From Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown

The Email 'Scandal' of the Presidential In-Laws
Jan 23, 2009, 20:00

Malicious Gossip and exaggerated innuendoes have created a scandal involving the sister and brother-in-law (Jennie and Estrada Bernard) of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and the sister-in-law (Finda Koroma) of President Ernest Bai Koroma. The gossip, which was unfortunately fuelled by unsubstantiated but published innuendoes by some of Liberiaís leading newspapers have brought forth threats of lawsuits from the affected parties.

The Lawyer for President Johnson Sirleaf, in a Letter to the Publisher of New Democrat Newspaper of Liberia has warned that a law suit could be instituted against the newspaper whilst Finda Koroma, who is a recognised international consultant, in an Open Letter to Liberians that was widely circulated this week in Monrovia, not only defends herself from involvement in any corrupt act but also informs that she might institute legal action against Front Page Africa (FPA), the online Liberian newspaper that broke the story.

The scenario started several months back with leaked email correspondence of top operatives of the Sirleaf administration showing such operatives as being deep in corrupt acts that bled Liberiaís coffers dry. The startling revelations of corruption caused civil outcry and forced Johnson Sirleaf to institute an Enquiry that included highly technical investigations into the hard drives of numerous computers that were used by both the President and her aides.

Unfortunately for Finda Koroma, known to be a close and longtime friend of President Johnson Sirleaf, it was in the process of this investigation, that a computer located at the residence of the Liberian President, brought out Finda Koromaís full email address and that of a senior executive at ECOBANK alongside an alert by Finda Koroma to this executive, that the sum of 600,000 United States Dollars was being wired into Finda Koromaís Bank account at ECOBANK in Sierra Leone.

Finda Koromaís text mentioned the name of one of Liberiaís leading mobile phone companies, Cellcom. Business operatives of Cellcom had been earlier indicted in the allegations of corruption published by FPA Online. The widely published email extract by Finda Koroma went thus: "Dear Karen/Fifi, the sum of the USD 600,000 has been wired from Cellcom as a prepayment on myÖ"

However President Sirleaf has quickly explained to the people of Liberia that Finda Koroma, aside from being the sister-in-law of Ernest Bai Koroma, was also her friend who worked with her for several years in the UN system and came to Liberia for her (Sirleafís) 70th Birthday, at which time Finda resided at Sirleafís residence for three nights before departing the country. 

President Johnson Sirleaf said she has already advised Finda Koroma to submit a report to Liberiaís Anti Corruption Commission on the situation while EcoBank, which is also reported to have participated in the $600,000 transaction, would be making a formal report in connection with the incident to facilitate the investigation.

Awareness Times is today producing Finda Koromaís explanation, the Letter from Johnson Sirleafís lawyers and a satiric commentary by a FPA staff writer which indicates the extent to which the Monrovia media are fuelling what they want to be perceived as a scandal even in the face of explanations by Finda Koroma, President Sirleaf and the Presidentís family members.

The extract of the piece by FPAís Jackson Kanneh goes thus:

It would be called "Drama of
the missing Dollars," if it
were a made for TV comedy out of Hollywood. But in the age of reality TV, I am tempted to call this "Drama of The In-Laws;" or maybe a savvy and catchy "The Presidents and the In-Laws" points more directly to the heart of the drama. Nope, itís not a Tyler Perry movie sequel; in fact itís yet to go into production. But the dramaís so hood, it just might get there sooner than later.

Itís a real life drama. The theme, it turns out comes out of the old idiom "caught with a hand in the cookie jaw." Its characters are of Presidential First Family status; only this time they arenít from "All Presidentís Men."

It combines ego, elitism, power and culture; play out by this privileged Liberian family, who is, by any estimation, living well above the misery and hellish life in West Africaís darkest country, behind Sierra Leone and Mali. Interestingly, one of the authors in this comedy drama hails from Sierra Leone, where she is the In-Law of President Ernest Koroma. Coincidence? Maybe.

Itís a true Liberian story of a President and the In-laws. The story about the $600,000 wired to an account in Freetown, Sierra Leone broke the weekend of The Dunn Report was already an official melodramatic with the actors offering dissimilar denials and explanations. But by late this week it took a metastasizing legal turn, classically elevating itself to a full fledge soup opera.

The Drama of the In-Laws is a suspense soup, even as itís being played out in the press. All have agreed that [over] half a million USD was transferred into an account in Freetown. The President, whose home computer was used to send out an email regarding the money, has repeatedly said her friend and fellow Ivy Leaguer Ms Finda Koroma used her PC to email the receiver of the $600,000.

The Presidentís In-Law and legal advisor Estrada Bernard and his wife Jennie Sirleaf (The Presidentís older sister) have both denied any part to either the money or the email. They both live in the same house as the computer. But the drama takes a deeper suspense when Finda Koroma, the In-Law to Sierra Leoneís President and friend of President Sirleaf denies she sent the email from the computer in question.

"The computer is in the Presidentís house and everybody uses it - including guests," Jenny Bernard declared.

Finda Koroma admitted sending out an email to alert her Freetown banker, Ecobank of the transfer, saying the email regarding her wired transfer was sent from Houston, TX.

Hereís the problem. The Mintz Group computer experts brought to Liberia to scan laptops and PCs for those linked to the scandal said in their findings that they found fragments of an email referencing a $600,000 transfer to an account in Freetown. The press did not make the discovery, it was the governmentís contracting group.

How this could possibly be an issue in the Liberian press had the experts not found traces of $600,000 on the hard drive of the Presidentís home computer?

And how did Ms. Finda Koromaís name and a reference to such a large amount end up on the Presidentís home computer when she has now clarified she wasnít in Liberia on the date attached to that email?

Those are the puzzles the press is not going to let go, even in the face of shake downs through threats of law suits and other forms of intimidations. Those named to the amount should step forward and explain any new details that could vindicate their alleged involvements.

There is every legitimate outrage to be expressed when experts hired by the government to investigate corruption within its ranks report that $600,000 may have been transferred to a bank out of Liberia.

So the question becomes where does it end? I doubt there is an end in sight, for the more we look, the more shocking discoveries we get. Just as Liberia joins the league of very poor nations in the world, millions are being swindled out of the country under the Presidentís watch.

Over half a million USD is a huge cash enough to modernize the J.F.Kennedy Memorial Hospitalís broken and rusty equipment in Monrovia.

The peculiarity with this new wave of corruption under President Sirleafís watch is that those accused arenít always too far away from the Executive Mansion.

As long as that money and now the email found on the Presidentís home pc remain unclaimed and explained with all the reasonable clarity, we will continue to bring the drama as it unfolds. Rants about legal suits will not deter our obligation to inform the Liberian people.

© Copyright 2005, Freetown, Sierra Leone.