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African politician seeking asylum 'seen as corrupt'

A FORMER vice-president of Sierra Leone who has been refused political asylum in Britain is regarded as corrupt by the Home Office, the High Court heard yesterday.

Dr Abdulai Conteh, who escaped from Sierra Leone in a canoe after a coup in April, was described in Home Office papers as 'an active member of a corrupt government which had bankrupted the country'.

Dr Conteh denies the charge and describes himself as 'a friend of Britain'. Yesterday he was granted leave to challenge the Home Office's decision to deport him to Belgium. The Home Office wants to deport Dr Conteh because Belgium was the first safe country he reached.

Dr Conteh, a barrister with degrees from London and Cambridge universities, fled from Sierra Leone on 29 April. After hiding in Guinea for 10 days, he was given a diplomatic passport and flew to Belgium. From there he made his way to London, where he has a house in Finchley.

Immigration officers were alerted to Dr Conteh's arrival in Britain when he telephoned the office of Baroness Chalker, and was put through to a civil servant.

The next day immigration officers arrested him for alleged passport irregularities. He was allowed bail pending an asylum decision.

Yesterday Alpar Riza QC, for Dr Conteh, undertook not to proceed with the legal challenge if the Home Office took a fresh decision based on correct procedures. He said the Home Office should say what its allegations were.

After the hearing Mr Riza said Dr Conteh had been a pro-Western politician and a friend of Britain. He had helped Britain during the Falklands war by arranging naval facilities at Freetown.

'This decision to refuse political asylum is one that should have been taken by the Home Secretary personally, since now we know there are political reasons for it,' Mr Riza said. 'But the case seems to have been handled entirely by civil servants.

'We have asked the Home Office twice, and both times they have failed to say exactly what the allegations are.'

Dr Conteh said outside the court that he had not seen his wife, who was in Belgium, since April. He believed the Home Office was refusing to let her into the country to put pressure on him to drop his application for asylum.

Supporters of the new military regime say hundreds of millions of pounds were siphoned off to European bank accounts by members of the previous government.