Cablegate: Cocaine Bust: Minister of Transportation Sacked,
DE RUEHFN #0389/01 2191649
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
P 061649Z AUG 08
FM AMEMBASSY FREETOWN
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 2096
INFO RUEHZK/ECOWAS COLLECTIVE
S E C R E T FREETOWN 000389
DEPARTMENT FOR AF/W (JHUNTER), INL/AAE (SSNYDER)
EO 12958 DECL: 08/06/2018
TAGS SNAR, PREL, PGOV, PINR, SL
SUBJECT: COCAINE BUST: MINISTER OF TRANSPORTATION SACKED,
DEA PARTICIPATION ACCEPTED
REF: A. FREETOWN 336 B. FREETOWN
Classified By: CDA Glenn Fedzer for reasons 1.4(b/d)
1. (S) Summary: Transportation and Aviation Minister Ibrahim Kemoh Sesay was relieved of his duties August 4, pending the conclusion of the cocaine trafficking investigation. Sesay has vehemently proclaimed his innocence since the bust, despite a close family connection to one of the accused. XXXXXXXXXXXX Sesay was questioned by the Sierra Leone Police (SLP) August 5, but the SLP had orders from the President to neither charge nor detain him. This runs counter to Koroma’s public and private statements which have said he will hold anyone connected to the cocaine bust accountable, regardless of their connections. Also, following an Embassy offer August 1, the GoSL has accepted and offer for DEA to assistance in the investigation, and possible help with the deportation of the accused. End Summary.
2. (SBU) The repercussions of the July 13 cocaine bust at Lungi Airport (reftel A) continue to be felt, with Minister of Transportation and Aviation Ibrahim Kemoh Sesay relieved of his duties August 4. According to a State House press statement, this action was taken to facilitate the investigation and provide “unfettered access to everyone and everywhere the investigations demand.” Sesay stated in a radio interview August 5 that he “expects to land on his feet” following the conclusion of the investigation, inferring that he will resume his ministerial duties at that time.
3. (SBU) Sesay’s removal from power is not a surprise. Media reports have called for his resignation since the bust, in large part due to the arrest of his cousin (Note: Media reports refer to them as brothers, but this reflects the African tradition of brotherhood that extends beyond immediate family. End note), Mohamed Sesay. The media have reflected the public sentiment that, at the very least, the close familial relationship between the two makes it hard for the Minister to be impartial during the investigation. Kemoh Sesay has frequently declared his innocence and willingness to allow the investigation to occur without influence or interference.
4. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX XXXXXXXXXXXX the President directly ordered SLP senior officers to refrain from arresting Kemoh Sesay. Instead, he was brought in for questioning and released on August 5, with subsequent questioning expected August 6. The SLP intend to convince the President to sanction his arrest, and in the meantime have Kemoh Sesay under constant surveillance. Since he is considered a flight risk, warnings were sent out to all exit points, including the airport. Despite these measures, known corruption at the borders makes it nearly impossible to prevent escape.
5. (C) The Sesay “brothers” are APC stalwarts with close ties to the President. Kemoh Sesay was originally elected as a Member of Parliament in 1996 as an SLPP party member, but switched allegiances to the APC during the 2002 elections. He was elected MP in the Port Loko District in 2007 and resigned this position to become Minister. Mohamed Sesay, not considered competent or educated enough to be a politician, was one of the key financial backers of the 2007 Presidential campaign. His contributions during the election, according to rumor, earned the ministerial position for Kemoh Sesay and the Manager position of the national football team for himself. If the allegations are true, these positions were strategically selected and likely used to facilitate narcotics trafficking beyond this particular case.
DEA Help Accepted
6. (S) Following an official USG offer made by diplomatic note on 1 August, the GoSL accepted DEA assistance and held a joint DEA-GoSL meeting August 6, chaired by Office of National Security General Kellie Conte. Conte and GoSL officials made clear their fear that the traffickers could
corrupt lover-level judiciary and police officials, and hoped that the DEA could indict and remove the traffickers from Sierra Leone as quickly as possible. The attendees at the meeting also agreed that an additional DEA agent fluent in Spanish should be sent to Sierra Leone immediately. Post will report further developments regarding DEA participation septel.
7. (S) Comment: XXXXXXXXXXXX XXXXXXXXXXXX His stance on Kemoh Sesay’s possible arrest contradicts previously reported information that he intends to see any guilty party brought to justice, regardless of their personal or professional connections. This is an unwelcome development, particularly given the importance of Koroma’s personal integrity and commitment to rule of law in encouraging greater investor and donor confidence. On the other hand, DEA involvement, particularly if it results in the removal of traffickers from Sierra Leone quickly, helps the President retain his government’s reputation and commitment to the rule of law--before the traffickers use their resources to bribe their way past prison and police officials who make only few dollars a day. End comment. FEDZER