November 24, 2011 / 7:19 PM / 6 years ago

Sierra Leone probes alleged bribe in vice president office

FREETOWN, Nov 24 (Reuters) - The government of Sierra Leone is investigating allegations that individuals in Vice-President Samuel Sam Sumana's office accepted kickbacks offered to them by undercover reporters posing as timber executives, it said Thursday.

The probe follows a report by broadcaster Al Jazeera alleging two men in Sam Sumana's office accepted cash payments from the journalists in return for a promise the vice-president would back a logging project.

As in other West African countries, the little of Sierra Leone's rainforest which remains is, in theory, protected by law.

"We are taking it very, very seriously," said Sheka Tarawalie, deputy minister of information and communication.

"We are looking at this clip and we are doing some verification ... There is no sacred cow in this government," he said, echoing a favourite line of President Ernest Bai Koroma in his campaign against official corruption.

Sam Sumana's press officer Andrew Collier denied any wrongdoing by the vice-president.

"The man is above that ... He's not going to resign."

Nine years after the end of its devastating civil war, an 11-year conflict that left some 50,000 people dead, Sierra Leone remains one of the world's poorest countries but is seeking to reconstruct with the help of foreign investment.

"We have taken strenuous efforts at telling the world about the new Sierra Leone," said Tarawalie. Only last week Sierra Leone held an investors' conference in Freetown.

Earlier this year, Sierra Leone's Anti-Corruption Commission stirred controversy when it chose to settle a high-profile case involving misuse of funds in the national social security agency out of court, rather than seeking prosecutions. (Reporting by Simon Akam; Editing by Mark John and Sophie Hares)

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