Dr. Konteh and Co. again refused bail

By Hawa Amara

Former State House Chief of Staff, Dr. Richard Konteh, and his co-accused in the timbergate trial were again refused bail yesterday and remanded at the maximum security prison on Pademba Road.

The trio, comprising the sacked Chief of Staff, Alie Suma and Peter Crosby, a Custom Officer, are alleged to have conspired to export six hundred and fourteen (614) 20 feet containers of value added timber out of the country by falsely pretending that export tax had been paid.

They were last week arraigned at the Freetown Magistrates’ Court No.
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2 presided over by Magistrate Komba Kamanda on seventeen counts of conspiracy to defraud contrary to law, forgery, uttering forged document, wilful evasion of export duty contrary to section 77(c) of the Customs Act, 2011, to the tune of four billion, forty-five million, eight hundred and eight-two thousand and twenty Leones (Le4,045,882,020,00).

While testifying in the packed court of relatives, well-wishers, journalists and a battery of lawyers representing the trio, acting Director of Forestry, Mr. Williams Bangura told court that the export clearance authorisation came from the Office of the Chief of Staff, authorising the exporter, and copied to the Ministries of Agriculture and Trade, National Revenue Authority (NRA), Port Authority, the Inspector General of Police and the shipping agency, to release the said containers.

He said that by the directive of the letter, the Forestry Division would assess the value added wood product in one twenty feet container and exchange rate submitted to NRA, which scans the goods and advice the exporter how much tax levy was due to the state, payable at the First International Bank (FIB).

He testified that the FIB submitted to the NRA a receipt which the exporter would present to the Forestry Division, where a photocopy was submitted and the original handed to the exporter.

He said that the process of exporting requires the presence of a Forestry Officer, Trade Officer, Custom Officers and Police as the containers are loaded and duly registered, with tag numbers assigned to each container, with the export certificate submitted to the Custom Department before export.

He identified the first accused and second accused, Alie Suma and Dr. Richard Konteh respectively, and that on 21st February, 2014, a letter from the Ministry of Trade, which was copied to the Ministry of Agriculture, ordered the shipping agency to release thirty (30) containers to the exporter (Suma), which amounted to one hundred and ninety-seven million, six hundred and fifty-one thousand, seven hundred Leone (Le.197, 651,700).

The trial continues.