As he gives testimony in court… Palo Cries

By Mariama Hamadi

“When I went to State House on the 19th of March, 2020, I had with me a brown bag that contained a Gluck 17 pistol but on my way to the reception, I was neither intercepted nor was I approached by anyone,” those were the exact words of the 1st Defendant, Rtd Major Alfred Palo Conteh as he shed tears whilst defending himself in court, past Friday, 19th June 2020.

Led in his defense, by Dr. A. O Conteh, 1st Defendant, Rtd. Maj. Alfred Palo Conteh stated his occupation as a Barrister in Law and a politician and that he had served the then Republic of Sierra Leone Military Forces (RSLMF), now Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF).

The 1st Defendant said he served the RSLMF for a period of sixteen years and rose to the rank of Major. He said from 2007 to 2014, he was Minister of Defense of the Republic of Sierra Leone adding that from 2014 to December 2015, the former President of the then All People’s Congress (APC) led government, Ernest Bai Koroma assigned him to lead the fight against the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD), from March, 2016 to the end of 2017 and was later appointed as the Minister of Internal Affairs in 2018 and subsequently returned to the Ministry of Defense as the Minister.

He said in 2018, he relinquished his position as Minister of Defense for a few months as according to him, he took a break from politics and went to the United kingdom. The 1st Defendant said he came back to Sierra Leone later in 2018 when he heard that the government had plan to set up a Commission of Inquiry to inquire into the activities of former members of the APC led government. By 2019, he said, he kept a low profile as, according to him, he did not want to do anything that would put his name in disrepute.

Explaining about his past, the 1st Defendant said during his tenure as Minister, he use to have full security details but that after the 2018 elections his security personnel were withdrawn from him, a decision, which according to him, was not the norm or practice of the Ministry before.

According to him, all former Ministers or Deputies and senior military officers are provided with security even after retirement. He said he therefore thought it prudent to procure and carry a personal weapon for his self protection.

He recalled that while serving as a Defence Minister, even though he had armed security personnel, he was attacked by ex-combatants.

Explaining further about his tenure of office, the 1st Defendant said when he became  Minister of Internal Affairs, he decided to take on clique groups by waging war on the crusade of lawlessness especially in the East of the capital. He said, he also pursued commercial motorbike riders to ensure that there was some amount of sanity within the capital, particularly the Central Business District (CBD). This move, he said, was aimed at preventing the alarming spate of road accidents caused by the motorbike riders within the city. He also stated that he enforced the Road Traffic Act Regulation which required the wearing of helmets and that in doing so, he became an enemy to many, particularly, bike riders.

He continued that it was against that backdrop he thought it fit to carry a personal weapon for his safety beside the security personnel attached to him at that time.

Touching of the offenses for which he is before the court, the 1st Defendant said on the 16th of March 2020, he visited State House at around mid day after receiving a call from the Minister of Finance, Jacob Just Saffa to attend a meeting with the President in relation to the COVID 19.

He said, he accepted the invitation and was excited for two reasons – recognition for his hard work in the past government and more importantly, when he thought of how the pandemic had ravaged the entire world. He said, to him, it was an opportunity to save his mother land, Sierra Leone.

“My Lord, at that time, I thought to myself that it was necessary to share my experience on how to contain a viral disease like in the case of the Ebola outbreak,” he stated.

He said he drove that Monday morning from home to State House and was very pleased with himself. He said on arrival, he approached the main gate where they ticked his name and waved him in. He continued that he drove to the car park at the back of State House, looking for a parking space but could not find anyone to assist him at the time. He said, in the left the car park but that he dropped his brown leather bag containing the Gluck 17 pistol at the back seat because the back windows were closed and tinted.

The First Defendant he proceeded to the State House building through the front door of the reception area to the security desk where his name was ticked off and he was directed upstairs to the second floor where he met security officers at the floor that houses the office of the President.

He said he was directed to the office of the Chief Protocol Officer to wait until the President was ready for the meeting to commence.

He furthered that after sometime, he was asked to go to the conference room on the second floor where, he said he met other attendees including the Minister of Health and Sanitation, the Chief Minister, among others. He said those he recognized were the once he had worked with at the National Ebola Response Center (NERC) from 2014 to 2016. 

He said few minutes later, the President was ushered in and the meeting commenced. He said during the meeting he was asked by the President to address the attendees.

He said he made two points, one by commending the President for inviting him and the Ebola team, adding that it was the right decision and secondly, he assured the President that he will give his usual one hundred and ten percent support without remuneration because he thought it was a national fight.

He said in conclusion, the President gave him a number of directives and that the Minister of Health and Sanitation should convey a meeting with all stakeholders present as soon as possible. The President, he added, also directed that he wanted a draft strategy and policy to be ready in forty eight hours.

The 1st Defendant furthered that just when he was about to leave State House, the Minister of Health and Sanitation requested that they meet at Youyi Building on the following day.

He said he left State House, drove home and on arrival, the meeting makes news headline with lot of calls that they saw him with the President.

“A good number of the calls I received were from people who wanted me to join the fight, whilst there were few others who were not convinced that I should be part of that team,” he explained.

He said he however reached the conclusion that as a patriot he should serve his mother land just as he had done diligently before.

After subsequent meetings with the Minister of Health and Sanitation and other stakeholders, the 1st Defendant told the court that on Thursday, 19th March, 2020, he received a call from his former Chief of Staff at NERC, Major General David T. O. Taluva informing him that the draft documents requested by the President was ready for presentation and that a meeting has been scheduled for 9am that same day.

He said he got ready and drove to State House, and on arrival, his name was ticked off and he drove to the car park at the back of State House. He said while looking for a parking space about four to five young men chased his car and one said please sir, ‘cam park ya,’ meaning, come and park here; which he said he did.

The 1st Defendant further explained in his defense that he highlighted from the car and one of the men said please sir, ‘we wan was u car,’ meaning, we want to wash your car. He said, he nodded, meaning he accepted.

“Because of their presence around, I thought to myself that it will not make sense to leave my brown bag containing the Gluck 17 pistol in the car,” he said, adding that he approached the reception area at the ground floor, but that he did not place his bag on the metal scanner. He said he walked by the side of the metal detector, heading straight to the security desk.

“No one interrogated me, no one challenged me, on one said a word to me,” he said.

Narrating his ordeal further to the quiet and concentrating court, the 1st  Defendant said at the Security Desk, there was a man and a woman whose names, he said, he knew not that he gave his brown leather bag to for safe keeping until he returns from the meeting. He said one of them said, please sir, take it upstairs but that he replied in the negative, stating that the bag contained his personal pistol.

Giving a brief description of the two personalities, the 1st Defendant said the female officer was in uniform whilst the male officer was in a dark suite.

He said they took the bag from him and he went upstairs to the second floor for the meeting. He said no alarm was raised by any officer.

“I was neither intercepted nor was I confronted by anyone,” he said as he burst into tears.

The sitting Judge. Justice Momoh Jah Stevens admonished him not to be emotional but to continue to explain what actually happened.

“I am emotional because I was bullied,” he replied.

In continuation of his defense, he said he went to the second floor where the office of the President is and that the security personnel directed him to the office of the Chief Protocol where he waited for the meeting to start. He said on that date those he recognized were Major General David Taluva, Mr. Yaya Sidie Tunis and Mr. Steven Gaoja whom he chatted with.

He said, an hour later Lt. Col. M.M Kposowa his former military assistant walked into the room with his brown leather bag and in the company of a female personnel and three to four male officers, one who he recognized as Supt, M. k Alieu who, he said, has been investigating since Jacob was a child. He said Colonel Kposowa asked him, ‘please sir na u get dis bag?’ (do you own this bag:). He said he responded in the positive.

The 1st Defendant said Colonel M.M Kposowa then told him that there was a weapon in it and that he replied that it was his personal weapon which he voluntarily declared at the reception before going upstairs. He said, Colonel M.M Kposowa took out the magazine and counted the number of rounds amounting to ten. He said, he told Colonel M.M Kposowa that he has license for it. He furthered that whilst Col. M.M Kposowa was holding the bag, he unzipped the side pocket and brought out valid license issued by the Small Arms Commission for the Gluck 17 pistol. He said the license was valid till 3rd  March 2021.

The 1st Defendant continued that Col. Kposowa said to people in the room ” leh a nor see am na social media oo,” (let me not see it on social media oh) and that he further told him that he will not be allowed to attend the meeting with the President and that he will be interrogated at the Criminal Investigations Department (CID). He said Col. Kposowa handed the said bag containing the Glock 17 pistol and the magazines to Supt. M. K Alieu and his team.

Narrating further to the court, the 1st Defendant said he was taken to an office on the second floor where the first interview was conducted for one hour on an allegation of unlawful possession of fire arms. He said after the interview, he was released to go home and that he jumped in his car and left State House, crestfallen.

He said, on the next day, at around 5pm while he was at home, Supt. M. K Alieu called him up and informed him to go to the CID to pickup his weapon and bag. He said, he drove to the CID where he met Supt. M.K Alieu in one of the offices. He said Supt. M. K Alieu went out and later came and informed him that they will release his bag on the next day after they would have discussed that matter with the Inspector General of Police. He said, he then drove back home.

The First Defendant said on Friday the 20th March, 2020, at about lunch time, Sup. M.K Alieu called him up and enquired as to whether he was at home and that he replied in positive. He said Supt. M. K Alieu told him he was outside his gate.

“Since I did not have any security, I went and opened the gate and he drove in and another vehicle loaded with some Operational Support Division personnel also drove in,” he told the court.

The 1st Defendant said Supt. M.K Alieu showed him what looked like a warrant and two other personnel in plain clothes searched his resident. He said after thorough search, nothing of police interest was discovered, but that his personal computer was taken away.

He said Supt. M.K Alieu invited him to the CID Headquarters for the second time for an interview on an allegation of unlawful possession of small arms, after which he issued him a warrant of arrest and was detained there for the night and on the following day, moved to the Male Correctional Service on Pademba Road.

Defending himself with confidence, the 1st Defendant said on the 24th and 26th of March, he was interviewed on the same allegation and for treasonable Offense. “My responses for the allegation of treason was, God forbid,” he said.

He said the final interview was on the 29th of March, 2020 when the same allegations were put to him but that he responded that they were baseless and untrue.

“I used the word God forbid because I was shocked and besides, I have personal relationship with the President,” he stated.

“I have no grudge, no animosity, but I was truly taken aback”.

The 1st Defendant said he hasno intention to assassinate the President as claimed by the prosecution.

“How can a sixty three year old man beat the ground at State House with all the security by using a less effective Gluck 17 pistol without it being suicidal,” he argued.

Testifying about the licenses, the 1st Defendant said he has a valid license for the Gluck 17 pistol from the 3rd of March 2020 to 3rd of March 2021. He said he got the Gluck 21 pistol two weeks to the expiry date of the Gluck 17 pistol.

He said he commenced the renewal of his license on the 12th  of February 2020 after which he went to the police Doctor at Connaught Hospital and came back to the office of the Small Arms Commission to inform them that he want to register his Gluck 17 pistol. He said during the process he was asked to surrender the Gluck 21 pistol to the Commission before the license was issued for one year.

Speaking on the issue of concealment, he said, he do not need to carry his personal weapon around nakedly, which was why, he said, he placed it in the bag.

On the issue of importation of fire arms in the country, the 1st Defendant said the Gluck 17 was given to him by his nephew who is a serving member of the United States of America Army.  “The pistol was not imported as claimed by the prosecution,” he informed the court.

He said he served the army for sixteen years after going through his basic cadet training for two years and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant and posted to Benguma Training centre now Armed Forces Training centre for a period of two years training recruits and cadet officers; some of which, he said, are Brigadiers today.

He said he have absolute conviction that his weapon was not loaded for any reasons and that he never allows the magazines to go  fully into the magazine compartment because, according to him, the Gluck 17 and 21 pistols do not have normal safety catches which are on the side of others. He said if the magazine is fully in, someone can mistakenly press the trigger and the weapon could accidentally discharge.

He said the second reason for which the Gluck17 pistol was not loaded was because the weaponry is only loaded when it was cocked and it ran straight into the chamber ready for fire.

Considering the charges of perjury, the 1st Defendant said he completed the forms and submitted them before going for the licenses.

When questioned by Defense Counsel Dr. A. O Conteh on how he felt about the whole drama, he responded that he felt disgusted, disappointed and deflated when charged for the offenses of treason.

At this juncture, the matter was adjourned to Tuesday, 23rd of March 2020 for the Prosecution to test his evidence on cross examination.