Sierra Leone Al Jazeera ‘timbergate’ case stallsBy KEMO CHAM in Freetown | Saturday, June 30 2012 at 10:18
The reputation of the global television network Al Jazeera is at stake in Sierra Leone after the sudden disappearance of the lead prosecution witness in a corruption trial involving prominent government officials.
The Al Jazeera-commissioned filmmaker reportedly fled in the middle of giving evidence at the High Court in Freetown. This has prompted critics of his controversial documentary – Africa Investigate - to conclude his guilt in alleged connivance with television network to smear the image of the West African country.
The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), which is prosecuting the case, has been left without explanation except to plead for the case to continue with a home-based witness.
Sorious Samura, an award-winning documentary filmmaker, shocked the nation last November when the global television network aired an investigative work he and prominent Ghanaian journalist, Anas Aremeyaw Anas, did in the country exposing deep-seated corruption in the timber industry.
The ACC, after a lengthy investigation that led to the subsequent indictment of two top businessmen with ties to senior members of the Sierra Leone government, invited Mr Samura and his Ghanaian partner to testify as witnesses.
But in the middle of cross-examination by defence lawyers, Mr Samura failed to turn up in court.
The ACC said he left the country to attend to “urgent matters” in the UK where he is based.
But the pro-government media, which has been critical of the Al Jazeera documentary, branded his disappearance as indicative of his untruthfulness.
The trial case has in the last few days focused on the academic qualifications or lack of them of the journalist rather than the corruption charges facing the indictees.
The controversial ‘Africa Investigate’ series showed how the two indicted men allegedly demanded and collected bribes with the promise of illegally registering a timber exporting company in a country where logging was under an official moratorium.
One of the two people implicated, Kemo Momoh Conteh, has sued Mr Samura for defamation. The journalist was set to appear in court to answer to the two charges on June 29.
Meanwhile, questions are being asked as to whether the popular Ghanaian journalist, Mr Aremeyaw Anas, will testify.
The ACC had announced it had invited him to the country, but given that his name was mentioned in the charge sheet against his Sierra Leonean counterpart as an accomplice, he could face similar charges if he set foot on Sierra Leonean soil.
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