In Gaston Sambou, former First Secretary at the Gambian Embassy and Georgina Gomez gave evidence at the Southwark Crown Court in the case concerning the 32 tonnes of duty-free tobacco worth approximately £ 5 million.
In the previous week, Ambassador Ya Eli Harding took the witness stand, and denied knowledge of the ordering of tobacco of the magnitude alleged to have been ordered by eight of her Embassy staff over a three-year span.
It was First Secretary Mr. Gaston Sambou's turn on the stand to testify. He claimed in his testimony that the C426 Forms completed were to request from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (CFO) the release of duty free goods.
As far as Mr. Sambou was concerned, all the forms were authorized by the FCO, therefore the Customs & Excise were mandated to release the goods. In his opinion, he did not act dishonestly because the forms went through the proper channel.
The duty free goods supplied were, Mr. Sambou continued, for members of the Gambian community. Gambians were able to order for the goods using the catalog published by the duty free companies and made no profit out of the orders.
|Georgina Gomez is at far right|
At this point, the Prosecutor promptly requested Gaston Sambou to list the names of Gambian nationals who had bought goods through the mission.
Mr Sambou also reiterated that the Ambassador Mrs Elizabeth Ya Eli Harding was aware of duty free goods ordered and delivered at the Mission’s address. This was very transparent, no secrecy about it, she (Ya Eli) had requested orders for friends; therefore she acted deceitfully by denying having knowledge of it.
Gaston acknowledged signing order forms and the duty free companies – International Diplomatic Supplies and Chaccalli De Decker were fierce competitors who were pestering the mission for orders. He questioned the amount cited in the indictment, because no indication was given as to what amount can be requested. These companies should be held responsible and not staff at the mission.
When it was Georgina Gomez's turn on the stand, made a stunning statement that most of her orders were for Ambassador Ya Eli Harding. As she was very close to Ya Eli, the Ambassador would suggest that she order for Gambians. Using Ya Eli’s slogan “we have to help the Gambians”.
Mrs Harding would refer nationals to her and orders would be placed. Once the goods were ordered, Ya Eli would give her the money as soon as the goods were collected and instruct Georgina to keep the money in the Finance Attaché’s safe which was in his office on the fourth floor. Mrs Harding would regularly remind her about the needs of Gambians that was why more orders were being placed.
Sometimes, Mrs Harding would walk her friends downstairs to collect their boxes and was also surprised that Ya Eli denied seeing or handling boxes.
Even when she away from the office, Mrs Harding would call on her mobile phone, instructing that she place orders, Georgina would then call her colleague at the Mission to put orders through. Goods were collected from the warehouse at the request of the duty free companies
Ebrima John, the Embassy's Finance Attache also testified that he was not aware of dishonest dealings, and the orderings were authorized and legally correct. He too was approached by Ambassador Harding to order for Gambian nationals.
He confirmed that when goods were delivered any officers in their rooms could hear noise and that Mrs Harding being on the first floor heard the noise and sometime when he was in her office, Ya Eli would remark about the goods being delivered. Although he signed order forms, that was part of his duty but he did not keep track of orders as they were not important.
The case continues at the Southwark Crown Court