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Former top officials in Sierra Leone arrested for corruption

Former vice president and ex-minister have been charged with mismanagement of pubic funds.

President Julius Maada Bio

Two former top officials in Sierra Leone were arrested on Thursday under a sweeping crackdown on graft by new President Julius Maada Bio's government, the country's anti-corruption chief said.

Victor Foh, the former vice president, has been charged with various counts of public fund mismanagement, including the embezzlement of money meant to help poor Muslims make the pilgrimage to Mecca, Anti-Corruption Commission head Francis Ben Kaifala said.

Mansaray Minkailu, the former mines minister, has been charged for his role in the sale of a stake in a mining project to former President Ernest Koroma's nephew for an artificially low price, Kaifala told Reuters.

"The fight against corruption is just that - a fight. And if you resist us we will take you to war. If you try to hide from the law, you cannot be surprised when we come for you," he told a news conference in Freetown.

Both men were to be released on bail later on Thursday, Kaifala said.

A separate commission appointed by President Bio alleged on Wednesday that corruption was rampant under his predecessor including the theft of state property and the funnelling of contracts to officials' relatives and friends.

Koroma, who was president from 2007 until April, has not yet responded to those accusations.

His APC party dismissed them as a politically-motivated witch-hunt by Bio, who defeated the APC's candidate in an election in March.

"We hope that this indictment is not part of the current government's plans to divert public attention from the real issues affecting this country," APC press secretary Cornelius Deveaux said.

Kaifala said more people would be indicted over the next month.

His commission was reopening investigations into allegations that the previous government mishandled funds during the response to the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreaks, he added.

The presidential commission's report said corruption and economic mismanagement under Koroma had left Sierra Leone's economy on the brink of collapse, with external debt equal to almost half of gross domestic product.

Bio campaigned on promises to tackle graft and revive an economy devastated by a slump in commodity prices and the Ebola outbreak.

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