Amid a corruption probe, former Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma is refusing to appear before an anti-corruption commission investigating widespread alleged fraud during his tenure.
Koroma has until next week to cooperate with the commission which wants to question him about alleged financial crimes while in office from 2007 to 2018. Koroma claims innocence and said the probe is politically-motivated.
The commission alleges the Koroma government orchestrated graft in connection with mining, construction and procurement contracts. The probe is part of a pledge by President Julius Maada Bio to clean up alleged systematic financial wrongdoing by the previous regime that left the economy crippled.
Dozens of officials associated with Koroma siphoned some $200 millions for their personal use from 2007-2018, according to the commission. The commission wants the money back.
“We are investigating issues of unexplained wealth," anti-corruption chief Francis Ben Kaifala said told VOA.
The probe includes how Koroma built a 25-acre mansion, he said.
"A public officer has to live within his income," Kaifala said. "We need to ask him questions."
Koroma denied the corruption allegations. He criticized what he called the government's hostility towards him and his former officials.
“The allegations are politically motivated and intended to impugn my reputation,” he said in a statement.“
“I was not involved, nor have I ever benefited anything from such," Koroma said. "It is mind-boggling to read and hear the way I have been smeared over what is absolutely untrue."
Koroma said the government is using the probe to cripple the opposition All Peoples Congress party which he leads.
"The motive is for the APC to lose political capital to the benefit of the ruling party,” he said.
As the investigation continues, Koroma and 111 former officials are prohibited from leaving the country. Koroma is appealing the ban in court.
Joseph Kamara, Koroma's attorney, told VOA that the ex-president remains in Sierra Leone and intents to fight for his reputation.
But the commission's Kaifala said the probe is not aimed at settling political scores.
“It has nothing to do with politics or a witch hunt," he said. "We are clearly sending a message for serving public servants that the fight against corruption will not leave any stone unturned. It’s for the battle for the future of Sierra Leone."