Sierra Leone: President’s diplomats unable to account for over US$4.6 million transferred in 2019 to New York for Chancery Building construction

By Chernoh Alpha M. Bah, Matthew Anderson, and Mark Feldman

In this report, Africanist Press provided transaction details from bank statements of Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs showing how funds transferred to New York for the alleged construction work at the Sierra Leone Mission Headquarters at the United Nations were squandered between 2018 and 2020 by officials of the Maada Bio administration.

Africanist Press reviewed 134 transactions from the 2019 banking records of the Foreign Affairs Ministry, including all wire transfers and other financial transactions carried out by Foreign Affairs officials from 8th January 2019 and 31st December 2019. The 2019 banking records show that over US$4.6 million was transferred between 27th May 2019 and 5th September 2019 from Freetown to New York for the supposed renovation of the Sierra Leone diplomatic mission building in New York.

A real possibility of defeating Bio in next year’s elections has turned Kamara into the most obvious target for both the ruling party and Kamara’s colleagues in his own party. Kamara’s growing appeal within the rank and file of his party and the real electoral challenge he poses to President Bio has led to him being targeted by other aspirants to the ticket of the APC.

These 2019 bank transactions included evidence of wire transfers from the Bank of Sierra Leone (BSL) that show precisely how Le36.4 billion (over US$3.6 million) was transferred from the Foreign Affairs Ministry’s account to the Republic of Sierra Leone Embassy account in New York between 14th June 2019 and 5th September 2019 by Foreign Affairs officials to the Sierra Leone Mission in New York. These bank transfers included eight wire transfer transactions totaling Le20,070,845,946 (about US$2.1 million) by Foreign Affairs officials between 24th May 2019 and 24th September 2019. Two other SWIFT transfers (FT1916454098 and FT1924808290) in the amounts of Le7,665,845,933.49 (about US$800,000) and Le9,329,999,975.14 (about US$1 million) that were also carried out on 13th June 2019, and 5th September 2019, were noted specifically as payments towards the renovation of the Chancery Building of the Sierra Leone Mission in New York.

Africanist Press also reviewed transaction details from both the 2018 and 2019 bank statements of the Foreign Affairs Ministry and aggregated transactions showing that a total of at least Le40,104,581,122.18 (over US$4.1 million) was cumulatively taken out of the Foreign Affairs account between 2nd May 2018 and 25th September 2019; during the first 18 months of the Bio Administration’s time in office.

Thus, a review of the Foreign Affairs Ministry’s banking records for both 2018 and 2019 (in the first 18 months of the Bio administration) show that over Le40.6 billion (over US$4.6 million) of the aggregated total earmarked for the Chancery Building were transferred to the New York Mission Building in 2019 but were not used for the specified purpose.

Empire Group did obtain construction permits from the New York Department of Buildings (NYDOB) to conduct the renovations in early 2021 but no real progress was made due to the alleged failure of the Mission to remit funds.

Our investigation shows that despite these transfers of over US$4.6 million in 2019 by officials of the Bio Administration for the renovation of the Chancery Building, no substantial work was done on the renovations, raising further questions regarding the potential use of the funds that were transferred for the project in 2019.
Africanist Press also discovered that upon receiving the transfers in 2019, Sierra Leonean diplomats in New York contracted a New York based construction company, the Empire Group LLC, in June 2019 to renovate the Sierra Leone Mission headquarters in New York, including the construction of two additional floors. Empire Group was hired for the renovation work in 2019 without a competitive bidding and open tender process. Diplomatic officials awarded the contract to Empire Group through an intermediary construction broker, Jules Davis of Fairfield Construction Associates LLC.

Empire Group did obtain construction permits from the New York Department of Buildings (NYDOB) to conduct the renovations in early 2021 but no real progress was made due to the alleged failure of the Mission to remit funds. Recent investigation on the construction site in New York shows that the building project has been abandoned and lay in ruins in the heart of Manhattan in New York. Sierra Leonean diplomats could not still account for almost US$4.6 million allegedly received in 2019 for the construction.

The building previously served as the headquarters of Sierra Leonean diplomats assigned to the United Nations in New York. It is now laying in ruins and left abandoned after Sierra Leonean foreign affairs officials and diplomats squandered nearly US$5 million earmarked for its renovation in 2019.

“They are currently squatting on a rented apartment at the Ugandan diplomatic mission in New York,” Ahmed Kamara, a Sierra Leonean in New York told Africanist Press.

In late May 2021, Sierra Leone’s Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) announced an investigation into the renovation of the Chancery Building in New York after the Africanist Press reports were published in May 2021. The ACC acknowledged that over US$4 million was indeed allocated for the renovation work at the Chancery Building in 2019. But instead of investigating officials of the current government, the Commission dated its investigation to 2011, a plot many Sierra Leoneans saw as an apparent effort to cover-up current government officials by accusing members of the previous government for transactions that occurred specifically in 2018 and 2019.

We produce below the 2019 Bank Statement of the foreign affairs ministry showing evidence of the 2019 transfers to New York for the renovation of the Chancery Building.

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