Sierra Leone: Paolo Conteh Charged With Treason, Denied Bail

Sierra Leone Former Defense Minister, Retired Alfred Paolo Conteh made his maiden appearance before Magistrate Hannah Bonie on 16 count charges ranging from treason, possession of unlicensed arms, perjury, and importation of small arms without valid license, to other related offences.

The opposition key figure, who served in the All People's Congress government as Defense Minister, Internal Affairs Minister and also National Ebola Response Coordinator, was charged together with the Deputy Commissioner of the Sierra Leone National Commission on Small Arms Commission, Retired Colonel Saa Anthony Sinnah and Prince George Jusu.

State prosecutor, Adrian Fisher, alleges that the first accused, Alfred Palo Conteh, on 19th March, 2020, was caught with an unlicensed small arm at State House.

The State Prosecutor also alleges that Saa Anthony Sinnah and Prince George Jusu abetted the said crime, and that on a date unknown between 26th February and 3rd March 2020 in Freetown, procured the commission of an offence in contravention of Regulation 31 of the Arms and Ammunition of 2014.

He claims that the 3rd accused person, Prince George Jusu, being Justice of the Peace offered by law to make any statement on oath for any purpose and being lawfully show, made a statement which is material for the purpose of the matter which he knew to be false or did not believe to be true.

However, before the prosecution took its first witness, a battery of over 15 lawyers led by Lawyer Ady Macauley made an application under Section 23(5b) of the 1991 Constitution on behalf of the first accused. He told the court that the prosecution had not furnished the defence with the consent certificate from the Minister of Justice and Attorney General to prosecute the matter.

He also submitted to the court that the prosecution had not also furnished the defense team with the charge sheet.

He submitted that he hasn't been given access to have conference with his client while in detention at the maximum security prisons and that the court should grant him the opportunity to have a meeting with his client before the preliminary investigations start.

He noted that his client was not allowed to have a walk in the prison yard and he is usually locked for more than 22 hours each day.

The presiding magistrate however, granted twenty minutes stand-down to enable the defense team have conference with the first accused.

The court resumed with the first prosecution witness, Sergeant 4645 Brima Alhaji Gaima, attached to the Presidential Task Force at State House.

He admitted knowing the first accused and denied knowledge of the second and third accused persons.

He told the court that his duties include the protection of President Julius Maada Bio, his family and properties both at the office and at home.

He told the court that the security protocol at State House allows no one that is not part of the Presidential Task Force to carry a weapon within the State House, adding that any visitor to the president would be searched properly.

He further told the court that he recalled 19th March, while on duty he was instructed by the Chief Security Officer at State House to inform his colleagues at security post that some people were on their way to see the president.

He said whilst informing his colleagues as instructed by the Chief Security Officer, the first accused who was holding a handbag entered State House without placing his bag on the mental scanning machine at the entrance.

He told the court that after his colleagues had noticed that the first accused had bypassed the scanning machine and was already climbing the steps they questioned him as to why he refused to place his bag on the security scanning machine.

He testified that the first accused later returned and told them (the security personnel) that he had a weapon in the bag and handed it over to the security and rushed to the president office.

He said they placed the said bag on the scanning machine and discovered that a pistol was in the bag.

The witness said he later informed his superiors about what had transpired between them and the first accused and later made statement to the investigating officers.

Lawyer R.S.V Wright, who represented the second accused person, applied for bail, noting that his client was not charged with treason but only for abetting. He told the court that his client has been in detention at the Criminal Investigations Department since March 23rd.

He drew the attention of the court to his client's health and tendered a medical certificate dated 30 March 30, 2020.

Meanwhile, the defense counsel for the third accused person also adopted the bail application made by his colleague.

However, the magistrate didn't grant bail to the second and third accused persons after the prosecution objected orally without following the procedure of producing an affidavit in opposition of bail.

The magistrate ordered the prosecution to produce the affidavit in opposition to bail within 24 hours.

She adjourned the matter to April 3rd2020.

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