Lawyers representing victims in a case of abuse against a defunct Chinese miner have appealed for the Chinese government to ensure adherence to a court ruling on the matter.
The case against the Tonkolili Iron Ore Sierra Leone Limited and the African Rails and Ports Services, which were both subsidiaries of Shandong Iron and Steel Group Company Limited, was brought up by a group of nine former Sierra Leonean employees who said they were unlawfully dismissed by the companies.
The companies operated in Sierra Leone between 2015 and 2018, when the country witnessed a boom in its mining sector. But they were forced to shut down operation after 2018, amid a difficult business experience. In 2020, the Sierra Leone government forcefully took possession of the companies’ assets, after accusing them of failing to meet their obligations to the country.
The Makeni based law firm, C&J Partners, represented the aggrieved former employees in the case against the companies. Among other damages, they accused the companies of causing them extreme emotional distress, breach of contract, and withholding of their salaries and their National Social Security and Insurance Trust (NASSIT) benefits.
The case was heard by the High Court of Makeni, presided over by Justice Unisa Kamara. On October 27th, 2022, the judgement was passed, and the company ordered to pay the plaintiffs the sum of Six Billion Old Leones as compensation. The amount included 8 percent of interest, as per the ruling.
But about four months since the ruling, the companies are yet to act on the orders of the court.
Lawyers at C&J Partners say while the defendant companies had folded their operations in Sierra Leone prior to the ruling, they learnt that their parent company, Shandong, was owned by the Chinese government, hence their appeal to Chinese authorities to ensure that the companies respect the ruling in the spirit of the friendship between China and Africa.
The firm says it resorted to appeal to the Chinese government because the companies do not have assets to fall back on to recover their money. It also said that it is seeking enforcement through two mechanisms. Its initial action is the appeal through diplomatic channels in the form of a letter sent to the Chinese Foreign Ministry through the Chinese embassy in Freetown, with copies sent to Sierra Leone’s Foreign Ministry and its embassy in Beijin, China.
“We have asked for diplomatic intervention, for the Chinese government to ensure that their state-owned company pay the damages the court awarded our clients,” Chernor Mamud Benedi Jalloh, the head of the firm, told journalist Emmanuel Jim in Makeni, noting that the letter was sent on February 3rd and that they were yet to receive any response as of February 12th.
“We believe that the abuses perpetrated by these companies against our clients aren’t in line with China’s foreign policy in Africa. We believe that China has a very humane foreign policy to support Africa and African countries to advance in development,” Jalloh added.
Jalloh stressed that the longstanding relationship between China and Sierra Leone, which both countries have invested in, mustn’t be allowed to be jeopardized by someone else. He also said that China has an obligation to respect the judicial system of Sierra Leone out of respect for a friendly country.
Jalloh said his firm intended to pursue other available legal routes in the event this channel fails to materialize, but he couldn’t say what other route they will take.