Hypocrisy on Former President Koroma’s invitation… Invitation Is Not Arrest

Hypocrisy surrounds the invitation of former President Ernest Koroma by the country’s graft agency, Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) for alleged serious crimes of corruption.

By virtue of the method used to bring the former President to the ACC, he is at liberty to either honour or turn down the invitation.

The invitation comes at a time government is on the verge of implementing the ‘White Paper,’ a document that contains approved recommendations of the three Commissions Of Inquiry.

The recommendations say if the President fails to pay the money said to have been misappropriated by him, his properties either moveable or immoveable can be forfeited to the state.

It does not matter even where the former President loses his home in Makeni.

Seasoned criminal lawyers will not hesitate to subscribe to the notion that ‘to arrest’ is not the same as ‘to invite.’

The difference between the two vocabularies lies in their conceptualisations and applications.

Invitation has no place in Sierra Leone’s legal system.

The Criminal Procedure Act of 1965 which is a law that regulates criminal procedure is virtually silent about it.

The Constitution of Sierra Leone Act No.6 of 1991 is also silent on invitation.

The Lexical conceptualisations on ‘invite’ are to ask for the presence or participation of someone in an activity or process.

However, law enforcement institutions especially the police have used it to lure suspected criminals of lesser crimes to police stations.

In a situation where a police officer’s safety is at stake, the term ‘invitation’ is also used as a tacit way to ensure compliance.

Invitation is also employed as a form of arrest for important personalities whose pronouncement of arrest would undermine public safety.

A shining example was the inivitation of founder and leader of the People’s Movement for Democratic Change (PMDC), Charles Francis Margai in the run up to the 2007 general elections.

A bitter and brutal encounter between Mr Margai and late Vice President, Solomon Ekuma Berewa left behind a trail of riotous and disorderly behaviour for which Margai became an object of investigation.

Mr Margai was perceived as a focal conflict causer in the pending elections, and government vowed to get rid of him through the courts.

Considering the aura of popular political support that surrounded Mr Margai at that time, he was invited to the police station where the invitation turned into arrest.

He was released on bail owing to the consideration for potential disorder by PMDC youths.

Conversely, arrest is weighty and occupies a proud place in the law books.

Legal texts have conceptualized arrest as a deprivation of one’s liberty so that he may be forthcoming to answer to an alleged crime.

The Constitution of Sierra Leone, the Criminal Procedure Act of 1965 and the Legal Aid Act of 2012 contain fundamental provisions on the concept of arrest.

Since there is a close nexus between arrest and detention, and it is also the two ways law enforcement institutions interfere with the basic rights of citizens, the term is carefully explored by legal texts.

Section 17 of the constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest which means a person’s liberty can be deprived of him only for a distinct breach of the law.

In plain terms, a police officer can only arrest someone who has committed or is about to commit a criminal offence.

In the same section, 10 days and 72 hours are the maximum detention periods for felonious and minor offences respectively.

The Legal Aid Act (LAA) which is a law enacted to provide pro bono legal services for indigent citizens also briefly touch on arrest.

The LAA compels police officers to contact the Legal Aid Board immediately an indigent is arrested.

Of the three legal texts, the Criminal Procedure Act (CPA) is the most authoritative on arrest.

Section 13 of CPA establishes police powers of arrest by showing circumstances in which a person can be arrested without a warrant.

Any person who commit a crime in the presence of a police officer, any person who is reasonably suspected to have committed or about to commit a crime, any person who is positively accused by another to have committed a crime, any person who commits a crime relating to dishonesty or fraud among others can be arrested by the police without a warrant.

In the absence of any such circumstances, arrest can be done with a warrant.

Considering the nature of its work, the ACC exercises police and prosecutorial powers as it arrests, investigates and prosecutes criminal matters in the courts.

ACC can either arrest or invite persons to get facts from them in respect of an allegation.

They apply the two concepts interchangeably to situations espoused above.

In the context of former President Koroma’s case, the ACC used the invitation model so that they can bring the former President for statements.

The invitation revolves around acts of corruption which the former President is alleged to have committed during his tenure.

The situation as it stands does not show any willingness that the former President would comply with the ACC invitation.

The Issuance of a press release, few days back, warning Government that political intimidation and harassment has reached an unacceptable level is depictive of non-compliance.

Safe to say it is highly unlikely that the former President would honour the invitation, and in line with the legal analysis, the former President is not under legal obligation.

What would be the next strategy if former President Koroma fails to show up at ACC.

The question is: will ACC officers meet the former President in his home town as they did before?

 

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