From the Editor’s Keyboard

Sierra Leone: Fraudsters Target Country’s Elites

By  | 8 July 2013 at 01:43 | 1619 views

The recent financial scandal involving erstwhile Sierra Leone Commercial Bank Managing Director Crispin Deigh and other senior banking offials in the country brings to the fore what some of us had known since the civil war started in the country more the 20 years ago. This is not to say there were no criminals in the country before the war but things became totally catastrophic during the war affecting every sector of the economy and society in general.

War brings in undesirables and undesirable things happen; that’s why many people do not support war of any kind, preferring peaceful negotiations and sanctions to war no matter how difficult and exhausting the peace process. I belong to that group. I am a convinced pacifist, sorry. When I see what’s happening in Burma today I am more convinced than ever.

But I am not going to talk about war this week. I am going to talk about the scum-like 419ers (disgusting fraudsters) that had descended on our country since the peak of the war in the mid-90s.

Between 1992 and 1998 Sierra Leone was a lawless state (a failed state) with rebels controlling large swathes of the country, with a military government of mostly rebel-like ruffians in uniform (1992-96) and a jittery and very corrupt civilian government controlling mostly Freetown and its environs (1996-2002).

There was no real rule of law, no law and order. The borders were wide open with a sharp increase in smuggling of the country’s minerals and the bringing in, by both civilians and soldiers (some foreign troops included) of dangerous drugs like cocaine and heroin destined for rich Western countries. A small quantity was sold and consumed locally; crimes jumped to maximum levels and the then military rulers sped around town in their luxury cars, their extremely red eyes covered by very dark glasses. It was mayhem: beatings, detentions, killings were the order of the day. I was there and I saw and experienced some of it, the detention madness.

As if that was not enough, the number of "white-collar" criminals bred locally and from other countries increased to gargantuan levels. New ways of stealing money from people, real money, were being taught the local boys who used to take away a few thousand dollars from some unlucky foreigner looking for gold or diamonds. The new ways now involve hundreds of thousands of dollars or even millions of dollars. Nobody was spared: Senior military officers, cabinet ministers, judges, company directors, top civil servants and so on.

Now 419 is a real menace. Maybe a Special Police Squad (in civilian clothes) and a Special Court for 419ers should be established immediately. I know of at least two cabinet ministers in the former SLPP regime of Ahmed Tejan Kabbah who lost huge sums of money to 419ers who are mostly sub-literate but very smart thieves in designer suits and flashy cars. They (the 419ers) told the Ministers that they could double their savings and they, the Honourable Ministers with all their university education, believed them. I was in town and stories like that were common. In fact I stopped writing about that; the whole thing was too stupid. Greedy educated people financially ruined by uncouth barbarians in monkey suits. Most of these hits were never reported to the police. Too shameful and embarrassing.

I hear that the 419ers in Sierra Leone (both locals and foreigners) have now graduated into preparing files or profiles of each and every influential official both in the public and private sectors as future targets. They will investigate and note down your strengths and weaknesses, your hobbies, where you go for lunch and dinner, where you go to have a drink, who your trusted friends and relatives are, what you like and dislike, who are the people working with you in your office and so on. When they have enough information in the file they have created for you, they will then swing into action.

Some targets are easy to get (those who drink excessively and so on) while those who do not drink can be problematic.

"They usually get the non-drinkers by introducing some extremely attractive women to them. Non-drinkers usually like women a lot, " my source in Freetown said over the phone, howling with laughter. But I was not amused. Our country is slowly being destroyed by 419 rats.

Please, if you are a government Minister, Managing Director, Permanent Secretary, successful business owner, etc, etc, you better watch out; the 419 boys are on the rampage. This is no joke.