Anas testifies in Sierra Leone corruption case

AnasGhanaian born award winning investigative journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas (PW5) is the latest witness to testify in the anti corruption case involving Momoh Kemoh Conteh.

Monday February 4, 2013 Anas testified in person at the Freetown High Court presided over by Justice Abdulai Cham.

Before taking the witness anti corruption prosecutor Reginald S. Fynn applied to the Judge for the identity of the witness to be protected. The Judge then issued a strict warning to journalists present, insisting that it is an order of the court. In effect, though his name (Anas) can be used in reports his photographs must not be used.Anas, was therefore allowed to wear a protective cap which had a series of stringed beads obscuring his face whilst testifying.

Led in evidence by prosecutor Reginald Fynn, Anas testified that he is an under cover journalist who takes up different roles in different investigations. He cited the example that in Kenya “I acted as a lawyer in the investigation; in Tanzania I played the role of a businessman and in Ghana I took the role of a patient in a psychiatric hospital.” He explained that this is just to get the whole story out, because if a person who they are investigating has a big conventional camera in front of him, he or she will not ordinarily talk freely, but when using a hidden camera the person speaks freely without knowing that the hidden cameras are there.

The witness said that he recognised exhibit ‘E’ which is the video film that was entitled ‘Africa Investigate: Timber’ since “it was one of the undercover roles I played in the Africa Investigate series.”

Anas testified that he was the under cover investigator and a business consultant for his boss, Bilal an Arabian, during the investigation.

He disclosed that his “role was to use the hidden camera to capture information from the sources and contacts we had here in Sierra Leone especially those whose comments were important to the film we were making.”

Anas testified that he had come into the country sometime in October 2011, and their purpose was “to investigate the illegal logging of timber in Sierra Leone and issues of corruption associated with it.”

He said he recognised the accused Momoh Kemoh Conteh as one of their contact persons in Sierra Leone before they started the investigation into the film. “I phoned him from Ghana earlier and we agreed on when to meet in Sierra Leone for him to take us to the Vice President of Sierra Leone.”

He went on “I first met with the accused in Sierra Leone sometime in October 2011 in my hotel room where we held the first meeting … in all we held seven meetings, one was in his office, in the hotel we had three meetings, one brief one in the office of the Vice President and the other two in his office.”

The witness was then given three documents Exibits A,B and C and he identified them as the transcript of the video footage that he did in the under cover investigation into Sierra Leone timber. He maintained that the meetings held with the accused “were about getting us to meet the Vice President and the Director of Forestry, to give us political protection in the timber business we were going to do and how to reward them (meaning the Director of Forestry and the Vice President) after we had finished setting up a company here in Sierra Leone.

The Prosecutor then directed the witness attention to certain pages in the transcript in which the witness identified all those involved in the discussion as him (Anas) the accused and Bilal.

On Exibit A, file 1 page 1 with time 15:25:30 the witness read out a conversation in which the accused mentioned that the witness were here “to do import and export … I have already spoken to the VP … I want to book an appointment.”

On page 2 with time 15:30:48 he read out that the accused was saying, “Anyway I have tried the Director of Forestry, but he is not picking up let me try the VP again.”

On Page 65 according to the witness who was reading from the transcript, the accused asked him to try to do something for the VP and the Director of Forestry and they also discussed about the mode of transfer of the money.

Several other sections of the transcript, were pointed out by the Prosecutor, and the witness read them out and in some cases clarified what had transpired.

Anas told the court that he captured all of what was in the transcript with a hidden camera and explained that the dates on the footage were not reset because they were doing back-to-back interviews and there was no time to reset them.

Under cross examination by lead defence counsel Hon. Ajibola Manley-Spaine representing the accused person, the witness said he could not recall the number of places that he filmed throughout the investigation, but that he can recall filming at the office of the VP, the office of the accused, several meetings in his hotel room, but did not accept doing any filming in the provinces. Asked about the quay, Anas said that he was only hearing about the quay for the first time.

Furthermore the witness maintained that he was not involved in writing out the transcript as he only saw it in a meeting for clarifications before the video was made. He however insisted that every thing in the undercover camera footage is in the transcript.He explained that the under cover footage is the collection of all under cover filming that was done in relation to the film.

According to him, the entire video was not based on under cover footage as there are other scene that were done with the large camera. He stated that it is not possible to input all what is in the transcript in the film as they choose what they wanted for the video, referring to that practice as editing.

He explained that the$2,000 (two thousand United States dollar) that was given to Momoh Kemoh Conteh in the video was towards the payment $10,000 (ten thousand United States dollar) for forming the company.

Questioned whether he knew if any law had been passed against logging since he had said that their purpose had been to investigate illegal logging, Anas said that he was told there was a ban on timber logging in Sierra Leone at the time he came to do the investigation, though that was not in the brief that he read before coming.

At this stage Lawyer Fynn objected to the line of questioning of the defence saying that the issue was not timber logging but corruption.

The witness disclosed that his role in the investigation was to do the under cover footage as Sorious Samoura was the filmmaker and in charge of the story. Sorious he said did everything except the under cover filming. He explained that he did not come into the country to tarnish anyone’s character while investigating.

“Momoh Conteh did not ask for any specific amount of money in the footage or the transcript” he said, admitting that he took the company’s Memorandum of Understanding without the consent of the accused in his office. He added that during the investigation, he used button and watch hidden cameras to do the filming.

After finishing the cross examination the prosecutor wanted to re-examine but the witness pleaded that he was tired and the matter was adjourned.

By Alhaji Kamara

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