Justice Paul slams record fines and custodial sentence on Solomon H. Katta & co
By Patrick J. Kamara & Hassan Koroma
Erudite Nigerian judge, Honourable Justice M.A. Paul, in a landmark decision yesterday fined Solomon Hindolo Katta, his spouse and three others a combined fine of two billion, five hundred and fifty million (Le.2, 550, 000, 000), plus custodial sentences for the former workers of the National Revenue Authority and Ecobank Sierra Leone Limited.
The landmark sentence came after convicting all accused persons on various offences, including Conspiracy to Commit a Corruption Offence, Misappropriation of Public Revenue, Possession of Unexplained Wealth and Failure to Fully Declare Assets to the Commission, all contrary to the Anti-Corruption Act 2008.
A release from the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) said “It is worth noting that since the enactment of the Anti-Corruption Act of 2008, this is the first time the Commission has secured convictions for the offences of Failure to Fully Declare Assets to ACC and Possession of Unexplained Wealth.”
First accused Solomon Hindolo Katta was sentenced to six years in prison and fined two billion two hundred million Leones (Le.2. 200,000, 000), while his spouse, Catherine Katta was ordered to pay a fine of seventy million Leones (Le.70 million) plus a jail term of three years.
The other convicts, Idrissa Fornah alias Orkala, was given four years behind bars and a fine of two hundred million Leones (Le.200 million); Momoh Turay was slammed with three years imprisonment and a forty million Leones fine (Le.40 million); while Emmanuel Sesay was ordered to serve three years and to pay a fine of forty million Leone (Le.40 million).
The lynchpin in the Le392 million plus scam, Solomon Hindolo Katta, was dressed in a dark shirt, and appeared calm and confident, despite the heavy sentence, as he was seen waving to relatives and friends who wept in the crowded court room. His wife, on the other could not hide her emotions, and was in a pool of tears, apparently for their two teenage daughters.
The other accused persons though remained calm.
Whilst reading the sentence, Justice Paul told the court he gave due consideration to the plea in mitigation by defence counsels on 3 April, the day the accused were convicted of corruption.
He said it was less significant whether an accused is a first time offender or not, as when found wanting the law will take its course. He said the NRA collects revenue for the state and if anybody is found wanting for misappropriating that fund, such poses a serious threat to the county’s economy, thus the court should collaborate to impose stringent punishment against those found culpable.
The judge noted that he had also discovered during the trial that a cheque of Le.357,437,424 that was issued by Addax Bio-energy to the NRA regional office in Makeni was still unaccounted for, although the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) had not charged the accused for that amount.
The accused persons were being tried by the ACC for colluding to convert an NRA cheque to their private use, amounting to Le.392,238,864, after it was issued by Addax Bio-energy in respect of income tax for their staff.
Meanwhile, defence counsels for the five convicted persons indicated they will “undoubtedly” file an appeal in the Appeal Court.
Eke Hallowell Esq., who spoke on their behalf, opined that their clients were first time offenders and that the judgment was unreasonable and cannot be supported by the evidence before the court.
However, in a snap address to journalists at the ACC headquarters, Director of Prosecution, Reginald Fynn, Esq., told reporters the victory was not to be celebrated by the ACC only but the country as a whole. He said the landmark judgment would serve as a precedent to public officers that corruption is an aberration and a ‘no go area’.