October 31 – Isha Johansen, Africa’s only female football federation president, pleaded not guilty when she appeared in court Monday charged with 10 counts of corruption and abuse of office.
Johansen, president of the Sierra Leone Football Association, appeared in court alongside the secretary general of her association, Christopher Kamara, who faces three counts and also pleaded not guilty.
According to agency reports, two of the three charges against both officials relate to alleged misappropriation of $50,000 given to the SLFA by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) – on which Johansen is an executive committee member – to cover costs relating to MRI tests for 30 players in the country’s Under-17 team. Prosecutors claim this money was misused.
Johansen and Kamara are also accused of misappropriating around $3,200 after the federation reportedly paid that amount to Johansen’s husband, Arne, purportedly as repayment for a loan he gave to the SLFA.
Johansen also faces multiple counts of abuse of office on her own relating to using $6,000 of federation money to pay travel costs for a person, reported to be her personal assistant, who is not an employee of the federation.
Johansen, one of the most high-profile female figures in African and world football, is a member of FIFA’s member associations committee but was set aside by her own executive committee while she is investigated by the country’s Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC). The ruling also extends to Kamara.
The judge adjourned the case until Wednesday, with both defendants released on bail.
Johansen, who recently announced she was standing for re-election, has long been embroiled in a bitter power struggle, claiming she is the victim of trumped-up charges designed to stop her carrying out an inquiry into match-fixing and corruption perpetrated by high-ranking opponents.
However, allegations have also emerged in that she bribed her way to the Sierra Leone presidency in 2013. Deputy Minister of Sports Ismael AL-Sankoh Conteh has told local media that his former boss, sports minister Paul Kamara, took bribes from Johansen to disqualify Rodney Michael, Mohamed Kallon, and John Dissa from contesting that presidential election.
According to him Kamara received thousands of bags of cement (Johansen’s Norwegian husband runs a cement business in Africa), as well as thousands of US dollars.
A strong supporter of FIFA president Gianni Infantino and a friend of FIFA general secretary Fatma Samoura, Johansen has rapidly risen through the FIFA ranks and has been an important and protected ally by FIFA’s executive who have done everything they can to keep her in the game despite what has become almost universal local opposition.
Presidential and executive committee elections at her federation should have been held in August, when Johansen’s first term in office expired, but have been delayed as a result of a FIFA request for integrity checks to be carried out on all candidates.
Last year, Johansen was detained and questioned over allegations that money given to the SLFA for development use by FIFA had been misappropriated. At the time, FIFA defended her and said that was not the case. Only a few weeks ago, a new time frame for ending the in-fighting that has plunged Sierra Leone football into turmoil was agreed following a FIFA task force visit to the capital Freetown. But that has already been overshadowed by the charges against Johansen which she vehemently denies.
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