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Treason trial…

Palo Conteh’s defense team cries foul

June 3, 2020

By Hassan Gbassay Koroma

The defense team of Retired Major Alfred Palo Conteh, who is before the High Court for treason and other related offences has accused the prosecution of ‘trial by ambush’.

The accusation came after the prosecution summoned additional witnesses without informing them earlier.

The former Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Joseph F. Kamara, who is representing Palo Conteh, told the Bench that the prosecution had only informed them about two additional witnesses when they were already in court.

The defense says the ‘ambush strategy’ that the prosecution has implemented lately was not in the best interest of fairness and justice.

He submitted that  that was not the first time the prosecution has done such, thus praying  that the presiding judge Alhaji Momoh Jah Stevens put a stop on the prosecution.

He argued that it was not wrong for the prosecution to bring in additional witnesses, but the defense team must be informed earlier so that they would have adequate time to prepare themselves for cross-examination.

One of the additional witnesses, Detective Police Constable 13835 Issa Sesay, who was led in evidence by State Counsel, Joseph A.K Sesay, identified the first accused and recalled 2018 when a report was made against the said accused and he was assigned to investigate.

However, the prosecution immediately objected to the testimony of the witness on the grounds that his evidence would prejudice the trial of the first accused.

The defense says the said investigation in 2018 has nothing to do with the instant case.

The prosecution responded that the testimony of the witness was important and related to counts 15 and 16 in the indictment which talks about perjury-making false statement under oath.

But the defense insisted that their client was investigated at that time for an offence he was never charged to court for and that their client was correct to say he was neither charge to court nor convicted for any criminal offence.

After that bitter exchange of words between the prosecution and the defense, the judge ruled that the witness should continue his testimony with the assurance that he has recorded all their objections.

The witness continued that he investigated the matter and at the conclusion of the investigation, he sent the file to the Department of Public Prosecution for advice, thus noting that since that time he hasn’t received either the advice or the file.

The second additional witness, Joseph Bockarie Noah, who introduced himself as Chief Investigator at the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) recognized the first accused.

He told the court that on 20th December, 2018, whilst on duty, a report was made against the first accused and some other officials at the Ministry of Defence and that he later assigned one of their investigators- Umaru Sesay.

He further told the court that the first accused cooperated with them and that the investigation was still ongoing.

Meanwhile, Head of Firearms Licenses Bureau at the Sierra Leone National Commission on Small Arms, Haja Fatmata Deen-Kamara, recognized the first accused and the second accused as the Deputy Commissioner for Small Arms Commission.

She said when licensing a firearm, the applicant would buy an application form which included pages of medical and security clearances.

She said after filling the application form, the applicant would be directed to a specialized doctor at the Connaught Hospital for medical cheek-ups and also to the Internal Intelligence System Office and the Criminal Investigations Department for a finger printing.

She said the application form also makes provision for referees and that only lawyers, Justice of the Peace (JPs), Members of Parliament and Paramount Chiefs are allowed to serve as referees.

She said after the applicant has fulfilled all those procedures, she would forward all the documents to the Commissioner for his approval, thus adding that the file will be returned to her desk and she will issue the applicant with details of the commission’s bank account to do the necessary payments.

She said after the applicant had paid she will ask the Information Technology Officer to give the firearm a serial number and issued a license to the applicant.

She said on 3rd of March, 2020, Retired Major Alfred Paolo Conteh went to the Commission and requested a new application form.

She said the accused told her that he wanted to license a new gun and bought the license application form.

She testified that she asked the accused to bring the old licensed firearm to the Commission before she could allow him to acquire new license.

She sent the accused to undergo for medical test which he did, but that he never went for security vetting on the grounds that when someone goes to the commission for the second time for licensing or renewal of licensing, security vetting was not mandatory.

She told the court that the day the license was issued to the first accused, the Commissioner was at work, but he was not on his seat.

She said the Deputy Commissioner requested for the first accused application form and approved it.

She said the Commission’s regulation didn’t give the Deputy Commissioner the leverage to approve applicant when the Commissioner is within the jurisdiction.

Retired Major Alfred Paolo Conteh, Retired Colonel Saa Anthony Sinnah and Prince George Jusu, are before Justice Alhaji Momoh Jah Stevens to answer to 16 count charges ranging from treason, possession of unlicensed firearms, perjury, to importation of small arms without valid license, but they have denied the charges.

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