June 19th 2012
Undiplomatic APC Diplomats
China is Sierra Leone’s largest foreign investor. However, you would not know that from the chaotic state of Sierra Leone’s mission in Beijing, which has had to change three ambassadors since 2010 amidst a series of corruption scandals.
A new Ambassador, Abubakarr Multi-Kamara, presented his credentials to China’s President Hu Jintao in May. Ambassador Kamara is from a powerful family of major importance in the governing All People’s Congress party. Since President Ernest Bai Koroma was elected in 2007, the Embassy in China has been the scene of infighting between civil servants and appointees of the APC and the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party. Ambassador Kamara’s appointment follows the recall of the Deputy Chief of Mission Idrissa Mohamed Funna, who according to his colleagues had alleged that he received US$350,000 from a Chinese businessman called Liu Jing (aka Harry). As part of the deal, Liu was allegedly issued with a diplomatic passport and accredited as Sierra Leone’s Commercial Attaché and Consul General. Kamara’s predecessor as Ambassador, Joseph Mono Koroma, who arrived in Beijing in 2011, maintains that he was not involved in the deal with Liu. Nevertheless, in Funna’s counter claims, he says that J. M. Koroma received money from Chinese well-wishers and business interests as contributions to Sierra Leone’s 50th anniversary celebrations in April last year. After the scandal broke, Funna’s old friends – Victor Bockarie Foh, the APC National Secretary General, and Balogun ‘Logus’ Koroma, President Koroma’s chief elections campaign coordinator for the 2012 elections – rushed in to help him. President Koroma sent Foreign Minister Joseph Bandabla Dauda to Beijing to investigate the scandals in February.
On his recommendation, Funna and J. M. Koroma were sacked. However, Liu seems to have continued in his post as Commercial Attaché, despite the fact that the Foreign Minister recommended his sacking. John Baimba Sesay, the Information Attaché at the Embassy, says that Liu is no longer the Commercial Attaché. Sesay explains that the corruption investigations have led the Embassy to implement stricter management procedures. The Embassy now employs a Chinese national, Li Jinji, as Commercial Attaché, responsible for organising meetings and promoting business deals in Sierra Leone. Sesay says that Li’s employment is on a ‘no-cost’ basis for the Sierra Leonean mission. J.M. Koroma replaced another troubled Ambassador.
In May 2010, Ambassador Abdul Karim Koroma, a senior veteran of the APC, was recalled by his government to Freetown. His return home came after his niece sent a letter to the local papers in Freetown claiming that he had abused her after taken her to Beijing as his personal secretary. In December 2011, Victor Foh and Balogun Koroma flew to Beijing to launch the APC’s Asia branch. There are only around 1,000 Sierra Leoneans in China, most of them on Chinese government scholarships, although a few business people from Freetown have settled in the country. APC branch meetings are held at a restaurant owned by Mohamed Lamin Turay, a Sierra Leonean businessman. Africa-Asia Confidential hears that the Beijing police have visited the restaurant several times in recent months on suspicion of criminal activity.