Sierra Leone: Over US$500,000 Withdrawn for President Bio’s Expenses in New York

By Chernoh Alpha M. Bah, Anne B. Wallis, and Matthew Anderson

Details on bank transfers and withdrawal records from the President’s Office in Freetown show that over US$500, 000 was withdrawn from the Central Bank of Sierra Leone (BSL) to allegedly fund personal expenses of the country’s president, Julius Maada Bio, who is currently visiting New York for this year’s United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). The amount does not include the cost of flights to New York.

Africanist Press discovered that five transactions amounting to US$513,073 were processed between 2nd and 14thSeptember 2022 by officials in the President’s Office, the Ministry of Finance, and the Bank of Sierra Leone for the President’s trip to New York. Official records state that the funds would be used on hotel bills, transportation costs, and per diems for the President and First Lady while visiting New York. The five transactions included three international wire transfers totaling US$353,346 and processed diversely between 2nd September 2022 and 13thSeptember 2022. In addition, two cash withdrawals amounting to US$159,727 were also processed on 14th September 2022 as per diems for President Bio and First Lady Fatima Bio.

Within the same six months, a combined total of over US$3.1 million was withdrawn and jointly spent by Bio and his wife as travel per diems. Expenditure records show that such large cash withdrawals are now regular financial practice; there is no documentation whatsoever to show how these monies were spent.

Bank records reviewed by Africanist Press show that on 2nd September 2022 alone, two transactions amounting to US$215,769 were processed in separate amounts of US$107,884.50 each and transferred to New York. The first amount was sent to New York through the Federal Reserve Bank (FRB), while the second amount was processed through Standard Chartered Bank – South Africa (SCB/SAF).  Both transactions – in amounts of US$107,884.50 each – were processed as payments for “hotel accommodation, transportation, feeding, and hall rentals for the President, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the Speaker of ECOWAS Parliament during the 77th Session of the United Nations General Assembly.”

Africanist Press also found that on 13th September 2022, another US$137, 577.94 was likewise processed and transferred to New York, also through the FRB. This transaction was similarly processed as “payment to cover costs for event to launch Sierra Leone’s campaign for Security Council seat.” Thus, we discovered that between 2nd September 2022 and 13th September 2022, a total of US$349,346.94 in three separate bank transfers were sent to New York by the Bank of Sierra Leone to allegedly pay for the President and First Lady’s hotels, transportation, food, and other costs associated with UNGA meetings.

Despite these public pronouncements and promises, President Bio and his wife spent much of the four years in office making frequent trips to Europe and Asia.

In addition to the three bank transfers, Africanist Press also noted that two additional cash withdrawal transactions amounting to US$159,727 were processed on 14th September 2022 by BSL officials as per diems for the President and First Lady. The transactions include an amount of US$94,700 for President Bio and another US$65,027 for First Lady Fatima Bio.

Overall, Africanist Press found that an aggregate amount of US$513,073 was withdrawn from the Bank of Sierra Leone between 2nd September 2022 and 14th September 2022 in relation to the President’s trip to New York for UNGA meetings. We note also that these transactions do not include funds transferred for chartered flights and other costs associated with the President’s travel to New York for the UNGA meeting.

UNGA is an annual gathering that brings together world leaders and policy makers at the UN Headquarters in New York to discuss a broad spectrum of global issues. This year’s gathering is scheduled from 17th – 25th September 2022 and will be the first in-person meeting post Covid-19.

Sierra Leone recently launched a bid for a seat in the non-permanent category of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), a position once held by the country in the early 1970s. The UNSC is one of six UN organs responsible for maintaining global peace and security.

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