Vice President Samuel Sam-Sumana has denied allegations against him contained in a stinging letter from a former associate.
At his first ever press conference since becoming vice president nearly five years ago, Sam-Sumana denied allegations made by American businessman Mark Heiligman. In an open letter circulated last week and distributed at the VP’s press conference early this week, Heiligman accuses the vice president of being a “thief” whom he says has “stolen” from Sierra Leoneans and from his current and former business partners.
The open letter further alleges that in 2007 Heiligman gave Sam-Sumana $ 34,000 as loan towards the runoff presidential election efforts of now president Ernest Bai Koroma and the vice president, for which the president allegedly thanked him afterwards and invited him and his business partner to attend his inauguration. That money, he alleges, has still not been paid back despite all efforts. If true, lawyers say this constitutes a serious breach of the country’s Political Parties Registration Commission Act which bars foreigners from financing political parties or candidates.
The VP shrugged off the allegations even if he acquiesced to knowing and doing business with Heiligan. But he fell short of denying specific allegations raised in Heiligman’s letter. He says his relationship and transactions with him long predated his ascension to the vice presidency, adding that once that happened he resigned his position in all his businesses. He blamed the latest in a string of allegations against him on the opposition.
In what looked like a well-choreographed performance, the Vice President then produced an unverifiable letter, purportedly written by Dave Kloeber the head of the company Heiligan works or used to work for. The letter, which was read out at the press conference but not distributed, states that the vice president paid back the $ 34,000 loan and absolves him and the president of any wrongdoing as contained in the open letter.
In this apparent media battle for trust even where it is hard to verify, the opposition has been feeding the public letters and email exchanges between the office of the president and the aggrieved American businessman, while the government has been churning out letters from other businesspeople aimed at absolving the vice president and his boss.
This is not the first time the vice president has been dogged in controversy as was admitted to at the press conference by both him and the deputy minister of information, Sheka Tarawallie who said that the vice president “has been running away from controversy but controversy keeps chasing him”.
These allegations include an undercover TV documentary by the Arab TV channel Aljazeera which seems to implicate him in graft, something he has vehemently denied.
In this election year, speculation is rife as to whether or not he will be on the president’s ticket in this year’s contest. At the press conference, he assured that he remained “resolute and resilient” and would continue to do whatever his boss required of him.
Just as no vice president has ever succeeded his boss as president in the history of Sierra Leone, so also no presidential candidate has ran with the same person twice since they started running on the same ticket. In 1996 Ahmad Tejan Kabbah ran with Dr Albert Joe Demby as his running mate, while in 2002 he chose his Attorney general Solomon Berewa. Invariably, Ernest Bai Koroma ran with Dauda Kamara in 2002 while in 2007 he chose Samuel Sam-Sumana. It is not clear whether the vice president will defy that apparently inadvertent tradition.