Speaking as a Commission Witness (CW) under oath, the former Managing Director, Crispin Bishop Deigh responded to prepared questions from the Judge about his tenure at the SLCB: Whether he approved and signed insecure loan applications for any of the names on Exhibit P1100 (list of PEPs); what influenced his decision in approving such insecure loans; what mechanisms he had in place to ensure that such insecure loans were recovered; and whether during his tenure he observed appropriate policy and guidelines in giving out such loans among other important questions.
He informed the Commission that he was Managing Director of the SLCB from February 2008 to June 2013. He agreed that not all the credits during his tenure were necessarily and solely approved by him, adding that in some of these cases; he simply allowed loans to continue that his predecessor (s) had approved.
Responding to the question as which of these unsecured loans or credits he approved, he initially told the Commission that he takes full responsibility but after given a few minutes to rethink, Mr. Deigh changed his answer to accepting some of them as his responsibility.
He further informed the Commission that he personally approved the following loans made on: 28th April, 2007, 28th April, 2010, and 27th October, 2006 (which he promptly denied and withdrew) when warned by Justice George-Will that he had agreed to approving to loans when he was not even yet managing director.
On the dates he approved such loans he said he approved loans on 25th January, 2011, 12th January, 2010, 7th December, 2012 which amounted to Le247,374,225.04; 12th January, 2012 which amounted to Le497,798,843.00; and 7th December, 2012. He went on to say that the amounts allocated as insecure loans were as follows: He said the next insecure loan he approved was Le247, 374, 225.04; another was Le 497, 798, 843.00; another was Le111,773,731.36, adding that the total amount in addition to other insecure loans he approved during his tenure at the SLCB amounted to Le3,153,464,000 (three billion, one hundred and fifty three million, four hundred and sixty four thousand Leones).
Explaining how applications for insecure loans were made, the former SLCB Managing Director Crispin Deigh informed the Commission that a formal letter is sent to the bank requesting for insecure loan facility to be extended to the PEPs in question, adding that as long as there is a letter of undertaking from the employer of the PEP, the bank appraises the applicant before facilitating the loan. He said however that an outstanding insecure loan in excess of three billion Leones “though it was not tangibly secured’ was allowed following a letter of undertaking sent to the bank by the Ministry of Defence.
To this, Justice Biobele remarked: “Secured or not tangibly secured, I cannot understand what you are saying. You know I am not a banker. Were the loans secured of not? What was the collateral?
To this, the CW Mr. Deigh answered that he received a letter of undertaking from the Ministry of Defence promising cheques that would be payable directly to the bank.
Justice Biobele George-Will then asked the witness: “So if an employee wants to take money from the bank under your tenure, and he brings a letter of undertaking from his employer, is that a secured loan? Is that a secure facility?
To this question the witness answered loudly: “yes sir,” and Justice Biobele George-Will responded: “wow,” while murmurs rose from the spectators around the room.
A mild exchange then took place between Justice Biobele George-Will and the witness who was asked several times to define ‘secure loan’ as against ‘insecure loan’ and what the difference was. The witness tried as he could failed to impress Justice Biobele George-Will who then said that he was genuinely surprised that the witness (Crispin Bishop Deigh) who had been summoned by the Secretariat as a witness for the Commission had instead responded to questions in a manner making him susceptible to being brought in as a Person of Interest rather than as a Witness.
Justice Biobele George-Will then warned the witness: “Mr. Bishop you are here to help us and this is a very serious business. You are given and accepted 3.7 billion Leones and you said it was somehow secured and I say what was the security by then and you say there was a letter from the Ministry of Defence. I am asking you now, if a customer comes to your bank and collects money with a letter of undertaking, is that a secure facility – you say ‘yes’. Now tell me for my own understanding what is unsecured credit?
The witness replied: “Unsecured credit is where you do not have any fallback, you don’t have guarantee, and you don’t have mortgage and the like…so that’s unsecured.”
Justice Biobele George-Will then questioned the witness about what he did when repayment of loans was not forthcoming to which the witness replied that the bank would then resort to court action against defaulters, but he agreed that under the circumstances they would have nothing to chase in the form of property to effect payment of such insecure loans.
Justice Biobele then asked: “As a Bank Manager wanting to recover loans what would you tell the court to pursue. What are you aiming at? The witness in response said “apparently the court can take decisions” but Justice Biobele asked him again: “what would you tell the court to pursue in order to recover the money in any form as we are talking here about money belonging to the people of Sierra Leone?
The witness who by now was visibly shaken on this note agreed with Justice Biobele George-Will that because the manner in which such loans are given makes it difficult most times to recover such monies.
The Commission of Inquiry sitting at Room No. 1 is adjourned to Wednesday 27th February, 2019.