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Sierra Leone Orders Criminal Probe Into Foreign Waste Allegations

FILE - President Ernest Bai Koroma won re-election in late 2012 with a pledge to fight endemic government corruption.
FILE - President Ernest Bai Koroma won re-election in late 2012 with a pledge to fight endemic government corruption.

The Sierra Leone government has distanced itself from a letter supposedly written by a senior adviser to President Ernest Bai Koroma granting permission to the Dutch Chamber of Commerce for the “importation of baled and non-hazardous Municipal waste” into Sierra Leone as long as the materials are not toxic in nature.

The government said in a statement it did not authorize any official of government to approve such a deal. The government said it understands the health and environmental risks of toxic wastes and will never expose the public to such long-term risks. The letter was signed by Ibrahim Ben Kargbo, senior special adviser to President Koroma.

Kargbo told VOA his letter to the Dutch Chamber of Commerce made clear that the waste materials should be for the development of fertilizer for agriculture purposes and should not be toxic.

“I gave that advisory letter to the agent of a Dutch farm in Lebanon who said he wanted to come here and set up a plant to manufacture fertilizer. I did inform him in that letter that if he wanted to go through the process of investing in this country he should be very certain that, even if it is utilizing domestic waste, it should be toxic-free,” he said.

Koroma said he also advised the person to whom the letter had been sent that anything that might expose the public to long-term health and environment risk should be treated as paramount because the government did not want to be dragged into the embarrassment of toxic waste.

“We also did say in the letter that no decision will be cleared if it did not have the approval of the Republic of Sierra Leone,” Koroma said.

A government statement Monday said President Koroma “has instructed the office of national security and the police to conduct criminal investigations into the circumstances surrounding this matter.”

On Monday, special adviser Kargbo was called to the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) for questioning about the transfer of foreign waste to Sierra Leone.

“The simple thing is that they wanted to know where that letter came from. And I did say yes it came from my office. But of course they could see not much damage in it or any illegal element in it. So I was released. But the important thing is whatever I did in good faith to protect the country from any difficulty that has to do with toxic waste,” Kargbo said.

He said he did nothing illegal and that he encouraged the Dutch because they wanted to build a fertilizer plant in a country where there is no fertilizer.

Kargbo said President Koroma was not in the initial stages of the arrangement although he would have eventually been brought in on the arrangement.

“Of course we had agreed with the investors that they should start the process by meeting first and foremost the people who are in charge of these areas. But also importantly we wanted to make it very clear that the president came in only at a time when it was very clear as to what these fellows wanted to do. Yes, normally the president comes in, but you don’t bring the president in at the beginning,” Kargbo said.