The protracted corruption case between the former Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources, Haja Afsatu Kabba, has ended in the High Court in Freetown.
Afsatu Kabba was ‘convicted’ on five, out of the seven, count charges brought against her by the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC).
Justice Ademosu said evidences proved that Afsatu Kabba misappropriated public funds amounting to the tune of three hundred and ten million leones (Le310,000,000) whilst serving as a minister of state.
The High Court Justice then ordered the ‘convict’ to refund the ‘misappropriated’ sum and levied a fine of one hundred and fifty million leones (Le150,000,000), which is to be paid within a month’s period.
Alternatively, she can spend a three-year jail term at the Pademba Road maximum prison.
The ACC has described the verdict as welcome news and a milestone in the fight against graft in Sierra Leone, but the legal defence team of Afsatu Kabba is weighing the possibility of filing an appeal.
The BBC Report
The corruption case against Afsatu Kabba was brought to the public domain when Sierra Leone’s BBC stringer filed a ‘sensational’ report on air that the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) has ‘arrested’ and ‘dragged’ the then Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources to the Commission’s office to answer to corruption charges.
That report was strongly contested by the only female newspaper publisher in Sierra Leone, Dr. Sylvia Olayinka Blyden, who accompanied the then minister to the ACC office and also happened to be one of the few eyewitnesses with a proper account of what transpired.
Blyden insisted that Afsatu Kabba was never arrested and dragged as the BBC stringer had made believe, but was merely invited.
In her Awareness Times Newspaper, she published the invitation letter that was sent to Kabba by the ACC and explained what exactly happened at the ACC.
All efforts by the then minister in order for the BBC stringer to correct the ‘erroneous’ report proved unsuccessful. Few days later, Kabba made public that the BBC Correspondent, Umaru Fofana, had sent her an insulting (fit-yai) mobile text message and she later on filed a complaint to the BBC Headquarters, Bush House, London.
A couple of days later, a group of armed policemen stormed the Femi Turner Drive residence of Haja Afsatu Kabba and barricaded the entire area as if they were in the hunt for hardcore drug addicts.
As early as 6am that morning, the armed policemen rudely banged the gate of the then minister and instructed residents to surrender themselves outside. Unprecedented eh!
The husband and sons of the minister were informed that they were needed at the ACC office for questioning. The husband told them that he will surely report to the ACC office to honour the invitation later in the day, but the policemen and ACC investigators insisted that they were not leaving the premises without the husband and his children. This situation prompted the husband to ask whether they were under arrest. His answer received a reply in the negative, but the visitors pin pointed that the invitees must follow them.
The gun totting policemen and ACC vehicles proceeded to escort the family of Afsatu Kabba to the Commission’s office, like arrested hardcore criminals. The rationale for intimidating and disgracing the husband and children that fateful morning remain a mystery because the questions they were asked at the ACC office can only be best described as jokey, and the least talked about that the better.
Afsatu in Court
Few days on, seventeen count charges were hurriedly filed to the High Court against Afsatu Kabba, with a Ghanaian national and owner of Okekey Fishing Company, Lilian Lisk, was the main prosecution witness.
Next was a press release from State House informing the general public of a mini cabinet reshuffle. Haja Afsatu Kabba was relieved of her duty as Minster of Fisheries and Marine Resources and immediately replaced with one Joseph Koroma.
This reshuffle was greeted with mixed comments and feelings. Whilst some were of the belief that it was a step in the right direction, others held the view that the APC had betrayed a major pillar of the party. Those who believe the APC had let down Afsatu Kabba argued thus: that Afsatu Kabba contributed significantly to the success of the APC in the 2007 presidential and parliamentary elections; that she made possible the return of electricity supply to the once darkest city in the world, and; that she raised an unprecedented eleven billion leones as revenue for the government in the fisheries and marine resources sector.
Sylvia Blyden; the Star Defence Witness
After the first court sitting, an emergency press briefing was summoned by lawyers of Afsatu Kabba and they confidently told newsmen that the charges brought against their client were ‘frivolous’ and would be stoutly challenged. They also expressed concerns that the ACC never completed the interview with their client prior to filing the matter to court and described the move as suspicious.
At that briefing, Sylvia Olayinka Blyden told members of the fourth estate that she was not only going to defend Afsatu Kabba in the pages of her newspaper, but that she was also going to serve as the lead defence witness. Sylvia Blyden, who is au-fait with what transpired between Afsatu Kabba and Lilian Lisk threatened to expose in open court the failed attempts made by Lilian Lisk to get Afsatu Kabba to support and/or ignore her ‘corrupt’ and ‘wicked’ dealings in the fish industry. According to Blyden, the failure of Afsatu Kabba to succumb to the wants of Lilian Lisk was one among the numerous ploys to ‘persecute’ her. “I have recorded and photographic evidences to substantiate my claims,” Sylvia Blyden boasted, and made a promise to be by Afsatu Kabba till the end.
17 Count Charges Discontinued
As the matter progresses, the prosecution team made unprecedented applications ranging from extraordinary long adjournments, discontinuation of the seventeen count charges and bringing in of new seven count charges, to protection of witnesses identities.
All of these applications, though suspicious and stoutly challenged by the defence team, were all upheld by the presiding judge.
The matter then assumed a dramatic twist with Lilian Lisk no longer willing to testify in the matter. It was widely believed that she was scared that Sylvia Blyden will definitely disgrace her in court with her startling evidences. In a desperate move to save themselves from the mess, the ACC speedily put together new seven count charges of misappropriation of public funds and abuse of office. Though Afsatu Kabba was initially charged to court with her Permanent Secretary, the latter was allowed to go home a free man following the cancellation of the seventeen count charges.
ACC Boss Missing in Action
Following series of investigative articles published by Sylvia Olayinka Blyden, which were concentrated in unearthing the ploy to persecute Haja Afsatu Kabba, the then Anti Corruption Commission Boss mysteriously left the shores of Sierra Leone.
Abdul Tejan Cole later submitted his resignation but with no explanation as to the raison d’être for his decision. Since then, he never returned to Sierra Leone and he is said to be in America. This situation heightens suspicions, and several sober-minded people concluded that Afsatu Kabba was merely a victim of circumstance and not the corrupt government functionary the ACC is accusing her of being.
Efforts by friends of the runaway ACC Boss to defend the actions by the latter in the pages of newspapers were resisted and thwarted by counter articles from the press.
Pro-government newspapers also denied and defended allegations that Tejan Cole left because the government was interfering with his work.
The testimonies of the prosecution witnesses were filled with inconsistencies and laughable pronouncements. Whilst some of the prosecution witnesses were busy explaining things that were never possible, like the James Bond vehicle scenario, the others were having field days indicting State House and their very selves in the matter.
No Defence for Afsatu
At the close of the case by the prosecution team, the defence counsel for Afsatu Kabba submitted that it was NOT going to present a single witness.
What is still being debated by, and remains a mystery to, many Sierra Leoneans is who advised Afsatu Kabba not to challenge the prosecution witnesses. My investigations have however unearthed that the advice never came from the lawyers of Afsatu Kabba. Infact, they strongly kicked against such a move, but were later forced to accept such a detrimental undertaking. See more on this in the part two of this piece.
The press was actively involved in reporting the matter as it progressed. From the inception of the case, the press was divided into two groups – one group was busy castigating the accused, whilst the other group was very articulate in letting the people know that it was merely a ploy to victimize the vibrant female politician.
Sylvia Blyden took the forefront in the group comprising of Paul Kamara and Jonathan Leigh, who were resolved and very active to protect the hard won reputation of Afsatu Kabba.
Today, even though Afsatu Kabba has been ‘convicted’ by the courts, Sylvia Blyden and her allies are satisfied that they succeeded in letting the people know the truth of the matter and I am sure Afsatu Kabba would always be grateful to them, especially Sylvia. Sylvia did not only prove herself as a friend indeed, but also as somebody who stands for the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
She has been convicted but I cannot be convinced that she is guilty. She might be guilty of sanctioning the withdrawal of the money in question from the bank, but she cannot be guilty of personally benefiting from that money.
All the same, posterity will surely tell if Afsatu was guilty or not guilty.
Part two of this series will concentrate on how Afsatu Kabba allowed herself to be hoodwinked into believing that there was no need to present defence witnesses.
Did Afsatu Kabba Deceive Herself? (2)
By Abdul Karim Fonti Kabia +232(33)527799;
The Afsatu Kabba corruption matter has ended in the High Court but the verdict is still being widely debated. In part one of this piece, the Roaming Pen in an objective wit highlighted sequence of events as recorded in the matter, starting from an ‘erroneous’ report aired on BBC to the mysterious disappearance of the then Anti Corruption Commission Boss, Abdul Tejan Cole, onto the media hype.
This episode seeks to look into a strange submission by the lawyers of Afsatu Kabba. The decision not to challenge the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses ended up being ‘the last straw that breaks the camel’s back’ in the matter, as the judge made emphasis on it whilst handing down the three year jail sentence or an alternative fine.
Following the conclusion of the prosecution’s case, the defence lawyers unanimously submitted that they were not going to present a single defence witness; a submission that left the learned High Court Judge with no other choice other than that of relying on the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses to decide whether or not Afsatu Kabba was guilty as charged.
Logically, this is a typical scenario of two people having a serious disagreement over something that requires to be decided on principles by a neutral third party. At the end of the explanation of the one party, the other decides that there is no need to counter the allegations made against him/her. Since it is widely believed that silence is consent, the judge in such a scenario cannot be blamed for believing that what the other side had explained is undisputable, and giving a judgment in favor of the party that explained. No one should blame the Hon. Judge!
Before proceeding, let me hasten to correct an erroneous assertion made in part one of this piece. Under the sub headline: The BBC Report, I mentioned thus: “…That report was strongly contested by the only female newspaper publisher in Sierra Leone, Dr. Sylvia Olayinka Blyden, who accompanied the then minister to the ACC office and also happened to be one of the few eyewitnesses with a proper account of what transpired”. It has been brought to my attention that Sylvia Olayinka Blyden never accompanied Afsatu Kabba to the ACC office. Rather, she zoomed into the ACC office with her house documents, several hours after Afsatu Kabba had already been at the ACC, when it became imminent to Blyden that there was a ploy to use a certain section in the ACC Act of 2008 as a yardstick to detain/lockup Afsatu Kabba at the CID Police under the guise of an arrest that was not an arrest. That ploy was destabilized when Sylvia Blyden used her valuable house documents to sign the half billion leones bonded surety.
An Invitation to State Lodge
Now to the crux of the matter, vis-à-vis highlights on why Afsatu Kabba’s defence team did not contest the ‘inconsistent’ prosecution testimonies.
Without numbers, very reliable sources close to State Lodge have confided in the Roaming Pen that the decision not to present a single defence witness might have been reached at State Lodge.
During the trial when it was now clear that the Prosecution’s case was falling apart, a late-night meeting was summoned/organized by no less a person other than President Ernest Bai Koroma and in attendance included Afsatu Kabba and her two primary defence lawyers namely Foday Dabor and Sulaiman Tejan-Jalloh, security sources at State Lodge gate intimated.
At that particular point in time, the defence team had already completed arrangements to line up a battery of defence witnesses to knock off balance all what the prosecution witnesses alleged.
These defence witnesses who were to have been subpoenaed, willingly or unwillingly, it has been learnt, included but not limited to the son of Afsatu Kabba, Abdul Wahid Kabba, who was all set to make startling revelations about the country’s fish thieves and expose the ploy to get his mother out of the way, the APC’s Southern Province Youth Leader by the name of Abdul Malik Jobe, a twenty years expert in Sierra Leone Fishing matters by the name of Ahmed Morlai Kamara, officials at Yeani Enterprises (plan was to have forcefully subpoenaed the owner, Dauda Lumeh), the Clerk of the House of Parliament, Bank Managers of Afsatu Kabba at Rokel and Commercial Banks, the Accused’s personal driver, Mani Ghandi and OSD security personnel, Teddy Massaquoi and former Deputy Minister of Fisheries, Rosaline Oya Sankoh, to name a few of the defence witnesses who were to have taken the stand. Also to have been subpoeanaed were valuable documents of the Fisheries Ministry.
What was Discussed at State Lodge?
Following a tête-à-tête at the said late night meeting, the president might have been the one to move that the defence team not bother to bring up a single witness as he needed his Minister back at work to help his agenda for change and the matter had been prolonged. It could be recalled that some of the prosecution witnesses testified that the money in question was not taken to Afsatu Kabba’s house or office, but was whisked to State House, the office of the APC Leader, as President, for the purpose of using it in the ruling APC’s national convention that was to be held in Makeni. And if the information that the aforesaid motion was moved by the president is anything to go by, one cannot be far from reality for thinking or judging that such a motion not to call up defence witnesses cannot be unconnected with the fear that the defence witnesses might expose the ‘sharks’ that ‘swallowed’ the money. Or even more sinister, it was a deliberate move to ensure that indeed Afsatu Kabba got convicted.
The sources further alleged that following oratory utterances, persuasions and the use of political gimmicks and promises of assurances, it was reportedly resolved that the prosecution witnesses must not be challenged. In all of this, no other defence lawyer attended except Sulaiman Tejan-Jalloh and Foday Dabor. Lawyer Blyden Jenkins-Johnston was not invited. Lawyer Yada Williams was not invited. Lawyer Melron Nicol-Wilson was not invited.
Deceived by Loyalty?
Poor Afsatu Kabba, being an ardent Muslim and very loyal to the APC and President Koroma, will have no cause to believe that such a decision can be detrimental to her political career and public life. If the information is true, then all what Afsatu could imagine by then was that ‘the president, whom I had known as a man of his words for several years now, had spoken and the matter would be ruled in my favour with or without presenting defence witnesses’. It also might have crossed her intellect that the presiding judge was a contract judge who can be influenced or succumb to suppression from the powers that be or risk losing his job. It is important to note that no matter what the pressure, the Contract Judge could not have convicted her if she had put up a robust defence after the floundering prosecution witnesses. However, she deceived herself into listening to mis-advise during the Dinner date at State Lodge with her two lawyers in tow.
What remains a mystery however, is whether or not the aforementioned decision was a deliberate ploy to use ‘poor’ Afsatu Kabba as the sacrificial lamb of the APC, in the government’s desperate aspiration to portray itself as having no sacred cows and goats in the fight against corruption, or was intended at providing a smokescreen/cover for the actual beneficiaries of the misappropriated funds or just to ensure Afsatu Kabba’s political career was ruined for life. Whatever it was, Afsatu Kabba probably never saw it coming and the ardent Muslim woman accepted it hook, line and sinker.
‘State Lodge Lawyers’
At least one of the two defence lawyers, who reportedly accompanied Afsatu Kabba to State Lodge, were said to have returned to State Lodge again after the first visit.
An intermittent dispute was said to have ensued between the lawyers who reportedly escorted Afsatu to State Lodge and the remaining defence lawyers who were not privy to constitute the aforementioned State Lodge meeting. Later the opposing lawyers were said to have reluctantly accepted the decision, since their client Afsatu Kabba was reportedly on the side of the ‘state lodge lawyers’. One of the opposing lawyers, Blyden Jenkins-Johnston was said to be so embittered at the decision that he wrote a strongly worded letter to his client warning her that whilst the prosecution had the burden to prove the case, it was risky to subject herself to wrong advise. And just as he had advised so did it happen. She gave the Contract Judge an opening to finish what was the original plan. So, that was it: conviction as a dishonest fraud with three years jail or whopping fine.
Meanwhile, Afsatu Kabba has made public pronouncements that she is still loyal to the APC and President Koroma; she never defended the matter because there was no need to counter inconsistent testimonies. Poor woman.
With the aforementioned statements, Afsatu Kabba has proved herself as a typical example of a leader, a Muslim and a loyal politician, and I am sure some senior politicians in the APC will continue to bow their heads in shame for not only letting her down, but also for deceiving a major pillar of their party so badly. God will surely see her through and thank God the truth has been revealed. Though Afsatu Kabba has been convicted and now faces the challenge of paying four hundred and fifty million Leones, the prosecution witnesses succeeded in letting the citizens and the world know that the money was never consumed by Afsatu but was ‘gbashi-gbashi’ at State House.
In conclusion to this part of the piece, Afsatu’s loyalty, trust in God, and her reverence for the laws of the land ought to serve as a precedent for not just politicians but every citizen. This is why the citizens continue to pray for her in mosques and churches all over the country because they are not convinced she alone is guilty; if indeed she was ever guilty and not grandly set up.
© Copyright by Awareness Times
Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.