he asked the other parties to follow him to his office.
He said on their arrival, he asked ASP Isatu Kargbo and Mr. Kamara to open the bag and take out the items.
“I told Mr. Kamara and Victor Murana to count the ammunition and I saw seven pistols, twelve empty magazines, and one hundred cartridges,” he stated.
The custom officer said he instructed Mr. Kamara to take note of the items and requested for the delivery order for him to ascertain whether the items are stated on it, but such was not provided.
He told the court that he informed the commissioner of customs about the incident and also instructed ASP Isatu Kargbo to inform the Assistant Inspector General of Police, East and the Local Unit Commander.
He said while still in his office, the third accused, Hon. Saidu Emmanuel Conteh, arrived with salute and introduced himself.
“I responded and further asked him what I will do for him and he told me he was there in respect of one vehicle that had issues with customs,” he stated.
The custom officer said he received the lawmaker and asked him as to how he could help him.
He added that the MP informed him that he was the owner of a Nissan pathfinder that had issues with customs, and that the MP showed him a photo of the said vehicle from his phone.
The witness said he instructed Mr Kamara and Murana to draw the attention of third accused to the items found in the said vehicle, but the third accused stood up and denied that that was not the vehicle he was there to clear.
The customs officer said he instructed the third accused to sit down and asked him as to who was the owner of the vehicle.
He said the third accused responded that the vehicle was owned by Unisa in Pennsylvania.
The witness said he further asked the third accused to tell the owner to send the chassis number, but the accused retorted that the vehicle was cleared by one Mr. Carew.
He said the third accused contacted Mr. Carew on phone and put him on speaker, and that the witness introduced himself and told Carew that they had opened one container.
He said Carew asked him how many vehicles were in the container and that he responded that four were there.
He said Carew told him that one of the vehicles belong to Hon. Emmanuel Saidu Conteh.
Defense counsel for third accused, Lansana Dumbuya, objected to the conversation of the witness and Mr. Carew, but his objection was discountenanced by the magistrate who said hence the phone was on speaker both persons have the opportunity to listen.
The witness said when he asked Carew as to whether he had informed those that own the four vehicles, he responded in the affirmative.
He said Carew told him on the phone that when he called Honourable and informed him about the vehicle, he told him not to touch anything in the vehicle until he returned from parliament and go down to the port.
“I said honourable do you hear that, and he confirmed what Carew explains,’ the custom officer said.
He said he returned his phone and informed him that the act was unfortunate because it was a crime against custom- that arms and ammunitions are restricted goods.
The customs officer said while they were still in the office, the AIG and LUC entered and that he handed over the items to them in the presence of the commissioner of customs.
The customs officer said AIG East stood up and salutes the third accused and told him that he should go with him to the Inspector General of Police
He said immediately they opened the door to go outside, he saw the first and second accused persons.
He told the court that they went to the commissioner’s office with all the exhibits and explained what had transpired between them.
He said when the commissioner asked the third accused about the arms and ammunitions, he declined knowledge about them.
He said he quietly asked the MP to call the gentleman that he had earlier said owned the vehicle and was in Pennsylvania.
He said the MP responded that he should be given two minutes to call back the owner.
“I said honourable, you told me the man is in Pennsylvania and when he called the first accused surfaced at the commissioner’s office. Honourable told me that the young man is the owner of the vehicle,” the stated.
He said he asked the young man-now the first accused-whether he was aware about the arms and ammunitions in the vehicle and that he responded in the affirmative.
He said the first accused admitted that he was the one that sent the vehicle to the third accused (Hon. Conteh) and was sorry for whatever embarrassment he had caused them and he would take responsibility.
He said at that point, the commissioner of customs handed over the suspects and exhibits for investigations while ASP Isatu Kargbo ordered their arrest.
The State Prosecutor, J A K Sesay asked the witness if the accused hold any license or permit to import arms, but the witness declined knowledge and further stated that he didn’t know how the said vehicle was imported into the country.
At the end of his examination in chief, defense counsel ET Koroma, applied for bail for first and second accused persons, while Lansana Dumbuya applied for the third, citing Section 79 of the criminal procedure Act of 1965 and the Bail Regulations of 2018.
Defense counsel further submitted that his client, Hon. Saidu Emmanuel Conteh, had complied with all the conditions on the previous file, up to the point of reporting on a daily basis to the police.
State counsel J.A.K Sesay, objected to the bail application, but the Bench granted them bail
Magistrate Sahr Kekura refused the first accused and the second accused persons bail and granted bail to the third accused person in the sun of five hundred million Leone with two sureties each in like sum
He said the sureties should be elderly and responsible citizens, must be gainfully employed and one of them should produce a title deed worth the aforementioned amount.
Magistrate Sahr Kekura said the third accused should report to a senior police officer on a daily basis and should not be accompanied by a crowd but his lawyer.
The matter was adjourned to 12th August, 2021.