US Embassy: Sierra Leone leader shielded aide

Sierra Leone's president reportedly shielded a Cabinet minister from arrest during a drug bust two years ago, according to a U.S. Embassy cable released by WikiLeaks. The man was recently named a special presidential adviser.

Sierra Leone and several other West African countries have been transit points for cocaine flown across the Atlantic Ocean from South America and bound for Europe. Authorities say the shipments have sometimes been facilitated by corrupt government officials.

On July 13, 2008, a plane loaded with 1,540 pounds (700 kilograms) of cocaine was found abandoned at Sierra Leone's main airport. Transportation and Aviation Minister Ibrahim Kemoh Sesay was relieved of his duties during the investigation.

A cable from the U.S. Embassy in Freetown, released by WikiLeaks and published Monday on the website of the British newspaper The Guardian, said President Ernest Bai Koroma "directly ordered SLP (Sierra Leone police) senior officers to refrain from arresting Kemoh Sesay."

"This is an unwelcome development, particularly given the importance of Koroma's personal integrity and commitment to rule of law in encouraging greater investor and donor confidence," said the secret cable from Glenn Fedzer, who was the deputy chief of mission.

Five local newspapers published the cable on Wednesday.

Koroma's director of communications said the U.S. Embassy cable is a "subjective assessment which bears no truth to the reality."

Unisa Sesay, the spokesman, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that Koroma himself had noticed something was amiss at the airport in July 2008 as he returned from an overseas trip "and ordered the security forces' intervention immediately."

The president's spokesman said Kemoh Sesay was not brought to trial because he was innocent. Fifteen people were convicted, including three foreigners — from the United States, Venezuela and Mexico — who were extradited to the United States.

On Saturday, Koroma named the former transportation minister as his special adviser, Koroma's spokesman said, adding that the former transport minister "remained out of the government for 32 months just to make sure nothing comes up to implicate him."