Freetown, SIERRA LEONE – The Court of Appeal has yesterday ordered former President Ernest Bai Koroma to jointly and severally within thirty days pay over seven billion Leones state money he illegally authorized in loan during his Presidency.
Handing down a unanimous judgment on Thursday 14th December 2023, Justices Fatmata Bintu Alhadi, Komba Kamanda and Tonia Barnette agreed that there’s no law granting absolute immunity to anyone for gross misconducts including corruption.
The former President had on 13th October 2020 filed a seven ground appeal against the adverse findings made against him by the Justice Biobele George-Will Commissions of Inquiry relating to the over 7 billion Leones approved in 2017 as terminal benefits to staff of Petroleum Directorate, 3 million dollars loan to SMRT Limited through the Ministry of Finance for the procurement of biometric machines not refunded, over 12 million dollars as loan to Rokel Commercial Bank not refunded, and 14 million dollars loan to the Commission for Privatization.
The Judges said that the court records show no proof that the said employees paid end of service benefits had retired, made redundant or resigned. They also said that there was no evidence produced that Parliament approved the said loans which were authorized by the former President.
The Constitution they said reigns supreme over every law including the Petroleum law.
The court said that the former President also violated sections of the Public Finance Debts and Management Acts which state that no loan or borrowing shall be undertaken without a Resolution of Parliament or an Act.
The three empaneled Court of Appeal Judges further agreed that the Commissioner – Justice Biobele George-will acted within the scope of law and terms of reference as an investigating tribunal, and that no one including the President has exemption for misconduct and abuse of public trust while in office.
They cited as precedent the pending cases against former President of the United States Donald Trump, the conviction of former South African President Jacob Zuma among others saying those are clear indications that immunity does not exist in perpetuity.
Immunity they said is limited to when the President is still in office and therefore such interpretation of immunity by the appellant they added if granted by the court will become a breeding ground for holders for such revered offices to become monsters and dictators.
“It is our considered view that the law is the King and not the King the law” Justice Komba Kamanda emphasized.
He said Sierra Leone had signed and ratified the United Nations Convention on corruption and had put mechanisms in place to prosecute corrupt public officials whom by the dictates of the said Convention includes former Presidents and Vice Presidents.
Justice Kamanda said that immunity should not be used as a lee way to escape criminal investigation or an inquiry, as all of his seven grounds of appeal were dismissed.
In total the former President was ordered to refund over Le 7.2 billion. Added to it is another $3m, plus extra $12.2m, which must be paid into the Consolidated Fund within 30 days. MJB/15/12/2023