Passport Syndicate… More Arrests Soon

 

The newly appointed Commissioner of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), Lawyer Francis Ben Kaifala who is determined to take to book all those who are allegedly involved in what has been described as organised criminal enterprise has vowed that he would leave no stone unturned until the Commission reaches the logical conclusion in the said racketeering scam.

Accordingly, after the ACC last week swooped on eleven suspects in the said passport deal outside the premises of the United States Embassy, ACC sources intimate that very soon more arrests would be made in connection with the crime.

After the arrest of former Chairman of the Independent Media Commission (IMC), Alieu Kanu believed to be one of the masterminds behind the passport deal, the ACC boss has said that the Commission is going to follow the evidence where it leads it as investigations indicate that there are high-ups at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Immigration Department that are parties to the alleged syndicate.

Sources say there are currently certain individuals within and without the country who are said to be bearers of the country’s service and diplomatic passports obtained illegally and that very soon, the government would publish a full list of such persons. According to investigations, some of these persons have gained access to the USA with illegal passports. The nature of the scam, he said, “is systematic.”  The passports, investigations proved, are sold for as much as US$7, 000.

It could be recalled that in September 2017, concerned United States immigration authorities slammed a ban on visas for officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Immigration Department should Sierra Leone failed to deal with the problem of unregulated migration into the United States.

The ACC’s action was necessitated by a request made in 2017 by the USA to investigate the issuance of passports in Sierra Leone after an influx of Sierra Leoneans into the US who overstayed their visas.

Whilst on average 2.6 percent of visitors from other countries overstay visits to the United States, the figure for Sierra Leone is 12.6 percent. Mr. Kaifala attributed this to people who obtain illicit passports to travel to the US with the intent of not coming back. “They say they are going for a conference or to visit families and later stay permanently,” he said.

From what The Exclusive has gathered, the illegal Issuance of diplomatic and service passports seems prevalent in some African countries. In 2015, Guinea-Bissau discovered that 1, 600 people held illicit service passports. In 2017, UK and New Zealand ended visa-free travel for South Africans due to discovery of high levels of fake traveling documents.

Meanwhile, one commentator has said that the new head of the Immigration Department must come out clearly with a plan to address what he described as a herculean task facing the country’s immigration system. He maintains that ACC prosecutions alone are not enough to solve the problem of illegal issuance of out passports and suggested the establishment of sustainable structures in line with international best practices that will stand the test of time to curb the appalling situation.