By Mamadou Dem
Alagie Ousman Ceesay, the former Chief Protocol of Yahya Jammeh and currently serving President Adama Barrow’s administration in the same portfolio, yesterday appeared before the Janneh Commission of enquiry to shed light on the withdrawal he made at the central bank while he was serving as the Chief of Protocol at the office of the former President Yahya Jammeh. Mr Ceesay began his testimony by informing the member of the commission that he is currently the Chief of Protocol at the Office of the new President.
According to him, he has been in the Public Service since 1995 until 2001, when he was appointed as the Deputy Chief of Protocol and finally became Chief of Protocol in June 2002 at the Office of the then President. Mr Ceesay said while serving under the office of the former First Lady, he did not know how that office was funded and has never been a signatory to any of the accounts. He recalled that he used to travel with the First Lady to the USA and during their travel, he used to stay in a hotel while the First Lady would stay in their compound in Maryland; but that he did not know whether there were any Gambian staff at the resident of the First Lady.
The former Chief Protocol of the former president also remembered travelling with the former First Lady to Morocco and Guinea Conakry on several occasions. He said during their travel to Morocco, he would also stay in a hotel and has never visited any home of the First Lady except the family compound in Rabat.
According to him while in Conakry he would stay in Government quarters and has no idea regarding the properties owned by the former First Lady, in Conakry. Regarding the withdrawal of $1,000,000.00, $500,000.00, $700,000.00, $700,000.00, $300,000.00 and $500,000.00 respectively, which was the main subject matter of his summon, he said he was instructed by the former president to collect the said monies from the Central Bank which he did and after the transaction he handed over the cash to the former president.
He however explained that in his capacity as the then Chief of Protocol, he had no idea as to what was the purpose of the monies. Commission Counsel Bensouda who was assisted by Olimatou Danso and Anna Njie, appealed to Mr Ceesay to help the Commission on how the former president spent such amount of monies since he has served under the president in his capacity as Chief of Protocol. Mr Ceesay in a rhetorical reply said, throughout his travels with Jammeh, it would be difficult for him to substantiate how the former president spent all these monies. Responding to a question from Commission members, he said normally he would hand over the money in boxes and would not know how Jammeh counts all these monies neither does he know whether his former boss had a vault at State House. At that point counsel Bensouda further challenged him to provide his job description during his period as Chief of Protocol under former president.
Next to appear before the commission was the Belgian Lebanese national, Muhammad Bazzi whose name become the household name in the Janneh Commission. Bazzi explained his side of the story with regard to the issues he was summoned. Mr. Bazzi who is also the proprietor of Global Trading Group, informed the Commission that he is a Belgian Lebanese and has a Gambian diplomatic passport which was issued to him by former President Yahya Jammeh. He said in The Gambia, initially he was involved in the electrification project with NAWEC with the importation of fuel as well as the milling of flour. Among the companies he operated, he said were GEG, GAMICO but later GEG was closed and Gamico had some problems but was not closed; that he also has a share of 73-75% in Premier Investment Group but initially they were not involved in mining until when Carnegie Minerals Company had a problem and GAMICO was offered to involve in mining activities. According to Mr. Bazzi, his first meeting with the former president was in 2001 when he came for the electrification project and that was the time he had the opportunity to meet Jammeh. He claimed that Tony Ghattas was the one involved in the mining activities and Mr Ghattas was later given certain percentages since his company was not directly involved in the mining at the time.
Mr. Bazzi further lamented that he was not involved in the termination of Carnegie Minerals license; that he was the one who identified a law firm for the Gambia Government and paid the legal fees during his capacity as the Consular General for The Gambia. He recalled that they were stopped from mining on several occasions and some of their documents were taken from them by the then NIA and appealed for the documents to be handed over to them. Mr.Bazzi said concerning payments made by his company on behalf of the former regime to the law firm, one Daniel came to him and explained that he would want Mr. Bazzi to introduce him (Daniel) to the authority as well as the Solicitor General which he did. Commission Counsel Bensouda at that juncture told Mr. Bazzi that they were granted mining license without exploration license but the witness responded that nobody told them that they were required to get exploration license. “The Problem we had with the former regime was that every two months they used to stop us from mining and the NIA took all our documents and arrested our accountant. We brought experts outside and we paid them lot of money for providing us with analysis. I will confirm the exportation of the stockpile left by Carnegie Mineral and the money realized,” said Mr. Bazzi.
At that juncture, counsel intimated to him that GAMICO took all the equipment provided by Carnegie and asked him to tell the arrangement they made prior to taking the said equipment. Mr. Bazzi in response said they never took equipment of the said company but instead from Government through the Geology Department. “The Geology Department allowed us to use the equipment,” he disclosed. Counsel further told the witness that the arbitrators are claiming the sum of $1,140,000 as value for the scrap equipment but the witness testified that they spent money to buy spares for the scrap equipment; that when they took over the materials, they were already scrapped and that was why they maintained them.
At that juncture Commission Chairman Surahata Janneh intervened and asked the witness: “Do you have an inventory since you said you took over from Government?” He answered, “I will look into that and Yahya Jammeh was not a shareholder of GAMICO neither did he had any interest in GAMICO.” With regard to transferring his share from GAMICO to APAM, the witness disclosed that it was the former President who instructed him to do so despite his company was privately owned; that he told the former President unless they came with a new name to replace GAMICO or new people then he won’t be able to transfer his shares but Counsel informed him that she heard a different story on the transfers of shares. Responding to Counsel, the witness countered that he had no choice but to transfer his share as instructed by the former president. He finally testified that GAMICO never mined white sand along the coast.
Meanwhile a letter authored by Dr. Njogu L Bah to the Directorate of the National Treasury for Central Bank of the Gambia to disburse the sum of $500,000.00 from Carnegie Mining Account was tendered and admitted as exhibits. However, Mr. Bah testified that the said sum was withdrawn based on instructions he received from the former president and he was told that the money was needed because there was an urgent state matter. According to him, an orderly to the exiled president attached to his house by the name Yusupha, received the amount from the banking officer. “I do not remember who delivered the money to state house but I do know that it was delivered. It is very difficult to explain where and what President Jammeh was doing with that money; that sometimes there are issues pertaining to University and some events, some on people, equipment, his family and himself,” said the former SG. He further told Commissioners that during his tenure as Secretary General, some of the assets Jammeh acquired included Dunes Resort and the ranch in Farato village where he kept animals which in some instances, you will hear that he bought them. Dr. Bah also gave testimony on the Mahindra as well as other tractors which were acquired by the former President; that out of the five hundred tractors which were received by the former president, some were distributed to Farmers while others were put on sale by Kanilai Family Farms; that the former president took some for his personal use. Mr. Bazzi should reappear today in order to furnish the Commission with certain documents and information with regards to his company.