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Sierra Leone charges two in 'Timbergate' graft case
April 17, 2012 / 9:21 PM / 5 years ago

Sierra Leone charges two in 'Timbergate' graft case

* Two accused of taking bribes on behalf of vice-president

* But no evidence that VP knew about the payments -official

By Simon Akam

FREETOWN, April 17 (Reuters) - Sierra Leone’s anti-corruption commission said on Tuesday it had charged two men for accepting bribes on behalf of Vice President Samuel Sam Sumana, but it had not found evidence that the vice president knew about the payments.

The graft case risks hurting the credibility of President Ernest Bai Koroma, who has promised to fight rampant government corruption as he prepares to run for a second term in elections scheduled for November 17 in the West African country.

The bribery scandal came to light after a documentary aired by the broadcaster Al Jazeera in November alleged that associates of Sam Sumana accepted kickbacks in return for a promise the vice president would back an illegal logging project.

“The two fellows we’ve indicted, there we have evidence of direct receipt of money, and evidence of direct soliciting of money for and on behalf of the vice president,” ACC Commissioner Joseph Kamara told Reuters.

Kamara said Vice President Sam Sumana had not been charged in the case due to lack of any evidence linking him to the bribes.

“We do not have evidence that he knew about it, or that they were sent by him,” Kamara said.

He added that the two men indicted, Alex Mansaray and Momoh Kemoh Konte, were independent businessmen and not on the vice-president’s staff.

Sam Sumana has denied any involvement and said he would not resign his post. He had previously been implicated in a U.S. lawsuit that also alleged bribery in a separate Sierra Leone timber deal, but that suit was later dismissed.

The ACC has been criticised in recent years for being soft on graft in the impoverished and war-ravaged country. Last year, it settled a case involving Sierra Leone’s social security agency NASSIT out of court, rather than seeking prosecutions.

A spokesman for Koroma said he was happy with the ACC’s findings, and Kamara said Koroma’s administration had put no pressure on investigators during the probe. (Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Angus MacSwan)

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