Court Grants Ex-Sierra Leonean President Permission To Travel Abroad For Medicals Amid Exile Rumours

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The High Court has granted permission to former Sierra Leonean president, Ernest Bai Koroma to travel abroad on medical grounds despite facing treason charges.

The Court ruling comes amid speculation that Ernest Bai Koroma has agreed to go into exile in Nigeria if charges against him were dropped.

He was accused of treason and other offences over a failed coup last year November, in which some 20 people died. Mr Koroma, who ruled between 2007 and 2018, denies these allegations.

A court order seen by the BBC on Wednesday shows Mr Koroma is allowed to travel to Nigeria for medical reasons. The order stipulates that he must not stay there for more than three months and that he must appear before a Sierra Leonean magistrates court on 6 March.

During last year’s attack, gunmen broke into a military armoury and several prisons in capital city Freetown, freeing almost 2,000 inmates.

The government described it as an attempted coup and earlier this month, Mr Koroma was charged alongside 12 others suspects.

Anonymous sources from the United Nations and ECOWAS, a bloc of West African countries, told the BBC that ECOWAS had brokered a deal for Mr Koroma to go into exile in Nigeria if the charges were dropped.

The BBC also saw a letter saying Mr Koroma had agreed to the deal, which would see him continue to enjoy the perks of a former president even while he was in Nigeria.

However, Sierra Leone Foreign Minster, Timothy Kabba previously told the BBC the government did not support the proposal, which he described as a “unilateral proposition” by the president of the ECOWAS Commission.

ECOWAS has been concerned about heightened tensions in Sierra Leone following the coup attempt. In the 1990s ECOWAS closely witnessed the horrors of a brutal civil war in the West African country and sent a peacekeeping force to help end the conflict.

Some diplomats believe Mr Koroma will not return from Nigeria after travelling there on medical grounds and that the court order in effect allows him to go into exile as a way of restoring calm to the country.

Mr Koroma was president for 11 years until 2018, when current President Julius Maada Bio was elected.

The former president’s daughter, Dankay Koroma, has previously been named on a list of suspects wanted by police investigating the failed coup. She has not commented.

The attempted coup came five months after a disputed election which saw President Bio narrowly re-elected for a second term.
The results were rejected by Mr Koroma’s All People’s Congress. International observers also criticised the elections, highlighting a lack of transparency in the count.