Sierra Leone's top medical official cleared of graft

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 25, 2013 11:32 AM

FREETOWN (Reuters) - Sierra Leone's Chief Medical Officer and four other people have been acquitted of all charges relating to the disappearance of half a million dollars provided by the GAVI Alliance, a senior government official said.

Kisito Daoh was indicted along with 16 others after an internal audit revealed $523,303 unaccounted for from funds provided by Gavi, a vaccination provider launched in 2000 with a $750 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Joseph Fitzgerald Kamara, head of Sierra Leone's Anti-Corruption Commission, said he was disappointed by the court's verdict late on Thursday.

"It is a dark cloud over justice in Sierra Leone" he told Reuters, adding that he would appeal. "The legal analysis applied by the judge was supported neither by law nor fact."

Only one of the people indicted has so far been convicted. Seven have been acquitted while eight more cases are ongoing.

President Ernest Bai Koroma won praise for taking decisive action after Gavi suspended nearly $6 million in grants. He suspended Daoh and nine other Health Ministry officials after the Anti-Corruption Commission launched an enquiry in March.

GAVI, which works to improve immunization programs in the developing world, resumed its support to Sierra Leone in June, approving a grant of $5.4 million. It has disbursed more than $32 million to Sierra Leone's government since 2001.

Koroma, re-elected to a second term in November, has made fighting corruption a priority for his government. Sierra Leone sits at the bottom of Transparency International's Global Corruption Barometer, with 84 percent of people surveyed saying they had paid a bribe in the last year.

Koroma's government has been criticized by press freedom campaigners after it charged two newspaper editors with seditious libel on Wednesday for comparing the president to a rat in an article.

(Reporting by Tommy Trenchard; editing by Daniel Flynn and Tom Pfeiffer)