Monday, August 7, 2017

Gambia will not seek extradition of Ousman Sonko from Switzerland, says Justice Minister

Responding to journalists questions regarding the fate of former Interior Minister, Ousman Sonko, one of Yaya Jammeh's most powerful and trusted member of his ousted regime, Gambia's current Justice Minister revealed that the Barrow administration has no desire to pursue the extradition route.  

Instead, his government will cooperate with the Swiss authorities in furtherance of the legal charges that the notorious Ousman Sonko who referred himself as "Yaya Jammeh's disciple" or "Baye Faal" may likely face in Switzerland where he was intending to seek asylum only to be arrested for alleged human rights violations during the 22-year dictatorship of Jammeh.

Ousman Sonko was arrested following a formal complaint by Trial International, a Geneva-based non-governmental organization. that alleged that as Interior Minister and a senior member of Jammeh's security establishment,  he took part in the arrest, torture, rape and disappearances of citizens.

In March, the Gambian Interior Minister announced government's intention to seek his extradition to The Gambia to face trial.  The change in strategy may have been necessitated by the overwhelming demand on the Gambian judiciary - the aftereffect of the defeat of 22-year dictatorship -  that is understaffed and thus facing capacity issues that its shares with the rest of the civil service.  I

It, therefore, makes sense to let the Swiss authorities have a first crack at the case.  If Ousman Sonko is found guilty and sentenced to a prison term, he's expected to serve it in a Swiss prison before being deported to his native Gambia.  However, in the event he's found innocent - an unlikely outcome given the overwhelming evidence against him -  it is unclear what would happen.  He could be deported to The Gambia, returned to Spain to face deportation hearings as his initial port of entry into the EU.  We will continue to monitor developments.

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Correction:  We may have implied in our previous reporting on the Ousman Sonko's case that there was no extradition treaty between Gambia and Switzerland.  If we did imply it, we'd like to correct ourselves.  There is indeed a treaty between the two countries.  Our sources in Switzerland have confirmed it.


Sunday, July 30, 2017

Bakau School Building Project Fundraiser


Where : Golden Palace Hall,  1451 Union Port Road, Bronx, New York 10463
When  : Friday, August 4th, 2017 , Doors Open from 10:00 PM - 5:00 AM
Music will be supplied by DJ  WOW .  There will be plenty of good food

For those of you not familiar with Bakau School, it is one of many schools that have fallen into hard times due to decades of neglect.   An iconic school that has trained many prominent Gambians must not be allowed to continue to fall into disrepair, posing, in the process, serious health hazard as well as an uncomfortable environment that is not conducive to learning.

We at sidisanneh.blogspot.com are appealing to all those in the New York area to attend the fundraiser at the Golden Palace Hall, 1451 Union Port Road, at the Bronx, next Friday.  Please bring along a friend to help support a worthwhile cause.

We guarantee you good food, great music by DJ WOWO and a very good company with Matty Penda Njie, Bakary Jarju, Binta Dibba, Sanna Jarju and Lamin Samateh among numerous other organizers of the event.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Panama Papers: The unexplained $ 900,000,000 in Amadou Samba's account

To whom much is given much is expected!
For over quarter of a century, even before Yahya Jammeh came to power, businessman Amadou Samba has been a household name in the Gambia. When Yahya Jammeh took over Mr. Samba was among the few who never left the country and even managed to survive and thrive under the dictator. It is public record that his name has been associated with the dictator's many business ventures. In fact Mr. Samba has been quoted saying he "managed" dictator Yahya Jammeh.

With much of the Gambia's economy in ruins, billions of Dalasis pilfered, the country in debt, it is not only proper for a self-described "manager" of the dictator to come out and tell the Gambian people how and what he managed for Yahya Jammeh. Also how did Mr. Samba's name and his Amasa Holding Limited come to appear in the Panama Papers? Why would someone who has gotten so much from the The Gambia find it necessary to use offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands? https://offshoreleaks.icij.org
Gambians deserve better.
Dr. Malanding Jaiteh 

There's no such thing as a free lunch, Hon. Fatty

We welcome the Interior Minister's initiative to start having monthly press conferences to bring Gambian journalists up to speed on his Ministry's programs and projects in the interest of transparency and accountability to the Gambian people.  

The Minister's Permanent Secretary, reading from a prepared text, outlined the Interior Ministry's agenda, highlighting priority areas.  However, in the interest of time, they proposed to limit, unsuccessfully, the press conference to two subjects (1) the Diagnostic and Molecular Science Center and (2) the SEMLEX (National bio-metric ID card)  contract.  A third topic that has gained currency was injected into the press conference by journalists who wanted to know the reasons why the Interior Ministry moved from Banjul to the Kombos and the annual rental amount.

The minister's response made news in the sense that, contrary to popular belief, it was neither the Interior Minister nor his staff who negotiated or signed the lease on the new ministry building located on Bertil Harding Highway. The journalists were referred instead to the office of the Vice President and/or the Finance Minister for answers to their questions.  It is expected that the journalists will follow up with the two offices.

As regards the Diagnostic Center,  the Interior Minister insists that the $ 48 million private investment  project led by a Senegalese national, will cost the local budget "zero bututs".  Cheikh Tejan Sy, the Senegalese lead investor was the only one identified by name.  For Gambians to know who the rest of the investors are, they'd have to inquire with the Ministry of Justice - an unusual proposition but that's the way things are.

The Interior Minister has been facing mounting criticism of the government's decision to prioritize the Diagnostic Center  over what many see as more urgent areas such as crime prevention and equipping and training law enforcement personnel, especially in the face of increase in crime, which, the minister and his permanent secretary  have attributed, at times, as a result of improvements in the reporting of crimes.  But we have also heard the minister, on occasion, argue for more resources for his ministry, citing spikes in criminal activity - a circular argument not uncommon among politicians and bureaucrats.

The $ 48 million investment package has also made Gambians quite uneasy.  To allay their fears, the minister's favorite refrain, in the National Assembly as well as at his press conference, has been "it will not cost government a single butut."  But is the statement factual?  

The land that government will provide aside, the minister let it be known that the center will enjoy a 5-year tax holiday which, if [and it is a big "if"] the center becomes fully operational in Year-3, it will not any form of tax for the final 2 years.  Other concessions normally associated with these type of investments include but not limited to custom duties and excise waivers which can easily run into the tens of millions of dollars.  It is therefore incorrect to say that it will not cost a single butut.

That said, there are still a lot of project unknowns which will make it difficult for us to pass judgement based on available information.  What's the rationale for providing land to a private venture, why is government so intricately involved in project implementation?  The absence of a website for a group of reputable investors as the ones led by Dr. Cheihk Tijan Sy is cause for concern, in addition to the fact, among a host of other concerns, that a list of investors is not immediately available to the public since public funds are going to be involved despite claims to the contrary.

We will do a follow-up in future blog posts on the SEMLEX contract based, in part, on the Interior Minister's responses to journalists' questions at yesterday's press conference.
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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

$ 900,000,000 from Gambian-registered companies stashed in Panama, Gambians demand explanation

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We published this blog post, May 23rd, 2016, exactly a year ago. Attorney General and Minister of Justice press conference yesterday is a reminder that in order to turn a new leaf, we must, as Gambians, garner enough courage and conviction to confront our past.  We cannot pretend that everything is fine.

Regarding the $ 900,000,000, we have come to learn from investigators that the amount might represent total proceeds that went through theses accounts in Panama over time and may not necessarily represent the actual amount in the accounts.  In short, these amounts might not all be there as we speak.

Gambians demand to know the TRUTH. Without the TRUTH, there will be no justice and without justice there will be no peace.  Thanks,  Sidi Sanneh
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According to the Panama Papers, a number of companies registered in the Gambia have stashed almost $ 1 billion in offshore accounts.

We are studying the details in consultation with tax accountants, financial and legal experts with a view to gaining insight into this massive transfer of financial resources from one of the world's poorest countries.

We wish to draw the attention of our esteemed readers that operating offshore accounts in and of themselves may not necessarily be illegal unless it can be established that the origin or origins of these funds are as a result of illegal activities, such as drug or human trafficking or other forms of international criminal activities.

The Gambia is, of course, not the only country that is shown to have its citizens operating offshore accounts in tax heavens.  Prominent Senegalese businessmen are among those listed as operating accounts offshore.  The difference between them and the Gambian businessmen listed in their forthrightness.

The Senegalese businessmen listed in the Panama Papers were quick to respond to the revelation by explaining the rationale for these accounts which, according to one, was to legally reduce or eliminate further exposure to higher tax liabilities.  To some, this is unethical or unpatriotic.  To others it is a smart business move.  In short, one man's tax dodger is another man's astute businessman.

Amadou Samba, a Gambian businessman, a business partner and a close associate of the Gambian dictator is listed as operating one or several offshore accounts.  The amounts in one or several of these accounts are unknown.  However, the global figure for the country is listed as $ 900,000,000 a figure close to Gambia's estimated GDP of $ 1 billion.

Gambians deserve a response from both Amadou Samba and Yaya Jammeh as initial step in a process that will take the expertise of world class legal, financial and tax professionals to ascertain the facts on behalf of the Gambian People.

When Jammeh seized power, "rampant corruption" was the reason he advanced to justify the illegal coup.  A team of investigators were dispatched to comb the offshore centers in search of funds they believed were derived from the Nigeria Crude allocated to the then government as balance of payment support by the Nigerian government.  Today, the shoe is on the other foot.

Gambians must hear from Amadou Samba and Yaya Jammeh.
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Amendment:  The initial blog post figure read $ 900,000 instead of $ 900,000,000

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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Conversations with Amadou Samba:"I was never a business partner of Jammeh, I managed him."

Amadou Samba, Gambian businessman 
This is reproduction of a blog post we first published last December, at the height of the political impasse.
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To many, Amadou Samba is Yaya Jammeh's right hand man and business partner, period.  A few have even referred to him as "Jammeh's bag-man" and viewed by many as the sole individual who can lead the transition government to Jammeh's hidden wealth, inside and outside The Gambia.

Since we at sidisanneh.blogspot.com have written extensively on matters relating to Jammeh alleged illicit wealth and/or business dealings, Amadou Samba's name has always featured, either as a central player or on the periphery, but always present.

So, it was, therefore, surprising when, in reacting to me referring to him as "Jammeh's business partner", he corrected me tersely and swiftly by denying that he was never a business partner of Jammeh.  His response was, and I quote "I managed him [referring to Yaya Jammeh], I was never a business partner of Jammeh."

He also said something that will take many by surprise and that is, as far as he is aware, all of Jammeh's wealth is in the Gambia and not abroad.  Of course, public records in the United States show that the $ 3.5 million Brentcross Road Potomac mansion although sold to the Trustees of the MYJ Family Trust is owned by Yaya Jammeh.

Mr. Samba said he fully understands the perception held by many because of his close association with Jammeh which weighed heavily on him.  Now, that load has been lifted off of his shoulders, he's ready to make amends so that he can move on with his life.

The cryptic nature of the response led me to ask for clarification in a subsequent telephone conversation because as he, himself, has admitted that the public perception is that he is intricately linked with the Jammeh business empire.  Was he managing Jammeh, the person or his businesses to which he replied that he was managing Jammeh, the person, because he was unpredictable and erratic as he was impulsive.

On the Panama Papers, which was the subject of a couple of blog posts, Mr. Samba admitted that all the companies listed were registered in his holding company's name and stressed the fact that they were companies and not bank accounts.  In our coverage of the issue also we cautioned readers that "operating off-shore accounts and/or companies in and of themselves may not be illegal" unless the origin or origins of the funds are derived from illegal activities such as arms trafficking, drugs or other forms of international criminal activities.

He cited tax shelter as the reason of operating these companies offshore.  According to him, operating these companies from Panama made business sense but became "less interesting" once Britain started to clamp down on offshore evasion "is using a non-UK. jurisdiction with the objective of evading UK tax,.  He decided to close them and they have not been operational since the new laws came into effect and enforcement intensified.*

We have been working on the Panama Papers for several months now with little progress.  Offshore financial transactions are difficult to trace and the legal huddles insurmountable even for forensic accountants and international lawyers activities much less a lone blogger with a couple of volunteers who help in research.

What investigative reporters working for internationally reputable news agencies and companies have said is that the $ 900,000,000 listed under the three registered companies may represent the total proceeds that passed through those companies, and do not necessarily mean money stashed in some bank fault somewhere.

During our third telephone interview, the $ 900,000,000 figure was disputed by Amadou Samba which, according to him, is substantially different from the total turnover of all his companies.  He said he doesn't know where the figure came from.  Needless to say that the services of competent forensic accountants and lawyers are needed to thoroughly investigate these accounts with a view to confirming or otherwise Mr. Amadou Samba's claims.

On the re-establishment of the rule of law:  Mr. Amadou Samba has made clear in his letter to Jammeh where his heart is - in The Gambia with his wife, children and grandchildren.  "Gambia is my home and I will never live anywhere else", he said to me.  He said he will return home once the rule of law is established under the new political order.  He believes strongly that under President-elect Adama Barrow, the rule of law will be re-established at which time he will subject himself to any and all legal scrutiny.

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*We are also in possession of some additional background information about AMASA Holding Company through which Mr. Samba's property development business in the UK was handled until it ceased operation around 2013 when the new offshore tax laws were amended lifting capital gains tax exemption for non-UK residents.

In our next installment, we will delve into the Airport, Arch-22 and Farafenni APRC Hospital and the Amadou Samba building (on Pipeline Rd) that collapsed that resulted in loss of lives.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Zainab Jammeh's diplomatic passport must be revoked immediately

Zainab Suma Jammeh 
The wife of the former Gambian dictator, Zainab Suma Jammeh, is currently involved in a diplomatic row in the Senegalese capital of Dakar, in part, because of the laxity with which diplomatic passports are issued and managed.

Zainab Jammeh arrived in Dakar last Thursday from Malabo, the capital of Equatorial Guinea where she and her husband have been granted political asylum after Jammeh lost his presidential bid for a 5th term.

Since January, Zainab Jammeh has been travelling, at least on a couple of occasions, to Dakar on a Gambian diplomatic passport while enjoying all the associated diplomatic courtesies at the airport in Dakar and other destinations.

Her dinner with Amadou Samba and Samuel Sarr at the Beluga Restaurant in Dakar, we have come to learn, was not the first.  The ensuing scandal is still unfolding as details of the meeting begin to emerge.

Apart from the VIP treatment she receives, her visits are kept a secret until her cover was blown with our Facebook post that got the Senegalese press flatfooted, suggesting a degree of complicity by some members of the Senegalese government.

There are officials in Banjul, as well, who are equally complicit in allowing this international jet-setter who is more interested in using her diplomatic status to amass wealth by engaging in activities unbecoming a former First Lady at the expense of Gambia and the Gambian people.

As she embroiled in a scandal that will be subject of future blog posts, the Gambian officials in Banjul responsible for allowing her to continue enjoying the privileges associated with traveling around on a diplomatic passport must take full responsibility of the events unfolding in Dakar because they fail to revoke her diplomatic passports.

Who else, in Jammeh's former entourage, is traveling around the globe on diplomatic passport who is not entitled to one?  Is Amadou Samba traveling on Gambian diplomatic passport?  If so, it should also be revoked immediately, together with Zainab Suma Jammeh's, and anyone else not entitled to be in possession of one.  They should all be traveling on ordinary passports provided they are eligible to be in possession of one.