Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Sierra Leone: Palo Conteh and the 'Missing' DfID Millions

Freetown — Tens of millions of pounds of British taxpayers' money has been pocketed by ministers and officials in Sierra Leone, much of it used to buy luxury goods, revealed popular whistle-blowing website, WikiLeaks.

A leaked US embassy cable published by WikiLeaks said Sierra Leone was one of the worst cases, with £1.2 million said to have been given to the country by the British Department for International Development (DfID) to support the country's peacekeeping operations abroad, but that the money was stolen by the country's "top brass" and spent on plasma television sets, hunting rifles and other consumer items.

"DfID is said to be fully aware of the thefts, but regards the losses as being 'within reason'. Details of the embezzlement will reopen the debate over the government's decision to increase DfID's £7.3 billion budget at a time of cuts," reported the UK Daily Telegraph, quoting leaked US embassy cables.

In August 2009, a secret cable from the US embassy in Freetown reported "deep corruption" within Sierra Leone's Defence ministry, "primarily through pocketing of enlisted members' salaries".

June Carter Perry, the then US ambassador to Sierra Leone, wrote: "The British envoy revealed that the GoSL (Government of Sierra Leone) demanded a $4 million [£2.46million] contribution from the UK for the Ministry of Defence to support peacekeeping.

"Upon examination, the British discovered that half of the funds were for the personal use of the minister Palo Conteh and top brass. Items such as 36 plasma TVs and hunting rifles for the minister's own use were included."

The Defence minister could not be reached for his comments as all efforts to get his version proved abortive.


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