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Africa’s Politicians and the Independence of the Judiciary

Africa’s Politicians and the Independence of the Judiciary thumbnail

Recent WikiLeaks revelations have provoked discussion on the independence of the Judiciary and the nature of the African politician.  My old mother was tempted to ask – Is it our brain that is black, or what is the problem with us politicians?’

According to the summary comments in a recently leaked US Embassy cable, the erstwhile Attorney General of the the Republic of Sierra Leone, Mr Abdul Serry Kamal, had covertly agreed to quash a major drug case in return for a $2.5million bribe, which he would possibly explain as a plea bargain arrangement.  The President, Mr Ernest Bai Koroma, had to intervene to scuttle the deal.  The comments of the US Ambassador, June Carter Perry were very instructive on the matter – In her opinion, though the AG’s actions appear corrupt, he can protest his innocence by refuting the source’s claims, or stating that he is brokering a legal plea agreement. The Embassy was confident that the only government officials aware of the USG expulsion requests at that time were the President, Assistant to the President, Foreign Minister, and Deputy Foreign Minister.  The AG was thus unaware of the promises made, and the impact this deal would have on those promises. Serry Kamal could, and most likely would have stated that he was operating with imperfect information and was acting lawfully in the best interests of the case and country.

This deal is why many local observers believe led to the removal of the Attorney General a few weeks ago, despite his delicate political posture and balancing role within the Koroma Cabinet.

I tried to seek out the opinion of some experts and commentators on the startling revelations in this cable.  There appears to be a much misunderstanding about the issues raised in the cable, and conveniently, the cable has been released at a time when the press is generally on holidays in Sierra Leone and very few newspapers if any are currently publishing.

The thrust of our analysis today is on the issue of expulsions and the necessity for it.  It would appear that there was a very real fear that foreigners who committed serious crimes could easily buy their way out of prosecution, jail terms and/or prison.  For this reason, the US may have decided to cooperate with vulnerable states to remove such persons and move them to the US where there is a certainty that they would serve their jail terms and pay their fines.  This appears to have been the agreement with President Koroma and the foreign ministry during the trial of the cocaine team, which comprised 3 Americans and 12 Sierra Leoneans.  It is unclear why this negotiation did not include the Attorney General, in whose custody the accused persons were.

If the President did not involve his Attorney-General, is it because of a deep seated mistrust of the learned gentleman?  And if this mistrust existed, can the Attorney General be blamed for going off at a tangent and starting his own ‘private negotiations’ with the defense teams of the accused persons?

Being mindful not to swallow everything in a WikiLeaks document hook line and sinker, we analysed a bit deeper the allegations of money changing hands within the judiciary.  It was suspected that the trial judge, Nicholas Browne Marke, was given a hefty sum in Euros for a light sentence.  Browne-Marke is widely known as a disciplined and incorruptible judge.  If he was given that amount of money, one can only assume that it was in exchange for a not guilty verdict.  As a highly learned gentleman at the bar, also sitting at the court of appeal, it is difficult to imagine him receiving such a bribe.  The difficulty, however is that the polars of integrity in the law courts building are surrounded by deeply corrupt individuals – court clerks, secretaries, police officers, administrators, even touts.  So it is probably not impossible that ‘someone’ could have accepted something on behalf of the learned trial judge, of which the judge himself may be completely unaware.

The learned Attorney General however, is quite a different matter all together.  According to local observers, the man in the ivory tower is rumored to have long had a tendency to ‘arrange things’, especially in situations where it might put the President, described by the US Ambassador as his long time political rival’ at a disadvantage in terms of public perception/opinion.

The sources who spilled the beans on the negotiations refused to allow themselves to be identified, because they feared reprisals.  Indeed defendants in different cases, who just happen to be official informant of the US government, confirmed to this press that the Attorney General’s office demanded bribes from them in order to squash their prosecution on trumped up charges.  They confirmed that the Prosecutor’s office received bribes and then reneged on their promises to squash the case.   Observers are obviously closely watching current cases being prosecuted by the Attorney General’s offices through the Directorate of Public Prosecutions.

From the US embassy cable, it is unclear how the mechanics of the $2.5m deal would have gone.  It is unclear if the trial judge was part of an arrangement where the defendant would suddenly enter a guilty plea, pay a fine and walk.  However, the President was ‘lucky’ enough to have extraordinary support from the DEA and a few marshalls like the former minister of foreign affairs.  It however, does not change the fact that the President’s involvement was ultra-vires.

Abdulai Kamara

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