By: Victoria Boyle-Hebron
Too often in Sierra Leone, untrue statements are published in the newspapers and broadcast on radio that tarnish and malign the images of targeted individuals.
These news channels typically act with total disregard for the impact on not only the targeted individuals, but their family members, friends and associates.
I am Victoria Boyle-Hebron and for this reason, am forced to break my silence. I am co-owner of Pavillion Resource Group (PRG), a company registered in Sierra Leone in 2006. Since 2004, I had been nursing the idea of moving back and investing in Sierra Leone.
In turn, the company Pavilion Resource Group, was established in 2006.
In 2007, when the President Ernest Bai Koroma’s government was voted into office, I, like many of my other countrymen, was part of the euphoria of hope for a better Sierra Leone.
I believed that the change in government would bring opportunity and prosperity to our country. I began making the necessary plans to relocate my family to Freetown.
My father, Olufemi Boyle-Hebron, was encouraging because he subscribed to the belief that investment opportunities would avail itself.
On a trip to Sierra Leone in 2008, whilst staying at Cabenda Hotel, I was introduced to an acquaintance of my father, Mr Bami Baker.
In conversation, he informed us that a gold refinery was available for sale as the owner was destitute and bankrupt.
Intrigued by the opportunity, I, in the company of Bami Baker, made two attempts to visit and inspect the equipment but was denied access because Mr. Jalloh, the proprietor of Jay’s Guest house where the equipment was housed, was owed $30,000 for three years unpaid rent.
We then had to commit ourselves that his debt of $30,000 would be paid as a condition for releasing the equipment.
During the inspection, many pictures were taken for appraisal purposes and to complete a thorough due diligence. My partner and I spent many hours on the internet researching each equipment’s model number, determining the depreciation with efforts to effectively negotiate with Gino Georgietti, the seller’s attorney, whose initial asking price was $250,000 USD.
During such negotiations, however, we learnt that not only had two other interested buyers retract their offers, but also found that the refinery had been closed for over three years which further underscored why the owner was anxious to sell. In research, it was established that the price for the same equipment brand new would cost between euro 120,000 and 150,000.
However, since this equipment was used, had been abandoned for three years, needed to be calibrated and with depreciation factored, we offered a purchase price of $100,000 USD in which the sellers accepted.
Kindly note that all negotiations were done without any interference, involvement or input of my father and again, for the record, he was not a party to this matter as seen clearly in the documents relating to the transaction.
Upon agreement of the Seller’s and Buyer’s terms, I naturally consulted with him but simply for his blessings.
In turn, this led to entering an agreement of sale (Exhibit 1). Pavilion Resource Group, the Buyer, agreed to purchase said equipment, whereas Bami Baker, acting on behalf of the seller, signed as an appointed
representative and Kevin Fields, signed as a partner of the buying entity. As shown in (Exhibit 1.a), the Memorandum and Articles of Association, for PRG, Mr. Olufemi Boyle-Hebron, does not, nor has he ever had any affiliation or shares with the company.
The purchase agreement was executed legitimately without any dubious or crooked involvement nor intent. The idea of being successful in this venture was beyond a dream and most importantly this was the long-awaited opportunity that would lead to us moving back to Freetown permanently.
On the 19th of August 2008, an initial down payment of $50,000 was completed in the chambers of Attorney Barry White, Mr Jalloh’s lawyer.
This transaction was done to be compliant with the agreement terms in which Mr. Jalloh would be paid $30,000 from the initial $50,000 before the release and removal of the equipment. Upon execution of the purchase agreement and completion of the initial payment, we returned to the United States and a power of attorney, (Exhibit 2), dated 29th August 2008, was invoked whereas my father, Olufemi Boyle-Hebron, was appointed to act on PRG’s behalf and specific instructions were given to seal the premises at Jay’s Guest House to prevent any parts from being removed from the equipment.
The Italian based manufacturers, FIOA, were then contacted by us the buyers. We first introduced ourselves as the new owners of the equipment and expressed the necessity for them to travel to Sierra Leone to dismantle, relocate and reassemble the equipment at its new location (Exhibit 3 – an email dated 8th September 2008). Bear in mind, during said conversations, we enlisted the assistance of Bami Baker as a translator since he speaks Italian fluently.
The manufacturers, were rather resistant and reluctant to travel to Freetown as they had yet to be paid in full for the services rendered whilst dealing with Mr. Beraddi the previous owner as is evident in email dated 15th September 2008 (Exhibit 4). Again, all arrangements and correspondences were done without my father’s involvement, assistance or input.
Eventually, after much convincing, the executives at FIOA and PRG reached an agreement where three FIOA technicians would travel to Freetown at the daily rate of Euro 1000 for eleven days and all travel and lodging expenses were also absorbed by PRG.
Upon their arrival, the equipment was dismantled, reassembled and a four day training program ensued for our new personnel who were FBC graduates who also remained employed with us for the effective operational running of the refinery.
Let’s state the obvious – what I lack in Sierra Leone are strong alliances and connections. However, my father has a wealth of contacts and in order to have effectively ran a successful refinery in Freetown, I needed his assistance and that was when I asked for his involvement. He then aligned PRG with Mr. Frank Karefa- Smart and the pair assisted in setting up the refinery.
A letter requesting permission to use the name Sierra Leone Gold Refinery was sent to the Ministry of Trade & Industries (Exhibit 5) and such requested was approved on December 3, 2008 (Exhibit 5.a). We then invested many hours in researching all aspects of how to run a successful gold refinery operation. Moulds, engravers for the
security hall marking of the gold Bars to prevent fraud, which was plaguing the gold industry, were created and our operation began.
We operated for a year but abruptly shut down in May of 2010 after receipt of a letter from the new minister of trade that revoked our permits claiming the permission given to us by their ministry was done in error (Exhibit 6).
All attempts to plead and explain to the minister that it would take in excess of $30,000 dollars to change security features proved futile and as such I and my partner were forced to abandon our dream. We lost money, returned to the United States, while the refinery equipment remained installed at No 9A Hannah Benka Coker Street where it is till today.
After the turn of events, life moved on until July 2013. Five years after the purchase of the equipment, my father called me to say the program monologue had aired with the caption “Femi Hebron dupes Italian $2 million USD.”
This is when I began questioning the integrity of Sierra Leone’s media. Firstly, the word ‘dupe’ yields such a negative connotation, secondly, how was such dollar figure calculated and by whom? Although the program reported that the said Italian, Beradi, attested to the fact that he never had any dealings with Femi Hebron, it was Bami Baker and there’s a recording to the effect.
Why was my father’s name used on the headline instead of Mr. Baker’s? I deem this as defamation so I insisted on my father taking monologue to court for being defamed but he chose to do nothing about it.
My father was interrogated at the C.I.D three times. He has given statements, and provided the substantiating documentation pertaining to the purchase of the equipment which has been verified. The authorities confirmed that Mr. Femi Hebron had not partaken in this transaction. Furthermore, my father also provided C.I.D access to the premises and after seeing the equipment intact, they cleared him of any wrongdoing.
It would stand to reason that if this matter were under investigation to determine if the equipment were obtained fraudulently, all parties to the matter would be interviewed. However, to date, not once have the authorities made any contact with me despite being given all phone numbers and email addresses.
Still I remain puzzled by how this matter could ever have been deemed fraudulent.
I have all supporting documentation and have simply waited for an opportune time to come over to Freetown to set the matter straight.
I must regurgitate this, to date, we have never been contacted by any investigative bureau which leads me to conclude that this is truly not about the legitimacy of a purchase transaction but instead being used as a pawn in their game to falsely accuse and prosecute my father in the court of law and public opinion.
From my understanding, Bami Baker was taken to court in 2010 but in an amended writ of summons, my father was included as the second defendant in 2013. How can one, who hadn’t anything to do with the aforementioned transaction, be legally included in this matter? It’s as though he became a ‘de facto’ defendant – simply to harass a man who has always been a target.
So here we are, nine years since purchasing the subject refinery but are still being forced to read untrue stories circulating around the world disparaging my father and misrepresenting the bona fides of the transaction.
Each day I am constantly defending our hard earned reputation and our family name against malicious allegations of fraud.
Again, at no time did Femi Hebron have anything to do with the transaction as is catalogued in the documents attached.
Which brings me to the inconsistencies of court ordered judgement and the actions being taken.
The judgement orders either the return of the equipment or to pay 374,626 euros.
Yet such judgment seems only applicable to the second defendant, my father, Femi Hebron. The judgement seems to be inclusive of the first defendant, Bami Baker, for formality because the authorities have never seized any of his property, garnished any of his wages, nor had any type of harassing tactics that are being imposed on my father.
On the morning of the 13th of July, two days after the handing down of the ruling, the bailiffs arrived at my father’s residence and carted away personal items – beds, TVs, furniture, freezers, and other items valued somewhere at $40,000. Yet, the subject equipment remains housed in the same location since relocated in 2008.
Why wouldn’t the bailiffs simply seize the equipment and satisfy the order? The equipment in question is valued in excess of Euros 374,636.93.
If that’s the case, why would they leave equipment of a much higher value offered to them to take personal items worth $40,000. This tactic underscores the notion that this matter is truly not about the refinery but is conveniently being used as a means to deliberately smear and assassinate my father’s character and move against his hard earned assets for something that he has been deemed innocent of.
In closing, tactics illustrated in this matter is why the western world hasn’t any respect for our country’s infrastructure. The corrupt and unjust system is why we fail to progress politically and economically.
It is also times like this that makes the decision to stay away from Sierra Leone, where people can be targeted at will, justified. Is there more to it than meets the eye? $100,000 USD (Exhibit 7) was paid for the equipment and a lot more was expended in setting up the business.