When Bashiru Gbassay Conteh came across a vacancy advert from the Sierra Leone Ministry of Labour in partnership with Taju Recruitment Agency in November 2021, calling for 200 light-duty drivers to work in Dubai, he was intrigued by the offer and decided to give it a try.
As an unemployed youth in Sierra Leone, he saw the vacancy as an opportunity to satisfy his long desire of securing a job to provide for himself and his family.
While applying for the light-duty driver’s job in Abu Dhabi, Bashiru had so much trust in the process largely because the Ministry of Labor and Social Security for Sierra Leone was involved. He did not hesitate to pay the NLE 10,000 ($534) requested from him as a processing fee. Bashiru did all that was required of him, including undergoing several interviews and medical checkups.
He also paid an extra NLE 700($37) for medical procedures, and NLE 400 ($21) for the opening of an account for him, all of which he received no receipt for.
The Departure from Sierra Leone to Dubai
A few weeks after the application, he was informed that he had passed all his interviews and was among the 40 others who emerged successful. Hearing this, Bashiru had high expectations of how his life was to be transformed in Abu Dhabi, and he pondered how he was to start sending money home to his family. But the reality was just around the corner waiting to wake him from his slumber.
“We were told we would depart Sierra Leone for Dubai in December 2021, but we never traveled. Our monies have not been refunded to date, and worst of all, Taju Deen Turay is nowhere to be seen. All we know is that he is currently in Ghana, hiding after collecting our millions,” Bashiru told The Fourth Estate.
Bashiru was not the only one trapped in Taju’s fraudulent web. 50 other Sierra Leoneans were scammed too. Some of them invested and spent more money than he did.
Tommy Koroma, another victim, paid a total of NLE 11,000 ($588) for the programme; NLE 5,000 ($267) initial commitment fees, and NLE 7,000 ($374) for visa fees. When Tommy was assured that he would get the job and was informed he would be traveling to Dubai in the first week of December 2021, he left his previous job in November, requested his payoff, and used all the money to pay the NLE 11,000 ($588) million Taju Deen Turay had demanded.
“Now, look at my current life. I am jobless, and I have a family I can’t provide for. I didn’t travel, and I have not got my money back. These are some of the reasons young people go mad nowadays. the government of Sierra Leone needs to help us,” Tommy said.
Tommy said when they were paying all the monies, some officials at the Migration Department of the Sierra Leone Ministry of Labor and Social Security instructed them to pay to Taju Deen Turay’s bank account.
All efforts by Bashiru, Tommy and the 50 others to get their monies have proven fruitless. Since the Sierra Leone Ministry of Labor and Social Security was in partnership with Taju Recruitment Agency, the youth have been visiting the Minister of Labor, Alpha Osman Timbo, for almost a year, demanding a refund of their monies.
The victims said Mr. Timbo had been promising them of their monies since December 2021, but that was yet to be fulfilled. They said the Minister even transferred some of them to another recruitment agency just so they could travel, but they were yet to see any sign of preparation.
The desperate youth organised a peaceful protest against the Sierra Leone Ministry of Labor and Social Security to demand their money.
The Minister was hosted together with Bashiru Conteh on one of Sierra Leone’s national TV programmes, AYV Wake up Salone, in August 2022. The Minister on the programme explained that when he took over the ministry in 2018, there was a ban on overseas migrant recruitment in Sierra Leone. Due to the high youth unemployment rate in the country, he said he deemed it fit to advocate for the lifting of the ban. The ban was eventually lifted by the government of Sierra Leone in 2018.
Alpha Osman Timbo noted that Taju’s recruitment agency was among the 10 recruitment agencies he permitted to operate in the country with a certification after several procedures were undertaken by the ministry.
“I did all of this with dramatic speed. That was because the youths were desperate for jobs,” the Minister said.
However, Minister Timbo denied being aware that the applicants were paying all the monies they stated. He admitted that, before he registered Taju Deen Turay’s agency, he got complaints that he [Taju] had embarked on fraudulent activities, but he ignored the complaints because he thought they were made out of sentiments.
He further stated that companies like Taju Recruitment Agency were required to make a security deposit of not less than 50 million Leones. However, the agency paid just 5 million Leones, another anomaly overlooked by the ministry.
The minister said on air that through the help of the Sierra Leone High Commission in Ghana; he was able to arrest and detain Taju, but he was later released after signing a commitment letter to refund 100 million Leones by September 27, 2022.
The minister, in his final statement on air, pleaded with the victims to have confidence in him, assuring them of a refund of their monies.
To confirm what the minister said, The Fourth Estate sent an interview request to the Sierra Leone High Commission in Ghana for their comment on the issue. The letter was acknowledged, and a date was set for the interview, which was to be on November 22, 2022. Before the interview date, however, a request was made by the High Commission on November 1, demanding that questions of the intended interview be sent to the high commission to prepare the response.
The Fourth Estate complied with the High Commission’s request, but the interview was not granted.
An undisclosed source at the Sierra Leone High Commission has told The Fourth Estate that the high commission had not received any such complaint about Taju Deen Turay, nor did it partake in any arrest as the minister had claimed.
The source further said after receiving The Fourth Estate’s interview request, the letter together with another letter written by the high commissioner, was sent through the Sierra Leone Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the Ministry of Labour and Social Security.
The source said that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had promised to respond to the high commission’s letter. The source stated that until the Ministries respond to the letters, the High Commissioner could not speak to The Fourth Estate on the issue.
Tracking Taju’s recruitment agency in Ghana
Since Taju Deen Turay claimed to have an office in Ghana, The Fourth Estate, in August 2022, set out to ascertain the authenticity of the agency.
After a few weeks of searching, both the office and Taju Deen Turay himself could not be located. All contact numbers advertised on the Facebook page of “The friends of Taju Recruitment Agency” were contacted but did not yield any results.
Victims in Ghana
Dialing with the hope of finding a lead to locate the office or Taju Deen Turay, what we found were more victims of his fraudulent acts. It was later discovered that Taju Deen Turay had executed a similar scam in Ghana.
“I don’t want to talk about Taju. I don’t even want to hear anything about him. That guy is a fraudster. He ran away with my clients’ money, and until now I have never set my eyes on him,” a lady answered angrily to the first call we made.
The lady, Joyce [not her real name], said she was working with Taju in 2019 as a secretary and agent who was bringing in clients who intended to travel. According to Joyce, she stopped working for Taju because she wasn’t getting paid, and later, Taju duped her clients.
Some of the victims in Ghana, Julius Mensah Coffie and Alfred Auton, said Taju Deen Turay promised to get them jobs in Poland and Qatar, but like the many other victims, they were also duped.
Adam Ibrahim, a 37-year-old recruitment agent, and some clients of the company he works for also had an ugly experience dealing with the Taju Recruitment agency in 2020. Adam works at IQ Consult, an agency that helps Ghanaians secure visas for different countries. According to Adam, Taju approached the company in 2020 purporting to have opportunities for its clients to get visas. He said they trusted Taju and went into business with him.
“Taju Deen Turay took a total of 38,600 Ghana cedis from us for the visa processing. After collecting all the monies, Taju gave us fake contracts, offer letters, and UAE visas that our clients paid 2,500 Ghana Cedis each for,” he said.
Adam said Taju didn’t only dupe his company but was also borrowing money from him for his criminal activities. “I trusted Taju, and he betrayed my trust, leaving me in huge debt,” he lamented.
Adam said he reported the matter to the Madina Police Station and Taju was arrested in 2020. He said Taju was in custody for days but was bailed after he (Taju) pleaded to be released to enable him to refund the monies he had collected from them.
“As I speak to you, since then at the police station, I have never set my eyes on Taju. He disappeared completely,” said Adam.
The Fourth Estate’s effort to prove Taju’s fraudulent activities
On August 21, 2022, the ‘Friends of Taju Recruitment Agency’s Facebook page updated a post informing people of the opening of their regional office at Kwabenya, Ashongman Estate in Accra. The post also included a flyer that stated that the agency was recruiting workers in Ghana for the positions of stewards, waitresses, and cashiers in “Kuwait- Americana.”
The Fourth Estate made an undercover agent pose as an individual interested in the job offer. John, [not his real name] called one of the numbers on the flyer, and it was Taju Deen Turay who answered. John informed Taju of his interest to work as a steward in Kuwait, and he [Taju] told john to send him a WhatsApp message for further discussion. Taju later asked John to share his passport copy and CV with him, but he never responded after John sent his documents.
We called his number both on WhatsApp and normal call but could not reach him. The team later decided to locate the so-called regional office at Kwabena Ashongmang Estate, but all efforts made were fruitless as no such office existed within the said vicinity.
Later, The Fourth Estate was able to reach Taju’s former landlord who said Taju was in police custody at the Madina Police station for his fraudulent acts.
Taju Deen Turay in custody
The Fourth Estate visited the Madina Police station where Taju was in custody. He told the team that he was arrested in mid-September 2022, after a report by a Ghanaian named Larry.
According to Taju, he was in a migrant recruitment business with Larry for months, but Larry felt aggrieved when he couldn’t travel on time, and his visas expired, so he got him arrested.
Taju said the case was being heard at Adenta court and noted he had appeared once in court and would reappear on November 22, 2022.
“I am currently on bail; I have met all the bail conditions. My wife was the one who contacted a bailer’s company for my case,” Taju explained.
It is unclear whether Taju will wriggle himself out of the firm grip of the law again, and what he will do afterward. What has, however, been established is that, with the endorsement of government officials in Sierra Leone, he has managed to defraud a number of jobless people in Sierra Leone and in Ghana.
The victims were assured of decent jobs with fat salaries in Dubai, Abu Dhabi UAE, and Kuwait. They were asked to pay huge sums of money, prepare documents and undergo several interviews and medical checkups in preparation for their journey.
But the migrant employment idea was merely a game of deceit and gain to the mastermind, Taju Deen Turay and his well-branded fraud company, Taju Recruitment Agency.
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The writer of this report, Marian Amaria Bangura, is a Fellow of the Next Generation Investigative Journalism Fellowship at the Media Foundation for West Africa.