Corrupt, incorrect or just plain incompetent – there’s something decidedly not right with what appears to be a judicial witch hunt against a prominent Manchester City supporter in Sierra Leone.
Ongoing criminal proceedings against City fan Armani Sheku Kamara through the courts of the impoverished African country, means Read But Never Red has to tread carefully when reporting what appears to be a miscarriage of justice just waiting to happen.
As someone who has sat on the press benches in some of the highest courts in the land, one has to be wary of libel laws and the rules of sub judice – even in a far away land – but that doesn’t prevent the shining of a spotlight on some strange judicial goings-on, thousands of miles from these shores.
Armani is the driving force behind a 2,000-strong City fan base comprising 16 supporter’s clubs in one of the poorest nations on the planet. It’s an unlikely association when you consider City are acknowledged as one of the richest clubs in the world, courtesy of their Abu Dhabi owners.
He is accused of receiving stolen property in a situation that appears to have ‘trumped up charges’ written all over it, in a legal wrangle that has been dragging on since June.
The young West African has forged strong links with City since establishing a Sierra Leone branch of the Official Supporters Club (OSC). He has been instrumental in gaining funding and support from the OSC in recent years, resulting in the donation of a mini-bus, funds and large consignments of City training kit, match day strips and hundreds upon hundreds of pairs of Umbro football boots…all size 8!
Umbro had masses of redundant ‘samples’ of boots – quirkily all of one size – which they were more than happy to donate to a worthy cause.
Ironically it’s some of these boots which are at the centre of a storm where Armani – known as ‘Mr Man City’ in his homeland – is accused of receiving the footwear following an alleged break-in and subsequent theft.
The allegations would be farcical were it not for the fact that, like a dog with a bone, the Sierra Leone authorities have thus far refused to let common sense prevail.
Having already received kit and the MCFC-branded mini bus, which was personally delivered by ex-City star Paul Lake and prominent members of the OSC – Armani took delivery of the container of football boots in 2011.
He arranged a deal with a local sports dealer whereby he could trade two pairs of the size 8 Umbro boots for one set of alternative boots, that fitted the players of his team.
Having sourced the needs of Sierra Leone Man City, Armani freely distributed the remaining boots and other football, equipment – free of charge – to other teams, schools, churches, mosques etc – actions that were well publicised in Sierra Leone’s media.
Whilst in the country, the official City delegation including Paul Lake and OSC representatives Howard Burr, Phil Holme, Alex Channon and Tony Griffiths, met an owner of a rival team to Armani’s.
It was agreed that the rival team, should receive any surplus City kits that would not physically fit in the consignment earmarked for Armani. So far, so good.
The first problems arose when Armani was informed that the rival team might be wearing the City strip in competitive games – something not sanctioned as his team had the ‘rights’ to the colours.
In the wrangle that ensued it is alleged that the rival team’s owner developed a grudge against Armani, resulting in him being targeted in the manner of a popular UK TV show ‘You’ve Been Framed’…allegedly!
It seems somewhat perverse that Armani should knowingly take delivery of ‘stolen’ football boots – the self same ones that he was so openly and willingly giving away just months beforehand. It defies reason, but it appears to be a case of ‘don’t let the facts ruin a malicious prosecution’…allegedly!
Since June he has made seven court appearances. Initially remanded in custody before bail money could be posted, Armani has been present at five hearings where the prosecution did not even show up at court.
Were that to have happened in the UK the case would have been dismissed months ago, due to a lack of evidence e.g. ‘no case to answer.’
You don’t have to be the sharpest legal eagle in the nest to see something isn’t as it should be. Forget the bird analogy – the Sierra Leone legal system is showing itself to be an ass – and a potentially corrupt one at that.
Armani is a prominent figure in Sierra Leone’s limited professional football environment with his team – Sierra Leone Manchester City – playing in the second tier of the country’s 24-club structure.
Is it just a coincidence that the person who may – or may not – be central to the allegations against Armani, is now a very prominent official in the Sierra Leone football hierarchy?
The individual who now holds high office in the country’s football governing body is at the centre of a dispute in relation to the ethics and legality as to how they were elected. Such are the levels of disquiet, that professional football in the country has ground to a halt with the vast majority of teams refusing to play.
Irrespective of the origins of Armani’s arrest, detention and subsequent ongoing trauma, there is a high degree of anxiety among City’s OSC at what they see as the ‘persecution’ of one of their own.
No one is more concerned than Tony Griffiths, a former Manchester policeman and lifelong City fan, who befriended Armani back in 2003, whilst he was helping train the Sierra Leone constabulary.
Tony, an ex- Detective Sergeant with Greater Manchester Police was stationed in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, when a young Armani was bitten by the City bug, courtesy of Tony’s infectious enthusiasm for his beloved Blues.
As things stand Armani is due back in court on November 28th as this torturous ‘trial’ continues.
Tony and all of those associated with City’s Official Supporters Club, are keen to ensure that the glare of publicity remains fixed on Freetown and that justice will prevail with Armani being cleared and his reputation restored.
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