Sierra Leone ACC arrests corrupt former government officials in passport for cash scandal

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Sierra Leone Telegraph: 13 September 2018:

Investigations into the illegal sale or issuing of passport by officials in the former APC government by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), reached its climax yesterday with the arrest of eight people, in what is believed to be a joint effort with the US Embassy.

The investigation is examining evidence involving dozens of people believed to have been issued with the country’s diplomatic and ministerial service passports and had applied to the US Embassy for travel visa to the US.

It is understood that one of those arrested yesterday is the former Chairman of the dissolved Independent Media Commission (IMC) – Mr Alieu Kanu.

Speaking to the Sierra Leone Telegraph, a source at the ACC confirmed the arrest which took place at the US Embassy in Freetown, but did not name the former APC government officials arrested.

Two weeks ago, an order for the arrest of the former head of Sierra Leone’s immigration service – Mr Kholifa Koroma (Photo), was issued by police in Sierra Leone to INTERPOL.

The order for his arrest was made amidst accusations of widespread fraud and corruption at the immigration service under his watch, including the unlawful issuing of Sierra Leone diplomatic passport to non-authorised government officials and private individuals.

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An official at the Sierra Leone’s Anti- Corruption Commission (ACC) told the Sierra Leone Telegraph that the ACC has launched what he referred to as Operation “Eagle Claw” to help root out corrupt officials in various government departments.

Dozens of people involved with producing and issuing service passports for people who are not in government service are being investigated.

Those arrested last month included officials in the Immigration, Internal Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Administrator General’s office and private individuals.

According to the ACC, an order for the arrest of Mr Kholifa Koroma was made after a government report published by the Governance Transition Team (GTT)  recommended that “the issuance of Diplomatic passports be urgently reviewed and that the former Chief Immigration Officer, Kholifa Koroma, be investigated for his alleged complicity in the issuance of Diplomatic passports to hundreds of ineligible holders.

And that, “If sold to outsiders, the diplomatic passports could fetch millions of dollars. The former Chief Immigration Officer must be made to account for those passports.”

In October 2014, Kholifa Koroma announced that 20,000 (Twenty thousand ) passports had arrived in the country from the United Kingdom, and will be made available to the public

This is what the GTT report says about the illegal sale or issuing of the country’s passport:  

Passport Deals

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In December 2013, the Government signed a new contract with Netpage, which purportedly represents the old British firm, Thomas de la Rue, to produce epassports for the GoSL. Thomas de la Rue has been under contract with the GoSL since February 2000 to supply machine-readable passports and their associated issuing system for Sierra Leone.

Jamel Shallop, a Lebanese businessman, owns Netpage, which purportedly provides Thomas de la Rue’s services in Sierra Leone. The new contract was for the purchase of “passport issuing and personalization” from Thomas de la Rue to enable Sierra Leone to “migrate from readable passports to ePassports, and the design of new ePassports.”

The total contract cost amounted to £2,195,360, of which the Government paid £1,680,641 upon signing the agreement. The other substantive terms of the contract are simply bizarre. All funds from the sale of the passports were to be given to Jamel Shallop and Co.

Netpage and the Government of Sierra Leone would earn only the Le 10,000 that citizens pay to obtain the passport application form.

The company, in other words, though paid for the service, benefits up to US $100 per passport fee that citizens’ pay to actually obtain a new passport, and GoSL gets only about $1.25.

The GTT strongly recommends the contract with De la Rue and its supposed service provider company Netpage, be urgently reviewed.

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Moreover, a verification exercise conducted by the GTT, of the issuance of 1,179 diplomatic passports, revealed that hundreds of ineligible citizens were granted diplomatic passports and that dozens of those passports could not be accounted for.

Two official directives – a 1998 Cabinet Conclusion and a 2007 declaration by President Koroma – restricted ownership of diplomatic passports to the President, Vice President, Speaker of Parliament, Chief Justice, cabinet ministers and deputy ministers, diplomatic representatives and Members of Parliament (this last category was added by President Koroma’s Directive).

However, a list of diplomatic passport holders obtained by the GTT shows such luminaries as ‘housewives’ of senior APC leaders, their business associates and sundry other categories of persons holding diplomatic passports.

The GTT recommends that the issuance of Diplomatic passports be urgently reviewed and that the former Chief Immigration Officer, Kholifa Koroma, be investigated for his alleged complicity in the issuance of Diplomatic passports to hundreds of ineligible holders.

If sold to outsiders, the diplomatic passports could fetch millions of dollars. The former Chief Immigration Officer must be made to account for those passports.

This is the statement published about yesterday’s ACC arrest:

 

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