Sierra Leone Slaps Travel Ban On Ex-President Koroma Over Corruption Reports

President Ernest Koroma of Sierra Leone.

Sierra Leone's government has banned former president Ernest Bai Koroma and 120 others from travelling after a report was released indicating economic malfeasance during his time in office.

The ban was announced after a White Paper laid out detailed evidence of corruption and abuse of office for a number of former government officials.

The document is based on the work of three commissions of inquiry which investigated the assets of vice presidents, ministers and heads of government agencies who served along with Koroma in the administration from 2007 to 2018.

Headed by Justice Bankole Thompson, the commission found that the former president had reported his salaries, pension and income on investments to a total of 389,000 euros (4.48 billion Leones), a sum that "far exceeds his total emoluments and legitimate earnings".

The commission also found that one of Koroma's properties was valued at 4.3 million euros.

'Witch hunt' or truth?

Koroma released a statement on Wednesday, dismissing the report as a "witch hunt".

He said the allegations "are a politically motivated charade calculated to impugn" his hard-earned reputation, adding that "the government's relentless heckling... has reached undue and unacceptable levels that amount to political harassment."

At the release of the White Paper at State House in Freetown, President Julius Maada Bio spoke of abuse of power.

"When corrupt leaders build mansions and accumulate huge bank accounts, it is not for their ethnic groups, regions, or political party to live in. It is for themselves and for their immediate families," said Bio.

His comments were echoed in the youth league of the ruling Sierra Leone People's Party, as member Sulaiman Sesay called it a "shocking scale of corruption and abuse of office."

Public officials must serve with integrity and they must be above reproach at all times. Unlike other Commissions, citizens are assured that this Government will fully implement all recommendations. - President Julius Maada Bio (@PresidentBio) September 24, 2020

This report on the former two-term president and other officials could discourage Sierra Leoneans from working in politics or governance, and perhaps do greater damage to democracy in Africa, according to the former president.

"It also has the propensity of undermining peaceful democratic transitions on the continent as current leaders following these unfortunate events in Sierra Leone might find it difficult to readily hand over power, especially to opposition political parties," said Koroma.

After a two-term presidency, Koroma handed the reins over to Samura Kamara as head of the All People's Congress party. Bio defeated Kamara in the 2018 presidential election.

During his presidency, Koroma made the fight against corruption a focus, signing the Anti-Corruption Bill into law during his first year in office.

However, his government was also accused of absconding with millions of euros earmarked for sufferers during the Ebola epidemic. A report from the country's Auditor General indicated that emergency money was, indeed, missing from the account.

Recommendations

The commissions of inquiry made several recommendations, among which were the forfeiture of properties to the state, the refund of monies allegedly misappropriated, while some issues were to be sent to the Anti-Corruption Commission for further investigation.

The government accepted most of the recommendations from the commissions of inquiry, except the one to ban suspect officials from public office and political activities.

"It tends to distract from the object of the commissions of inquiry," according to the government statement, adding that "the focus of government is to recover the people's money and not to restrain anybody from political participation."

In following the recommendations, Minister of Justice Anthony Brewah imposed a travel ban on all 120 persons named in the White Paper, including former President Koroma.

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) also invited Koroma to report to its offices in Freetown on Monday for interrogation on the issues raised in the White Paper.

ACC head Francis Kaifala said on national television on Wednesday evening that Koroma's lawyers have been in touch with them suggesting that a team of investigators visit him in his home in the Northern Province.

The ACC has not reached any agreement yet, but Kaifala promised that they will accord Koroma all the dignity due him as a former president.

Kaifala added that all 120 accused have had their bank accounts frozen, but guaranteed that those affected "will not starve".

It is simply a measure to prevent the flight of capital, or "activities that might have an adverse effect on the economy," Kaifala added.

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