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Sierra Leone News: Villagers sue Octea

Through an Ex-parte Original Summons dated Monday 4th March 2019 filed by Marginalized Affected Property Owners (MAPO) alleged to have been victimized by operations of OCTEA, an International diamond mining company, have secured a ruling in their favor that 84 Wilkinson Road, Freetown be the address for service for all legal proceedings instituted against OCTEA Limited and it 11 other subsidiary companies. The ruling that came out on Wednesday 13th March 2019 was delivered by Justice Ansumana Ivan Sesay at the High Court of Kenema. He stated that, “Upon reading the Ex-parte Original Summons dated 4th March 2019 and upon hearing CMB Jalloh Esq Solicitor for the Applicant and having read the affidavits in support and the various exhibits referred to therein and also relying on Order 7 rule 2(10 and rule 3(1) together with Order 7, rule 6(1), of our High Court Rules of 2007.

I hereby make the under mentioned Orders.”

  1. That 84, Wilkinson Road Freetown be the address for service for all legal proceedings instituted against the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th Respondent/Defendants.
  2. I further Order/declare that such service at 84 Wilkinson Road Freetown in the Republic of Sierra Leone shall be deemed to be effective personal service on the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th Respondent/Defendants
  3. Cost in the Cause

According to a the marginalized affected property owners, “By filling a suit in the High Court of Sierra Leone means they are accusing OCTEA Mining Company of complicity in violence and killing, environmental damage, and destruction to homes and livelihoods especially those of traditional landowners, women and other disadvantaged community members.” The Executive Director of the Network Movement for Justice and Development, Abu Brima, said by suing Koidu Limited and its related companies and leaders, the residents of Gbense and Tankoro chiefdoms are doing something that few communities affected by mining abuses in Africa has done by holding an abusive company legally responsible in the local court system.  It could be recalled that on 25th July 2016 the PANAMA PAPERS in their offshore leak paper titled, “Diamond mine with Offshore Ties leaves Trail of Complaints,” the papers reveal a network of shell companies linked to a mining operation that has been accused of environmental harm and unpaid taxes. The PANAMA PAPERS went on to identifly plights of locals as, “Once or twice a week, as the sun sets on the city of Koidu in the eastern Sierra Leone, residents pack their things and head uphill.” It even says, “Some families leave behind boiling pots, moved on by police and security forces before miners set off charges to blast away the dirt and rock that hide the diamond.” Based on the fact that it was difficult for any group in Sierra Leone to file a law courty uit OCTEA Mining Company due to the fact that they were not registered as a business entity operating in the country as per condition with the Corporate Affairs Commission, it was impossible for Koidu New Sembenwu City Council in 2016 to serve the same hence it was made public by ruling from the Sierra Leone High Court under the past government. However, the PANAMA PAPER revealed that, “The Koidu diamond mine is operated by Koidu Limited, a company set up in the British Virgin Islands in 2003 for $750 by Mossack Fonseca, the law firm recently rocked by the leak of millions of files now known as the Panama Paper. The documents show that Koidu Limited is owned by OCTEA Mining Limited, a company in turn owned by a series of offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands, Guernsey and Liechtenstein controlled by billionaire Israeli mining magnate Benjamin Steinmetz and his family,” it exposed. The company came into public eyes after workers and locals protested against poor working condition and environmental impacts in 2007 and 2012 where police opened fire killing four including a 12-year-old boy. Three years after the 2012 demonstration the All People’s Congress (APC) party led government threatened to tak the license from Koidu Limited for failing to meet loan repayment to government banks, according to the Wall Street Journal, this was followed with same allegations by the Koidu City council that the company had dodged hundreds of thousands of dollars in property taxes. Land rights lawyer Sonkita Conteh, Executive Director for NAMATI, described the High Court ruling as honest and professional interpretation of the law in the interest of Justice stating that there are lots of unaddressed issues between large-scale investors and landowners which the court in some cases has contributed in it delay. Conteh said the recent ruling will results into not only fear but will lead to holding people responsible for injustice and crime against responsible investment and a complete violation of the Voluntary Guidelines on the Rasponsible Governance of Tenure that tend to addresses issues on the land, fisheries, and forests in the context of National Food Security.

By Mohamed Kabba

Twitter: @chikakabba

Friday March 15, 2019