Sierra Leone anti-graft body summons ex-president Koroma for questioning

FREETOWN (Reuters) - Sierra Leone’s anti-corruption body has summoned former president Ernest Bai Koroma for questioning under oath over allegations of graft while in office, it said on Wednesday.

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The summons by the anti-graft commission is the latest move in a campaign by Koroma’s successor, President Julius Maada Bio, to call to account the previous administration that Maada Bio says took the country to the brink of economic collapse.

It concerns alleged wrongdoing in connection with mining, construction and procurement contracts, and follows an order on Tuesday to bar Koroma and 111 officials from leaving the country after a judge-led inquiry alleged that they illicitly enriched themselves during his 2007-2018 tenure.

“The former president’s chief security officer received the notice on his behalf this morning at his residence in Makeni,” anti-corruption commissioner Francis Ben Kaifala told Reuters.

Koroma had been ordered to answer questions from the commission - which has prosecuting powers - in person on Oct. 5, he said.

Koroma was not available for comment, but has denied any wrongdoing in the past and said corruption allegations are part of a long-running smear campaign.

The former ruling All People’s Congress party, which Koroma still leads, has rejected the inquiry’s findings as “politically motivated, legally flawed and procedurally defective”. It plans to challenge it at the Court of Appeal.

Koroma’s Makeni property is among assets worth $200 million the government has ordered Koroma and the officials forfeit or repay after the inquiry released its report last Friday.

An earlier report commissioned by Maada Bio accused the previous administration of exploiting an Ebola outbreak in the West African country for personal gain.

Sierra Leone, recovering from a decade of civil war that ended in 2002, saw its economy contract more than 20% in 2015 due to a slump in global commodity prices and the Ebola epidemic that had peaked a year earlier.

Editing by Alessandra Prentice and Mark Heinrich