Read appeal judgment against findings of Thompson inquiry
Read appeal judgment against findings of Georgewill inquiry
Abdul Koroma was Sierra Leone’s deputy minister of mines during the period that the Georgewill inquiry investigated. Georgewill, a respected Nigerian jurist, was given the task of investigating the assets of top state officials in Sierra Leone between 2007 and 2018 to see whether they were acquired lawfully. He also had to conduct a lifestyle audit to see whether the officials were living above their declared means.
Three judges of Sierra Leone’s court of appeal have been considering a challenge to some of the outcomes of the Georgewill inquiry, related to Koroma, who complained about the inquiry’s ‘adverse findings’ against himself.
In addition to the ‘adverse findings’, the inquiry had held that Koroma’s property in the Northern Province of Sierra Leone, valued at Le 6.4 billion, was not commensurate with his legitimate means of income and ordered the property forfeit to the government.
Koroma began by challenging the very basis in law of the inquiry, but the appeal judges made short work of that, finding they were properly established. The judges did find, however, that the inquiry was not entitled to ‘find [him] guilty’ of the offence of ‘failing to declare his assets’ since this was not a criminal court trial. They thus set aside the ‘conviction’ declared by the inquiry.
But Koroma was less successful on his other claims. He argued that he didn’t personally commit the ‘infractions’ referred to by the commissioners and so shouldn’t be held liable for what happened at the ministry of mines. The appeal judges, however, said that he had been a minister at the time of some of the ‘infractions’ and as head of the ministry he couldn’t escape liability ‘when he had all the authority to stop those infractions’.
The judges said they had studied the inquiry record and found that proper procedures weren’t followed by Koroma and other officials during the period under investigation by the inquiry, and that this led to misappropriation of public funds, corruption, abuse of office and lack of accountability.
As to the forfeiture of his house, when serious allegations of unexplained wealth were made, as in this case, the person against whom such allegations were made bore the evidential burden to show that the wealth was acquired lawfully.
But Koroma’s housing allowances, salary and other benefits at the time weren’t commensurate ‘to the massive structure’ of the home he built and he hadn’t been able to satisfy the evidential burden.
Thus, the most significant aspects of the appeal were dismissed, and along with it, Koroma’s bid to keep his house.
The second appeal, brought by Francis Kai-Kai, concerned the corruption inquiry by Sierra Leone jurist, Bankole Thompson. It, too, was tasked with investigating top state officials and their assets and actions while in office between 2007 and 2018.
Kai-Kai, who is the current minister of planning and economic development, claimed that the negative findings made against him shouldn’t stand because he wasn’t given a fair hearing and the findings were based on several mistakes about the office held by him during the period under investigation.
The appeal judges said that while it was true that Kai-Kai wasn’t listed as a ‘person of interest’, the powers given to the commissioners heading these corruption inquiries allowed them to investigate anyone who might have been involved in related corruption, dishonesty or abuse.
But what about the specific findings made against Kai-Kai? They dealt with the purchase of fertiliser by the ministry of agriculture and food security. However, Kai-Kai was a procurement officer, and not in control of the fertiliser scheme. In fact, he was ‘at the lower cadre of the management team’, the judges said. He didn’t have the final say and his decision wasn’t binding.
There was undisputed evidence that at the start of the fertiliser scheme, later shown to be corruptly mismanaged, Kai-Kai hadn’t yet even started working at the ministry. He only joined, as a procurement officer, when the implementation of the project was at a far advanced stage. How then, asked the appeal judges, could he be held responsible when he wasn’t the head of the project nor the ‘sole authorising person’?
If he were to be held accountable, it would have had to be shown that he took an active part in a scheme where fraudulent activities led to the misappropriation of funds, or the government suffered financial loss. But, said the court, that kind of evidence hadn’t been produced.
Kai-Kai was ‘merely part of a team’. He had to do as his superiors instructed, and he couldn’t be held responsible for the acts of his superiors. ‘There is also no evidence … that he benefited personally’ from the fertiliser scheme, the court added.
In commissions of inquiry, the burden of proof ‘squarely rests on the state’, said the judges. And this legal obligation couldn’t be ‘whittled down in the absence of compelling evidence’ as in the case of Kai-Kai.
The appeal judges therefore set aside the adverse findings, report and recommendations against him by the inquiry.