FREETOWN - Sierra Leone's Vice President Sam Sumana has applied for asylum at the US embassy in Freetown and is in hiding while his request is considered, a source close to him said.
Sumana, 52, was expelled from the governing All People's Congress (APC) party this month for what was described as "his anti-party activities, including fomenting violence", although he denied the allegations and has appealed against his suspension to the party leadership.
Sumana "is now in hiding at a secure location awaiting a reply to a request he has made by telephone to the American embassy for asylum for himself and his wife", a member of his entourage said.
Heavily armed soldiers stormed Sumana's hilltop residence on Saturday but he was not there, witnesses said.
The soldiers left with bundles of files, one witness added.
The BBC said Saturday it had spoken to Sumana and reported that the vice president and his wife had fled their home in Freetown and requested asylum at the embassy. Their current whereabouts was not clear.
AFP was unable to reach Sumana himself and the US embassy declined to comment.
Deputy government spokesman Abdulai Bayratay told AFP "the vice president is not under any threat", amid reports that Sumana believed his life was in danger.
In a statement issued late Saturday, the APC said it "has been informed by the American embassy in Freetown that Vice President Samuel Sam Sumana has requested to seek asylum... alleging that his life is under threat and that his residence has been looted."
The party denied that he been threatened and his home vandalised, adding that Sumana's allegations and conduct were likely to embarrass the party and bring it into disrepute.
Sumana's house was under military surveillance Saturday, according to an AFP reporter who visited the site but was unable to approach his residence.
Military checkpoints in the neighbourhood were seen turning away people attempting to go to the house.
Witnesses said troops had disarmed Sumana's guards.
"Some officers then went into the house but after about an hour or more of searching they left with bundles of papers," one neighbour told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Late Saturday evening the military presence was reduced and the house was deserted, residents said.
"But there is no evidence that the house was vandalised," a neighbour said.
Announcing his expulsion on March 6, APC secretary general Osman Yansaneh said the party accused Sumana of falsely claiming to be a Muslim, and claiming to hold a degree from a US university.
He is also accused of being responsible for "frequent unrest" in his eastern home district of Kono and the party believes he was plotting to set up a breakaway political party.
Sumana's expulsion came a few days after he had quarantined himself due to the death of one of his bodyguards from Ebola.
Sierra Leone has registered almost 3,600 deaths in the nine months since the Ebola outbreak spread across west Africa.