Freetown - A high court in Sierra Leone sentenced three tax men and two bankers on Friday to prison terms for corruption in the stiffest penalties handed down so far in President Ernest Bai Koroma's anti-graft campaign.

The sentences of between three and six years were delivered under an Anti-Corruption Law that was toughened in 2008 after Koroma came to power pledging to make the fight a top priority.

Watchdog Transparency International's 2013 corruption perceptions index ranked Sierra Leone 119th out of 175 countries. Graft fuelled the country's civil war, which ended in 2002, and diplomats say it remains rife in the mineral sector.

Solomon Hindolo Katta, who worked at the National Revenue Authority, was convicted on 11 counts, sentenced to six years and ordered to pay $500 000.

His colleague, Idrissa Fornah, received the same prison sentence and was ordered to pay $45 000.

The charge sheet said Katta connived with the others convicted to divert tax receipts meant for the revenue authority into a private account operated by his wife, who worked at a bank and was also convicted.

Anti-Corruption Commissioner Joseph Kamara called the sentencing “a landmark decision” and said it was a “momentous day for the commission and the country”.

Defence counsel Eke Halloway said the sentences were an abomination in view of the fact that the defendants were first-time offenders and said he would appeal. - Reuters