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Sierra Leone president sacks chief of staff over timber, mine deals

Source: Reuters - Mon, 9 Jun 2014 23:32 GMT
Author: Reuters
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A man sits in front of a painted mural of a bald eagle on a street in Freetown, Sierra Leone, November 19, 2012. REUTERS/Joe Penney
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FREETOWN, June 9 (Reuters) - Sierra Leone's president has sacked his chief of staff, accusing him of lack of transparency in a mining deal and involvement in the illegal export of timber from the country, the president's office said in a statement on Monday.

The firing is likely to add weight to accusations that high-level corruption is crippling Sierra Leone's recovery from years of war and reducing the economic benefits from the export of its natural resources.

President Ernest Bai Koroma's office did not name the mining company involved in the alleged corruption or say when the negotiations took place.

It said that Richard Konteh, the chief of staff, had not been open and transparent in negotiations for an agreement and had therefore violated policy and potentially caused a loss of government revenue.

The statement also said Sierra Leone police were investigating reports that Konteh had handed out unauthorised open-ended timber export licenses in direct contravention of limits imposed by the president.

"Against this background, his Excellency the President has decided to relieve Dr Konteh of his duties with immediate effect while the police continue with their investigations," the statement said.

When contacted by Reuters, Konteh refused to comment on his sacking. He said only: "Time will tell."

Sierra Leone has gradually stabilised in the decade since its war ended, contributing peacekeeping troops to U.N. missions abroad and luring investors that led to iron ore exports starting in 2011.

However, the government struggles to provide basic services to many of its citizens, institutions remain weak and transparency groups say corruption remains a major problem.

(Reporting by Umaru Fofana; Writing by David Lewis; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

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