Free from Treason Charge…   Palo Conteh Sentenced to 2 Years Imprisonment

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Rtd. Major Alfred Paolo Conteh

By Foday Moriba Conteh

The 1st accused person in the just concluded treason trial, Palo Conteh was on the 1st July 2020 was acquitted and discharged on all counts of treason charges when the Jury returned a not guilty verdict. However, he was found guilty on 2 lesser counts of unlawful Gun Possession with the penalty of two years imprisonment.

After several court appearances, the Prosecution team headed by the Attorney General couldn’t prove beyond reasonable doubt that the accused (Rtd. Major Alfred Paolo Conteh) had the preconceived guilty mind to commit treason. There was no seeming intention established throughout the trial. Thus, the Jury found him not guilty and has exonerated him on all charges of treason.

Many have expressed the view that such was unprecedented in this country. They argued that the verdict represents a shift from the past, when those dealing with such cases were acting on orders from above, found the accused persons guilty of treason even when there were overwhelming evidences that the trials were politically motivated and devoid of merits.

Before the Jury retired to arrive at the verdict, the Lead Defence Counsel for Palo Conteh, Dr .Abdulai Conteh, addressed the members and the Judge.

He stated that they have been together in Court since the 25th day of May, 2020 and have now reached the stage where they will soon retire to consider their verdict in the matter.

The learned lawyer furthered how it has been said that once to every man (woman) and nation comes a moment to decide between truth and falsehood.

“This is your moment to decide between the truth and falsehood in this case,” he intimated members of the Jury adding that the 1st accused, Alfred Palo Conteh, stands charged on the indictment before them with three counts of treason, seven counts of offences against the Small Arms and Ammunition Act, 2012 and three counts of Perjury Contrary to the Perjury Act, 1911.

He said from the outset the third Count of treason charged in the indictment was never committed to the High Court. “The 1st accused was charged with Count 3 of committing treason Contrary to Section 4(a) of the Treason and State Offences Act of 1963 but we are saying that the Count was never committed by his Lordship on the Section 136 application (CPA) that brought this case before you to this Court,” he persuasively argued stating how for that he is referring to the Committal Order which is in evidence arguing that as such, the 1st accused ought not to have been tried on that count in the court.

Abdulai Conteh then expressed hope and trust that his Lordship will give the necessary directions on that Count at the appropriate time.

The Lawyer of a long reputable standing told the Jury that “Treason”, in our laws, is to overthrow the lawfully constituted Government of the country by force or endeavour to do so by unlawful means.

He told them that his Lordship will at the appropriate stage explain the law of treason to then but they, as a defence team, say on behalf of the 1st accused that treason as it is understood and prosecuted in this country has never been an undertaking or endeavour or attempt by one person but has always been an endeavour or attempt or undertaking by several or a group of people.

“In simple terms for you to convict the 1st accused for the Offence of Treason as charged in the indictment, the Prosecution must have led evidence which show beyond a reasonable doubt that the 1st accused prepared and endeavoured, to overthrow the Government by unlawful means,” he argued.

He pointed out that what the prosecution wants the Jury to believe is that by merely renewing his gun license in March 2020 (as a law-abiding citizen) he was preparing to assassinate and overthrow the Government.

“This proposition is simply ludicrous and untenable because it assumes that when Alfred Palo Conteh ( the 1st accused ) renewed his license on the 3rd of March 2020 he had foresight and fore knowledge that he would be invited to State House for a meeting with the President on the 16th and 19th of March respectively,” the Lawyer tried to make a point.

He said going by the Prosecution’s own narrative, it would mean that when the 1st accused obtained his gun license in 2017 which he renewed in March 2020, he was preparing to overthrow a Government that was then not yet in being. Abdulai Conteh stated that only 007 (James Bond) needs a license to kill and Palo Conteh is most certainly not 007.

Abdulai Conteh maintained that the 1st accused is a 63 year old veteran of the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces from which he was retired with the rank of Major. He argued that as an experienced military man, he testified in the witness box that it would be complete suicide for one man with one gun and ten bullets to walk into State House to assassinate the President given the phalanx of security officers with various types of weapons (AK 47, pistols etc) at State House.

According to the Lawyer, it would be a suicide mission and my client is not suicidal stating how they saw and heard him testify from the witness box pointing out how he was composed, dignified and he can be adjudged as a truthful witness.

He told members of the Jury that they heard his client say from the witness box that when he attended the meeting on the 16th of March, 2020 he had his personal weapon in a leather brown bag, but as the meeting was in the afternoon and the car park at State House was empty and was not swarming with carwash boys, he took the precaution of putting the bag containing his weapon at the back of the driver’s seat and then went up for the meeting with the President.

Abdulai Conteh furthered how on the 19th of March, 2020 as a follow-up on the invitation to finalise the plan and brief the President, his client was invited again to State House. He said but this time the meeting was slated for 9 a.m. and his client arrived at State House shortly before 9 am and the carwash boys at that time of the day, in the morning hours, swarmed around him offering to wash his vehicle.

He said as a precaution, he did not think it prudent to leave his brown bag with the weapon inside his vehicle and so he went into State House with his brown bag which had his weapon inside it and he turned it over to the security.

Still continuing his defence Abdulai Conteh said: “Mr Foreman, members of the Jury, I need not remind you that in a criminal trial the accused bears no burden: the Prosecution charged him and brought him here and therefore, the law requires that they should prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. That is to say, to make you feel sure of his guilt on the several charges on the indictment.”

Concluding in addressing the Jury, Dr Abdulai Conteh said this:  “Mr Foreman, members of the Jury, we urge and pray that in this trial you will reject the prosecution’s case of treason against the 1st Accused for a woeful lack of evidence and on the offences under the Small Arms Ammunition Acts, for lack of any supporting evidence, a burden which the Prosecution carries. We accordingly invite you and urge you to return a verdict of not guilty of treason, not guilty of small arms offense and not guilty of perjury.”

At the end of the trial after Jury had listened and took note of everything Dr Conteh had to say all twelve members of the Jury, unanimously found Alfred Palo Conteh – not guilty on all Treason Charges.

Palo Conteh was, however, found guilty on two counts of unlawful gun possession and sentenced to two years imprisonment,

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