Director of Trade denies knowledge of ‘non-compliance’
By Hawa Amara
Chief Director and professional head at the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Ahmed Akar Ahmed, while being cross-examined by defence counsels, told the court that he was not aware of non-compliance permission in respect of thirty containers of value-added timber at the centre of the on-going timber matter.
Mr. Ahmed stated that since he was posted to the ministry in 2010 and prior to that, the ministry was not involved in value-added timber processing. He explained that both the ministries Trade and Agriculture send representatives to the Queen Elizabeth II quay to monitor the process of exporting timber.
He said business entities are not only involved in the export of value-added timber, but also determine the consignment to be exported.
He maintained that he is not familiar with the shipping process at the quay and that exporters have the onus to arrange with shipping agencies after going through the right procedure and upon the issuance of a final certificate of approval.
The witness also denied being aware of exhibit ‘A’ – a public notice giving green light to the export of value-added timber.
The accused persons – former State House Chief of Staff, Dr. Richard Konteh; timber businessman Alie Suma; and Customs Officer Leslie Peter Crosby – were arraigned at the Freetown Magistrates’ Court No. 2 presided over by Magistrate Komba Kamanda on seventeen counts of conspiracy to defraud contrary to law, forgery, uttering forged document, and willful evasion of export duty contrary to section 77(c) of the Customs Act of 2011.
The prosecution alleges that the accused on diverse dates between 1st February and 31st May, 2014, had intentionally defrauded, conspired with other persons to evade the payment of export duty to the tune of four billion, forty-five million, eight hundred and eight-two thousand and twenty Leones (Le4,045,882,020,00).
The prosecution also alleges that both Suma and Dr. Konteh had on diverse dates between 1st and 28th February intentionally defrauded and forged a letter titled “Export of value-added process timber”, dated 26th February, 2014, while purporting that an open-ended clearance had been granted to the former to export value-added timber.
Also, the prosecution says that Suma on 27th February, 2014, uttered a letter from the Office of the Chief of Staff at State House, which purported to give him clearance to export unlimited number of containers of value-added timber.
The prosecution further states that Suma on 1st February and 31st May, 2014 had evaded paying export duty to the value of four hundred and fifty-four million, five hundred and ninety-four thousand, seven hundred and seventy Leones (Le454,594,770,00) in respect of sixty-nine 20ft containers containing value-added timber.
The prosecution again states that the accused persons on diverse dates between 1st February and 31st May 2014, with intent to defraud, conspired with unknown persons to evade the payment of export duty to the tune of Le4,045,882,020.00, being export duty in respect of 614 20ft containers of value-added timber, while purporting that Suma, Managing Director of Timber Harvesters, Processors and Exporters (SL) Ltd Company, had authority to export the said quantity of value-added timber, and that the said export duty had been paid.
The accused were represented by J. Cole, U. Koroma, M.P. Fofanah and R.B. Kowa, while the matter was prosecuted by State Counsels M.M. Sesay and K.Z. Bangura.
The hearing was adjourned to 20th August.