By Andrew Warshaw
May 28 – After months of bitter in-fighting that brought the game in the country to its knees, Sierra Leone Football Association (SLFA) President Isha Johansen has been acquitted on all counts of corruption and is set to regain control of the federation.
Johansen’s acquittal by a Freetown court, along with that of SLFA General Secretary Christopher Kamara, paves the way for the lifting of the country’s ban from global football.
Both had been accused of 10 charges of corruption, later reduced to four by the government’s Anti Corruption Commission.
Last September the ACC seized control of the SLFA, forcing Johansen to step aside and handing responsibility to SLFA vice-president Brima Kamara and deputy general secretary Abdul Rahman Swarray.
But FIFA’s statutes forbid government interference in the running of its associations and the following month it suspended Sierra Leone, the knock-on effect seeing the national team barred from taking part in the qualifying campaign for next month’s African Cup of Nations in Egypt.
Johansen and Kamara have long denied any wrongdoing of misappropriating funds, claiming they were victims of trumped-up, politically driven charges designed to stop an inquiry into match-fixing and corruption allegedly perpetrated by high-ranking opponents.
Of the 14 original counts against Johansen, eight had already been thrown before recent final submissions were heard earlier this month.
Justice Reginal Finn said the prosecution had failed to prove their case and that there was no evidence before him to hold the defendants culpable.
Johansen had risked been unable to attend next week’s FIFA Congress in Paris – and a Confederation of African Football (CAF) summit the day before – but should theoretically now be able to represent the SLFA pending negotiations with the FIFA administration.
FIFA says Johansen and Kamara must be allowed to return to work before the suspension can be lifted.
“I prayed for two years I would see this day and my prayers have been answered,” Johansen said in a statement.
“I have no time to hold on to grudges or play blame games. We have lost so much in terms of football growth and that is very disheartening. It’s time to focus on rebuilding and moving forward as nation.”
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