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Behind the Costa extradition drama

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The drama has ended and the dust settled, as Mr. Henry Pedro Costa, the Chairman of the Council of Patriots or CoP, might by now arrived on U.S. soil, beaming smiles of victory over the Liberian government that sought his extradition Wednesday, 15 January to Liberia from neighboring Sierra Leone where he escaped. The Liberia Immigration Services had wanted Mr. Costa for alleged forgery.

The nearly 72-hours drama has catapulted Costa to a new height globally as a vile critic of the George Weah’s regime, while the regime itself wallops in diplomatic flop and shame.
The bad news is that Costa will not be able to return to Liberia- at least as long as Mr. Weah remains in power, given the circumstances under which he was allowed to leave the Sierra Leonean capital Freetown early Thursday morning reportedly on board Royal Air Maroc, a free man.

This is not a reputation any contemporary government would want to carve for itself particularly, so when the head of that regime is a former global superstar from whom the world expects much.

The Sierra Leonean government refused to play into the hands of its Liberian counterpart as in the words of its Information Minister-“We cannot take dictation from any other government.”
But how did it all begin?

Days after the brutal end of the much trumpeted December 30th “Weah Steps Down” protest here, which actually took place on January 6th, 2020 thanks to Liberia’s foreign partners, including the United States and the European Union intervention to calm the tension that led to the rescheduled date for the protest, Mr. Costa decided to leave the country for the United States.

Bang! He was arrested at Liberia’s international airport by local immigration officers on allegations that he had forged his traveling document.
Ahead of the December 30th protest, Costa entered Liberia via Accra, Ghana with a laisser passer, (travel certificate) a temporary travel document issue to a person instead of his passport.

Upon his arrest by Liberian authorities, he was taken to the Liberian Immigration headquarters to answer questions on as to how he obtained the document which is allegedly fake. But Costa has since disputed the claim saying, that local authorities swapped his travel papers in their bid to implicate him.

So there were questions being raised as to when the immigration authorities realize that Costa’s traveling documents were faked, especially so when he had used the same papers to enter Liberia.

As the debates were unfolding, Costa was due to report back to the Immigration headquarters where he would have probably began answering questions into how he obtained his laisser passer.

However, on Tuesday January 14, it was reported that Costa had crossed the border into neighboring Sierra Leone. There are reports that he was aided by some higher- ups security personnel who had informed him of government’s plan to have him assassinated.

The government has since dismissed such a claim saying, it had no such plan but rather a responsibility to protect all its citizens under the law. But Costa has since insisted that top security officials had given him the tip off. He did not say if they assisted him in his escape. But the public has been referring to a social media post purportedly by the Deputy Minister of Information for Public Affairs, which read, “Costa will soon die.”

The extradition call Soon it was widely reported that the government had called on the Sierra Leonean authority to extradite Costa to Liberia. There was no official or written communication at this point- just a mere telephone call.

Costa was immediately picked up by Sierra Leonean Immigration officers and handed over to police while trying to board a flight from Lungi to Turkey and then to the United States. There began the diplomatic row thereby intensifying the global attention into the Liberian Government and Henry Costa Drama.

Did the Government actually request the arrest of Costa in Freetown?
Yes, the government did placed a call to have Costa arrested as a fugitive, running away from his alleged criminal acts in Liberia.

Had Costa been charged before leaving Liberia?
It had not been made clear as to whether he had been charge, as at the time he fled the country. But what is clear here is that he was due to answer questions relating to how he obtained what the Liberian Government now says was a fake traveling document. In other words, he was still undergoing investigations. But a probable charge of forgery which the government now claims was imminent and the government felt that asking for his extradition to face charges was the best option.

How does extradition works?

An extradition is a process and must have specifics as agreed upon by both countries entering such treaty.Like in the case of Liberia’s request to the Government of Sierra Leone, the Liberian government must first write an official letter requesting the extradition through the Sierra Leonean Attorney General’s office – something which was not initially done.

Who can be extradited?
Any individual facing any of the specifics crimes outlined in the extradition treaty between both countries in this case, Liberia and Sierra Leone, but the requesting country should go through a formal legal process.

For example, the 1974 extradition law of Sierra Leone, opined that a “fugitive criminal” means a person who is accused or convicted of having committed an offence to which any section of the Act applies in any part of the Commonwealth or within the jurisdiction of any foreign state or on board any vessel on the high seas, and who is in or is suspected of being in, or on the way to, Sierra Leone, such a person needs to be arraigned before a local when the request is made and a warrant is issued.

According to Part I session 3 of the Sierra Leonean Extradition Act: “When the fugitive criminal is brought before the Judge, to show cause why he should not be extradited the Judge shall, so far as may be expedient, hear the case in the same manner, and shall have the same jurisdiction and powers as if the prisoner were brought before him for trial.

(4) Depositions or statements on oath taken outside Sierra Leone, copies of such original depositions or statements, the contents of any official prosecution file or other official documents (whether or not confirmed by oath) and certificates or judicial documents stating the fact of conviction may, wherever made, if duly authenticated in accordance with the provisions of section 12 (or the Court is otherwise satisfied of their authenticity), be received in evidence at the hearing or any other proceedings under, or arising out of, this Act.

(5) The Judge shall receive any evidence which may be tendered to show that in the particular circumstances of the case extradition is not permissible under this Act.”
Does Liberia have an extradition treaty with Sierra Leone?

Yes, Liberia does have an extradition treaty with Sierra Leone. However, the treaty has specifics and agreed upon crimes for which one citizen can be extradited from one country to another.

The diplomatic flip-flop
So the diplomatic flip-flop has emerged. Initially, the Government of Liberia through the Immigration Services placed a call, requesting its counterpart to prevent Costa from leaving Sierra Leone.Then the Sierra Leone Minister of Information came along on the British Broadcasting Corporation that his government does not take dictation from a foreign government.

“…We cannot take dictation from any other government, we’re a democracy, we value that. We have struggled far too long for democracy and this government is noted for its very strong democratic credential so we will not do anything on toward. So, as soon as we have gone through the process, we will do what we have to do.” Sierra Leone’s Minister of Information and Communication, Mr. Mohamed R. Swaray told the BBC.

However, late Wednesday, January 15, reports emerged that the government had made a former request. But the Government of Sierra Leone released Mr. Costa due to no apparent grounds for extradition.By Othello B. Garblah

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