By Mamadou Dem
Mr. Tony Ghattas, Lebanese business tycoon based in The Gambia, last Thursday responded to series of questions from the Chairman of the Commission of enquiry, Commissioner Sourahata Janneh, ranging from his longevity and business activities in the country. Senior Counsel Janneh is the Chairman of the Commission of enquiry set up by the government of President Adama Barrow, to probe into the financial dealing and assets of former President Jammeh and his associates. The Commission sits for hearing from witnesses at the Jembe hotel from Mondays to Thursdays weekly and during last Thursdays’ sittings, Lebanese businessman, Tony Ghattas, faced a barrage of questions under cross examination from senior Counsel and Chairman of the Commission, Mr. Janneh, who first asked Mr. Ghattas:
“You said you came to The Gambia as an investor?
Mr. Ghattas: “Yes I came to The Gambia to do business.’’
Chairman: “In the course of looking to do business, you came with some money?”
Mr. Ghattas: “Yes less than $50, 000.00”.
Chairman: “Did you succeed in making money in The Gambia?”
Mr. Ghattas: “Yes I bought land and vessels.”
At that juncture, the Chairman asked the witness to give the Commission the Companies he served or is currently serving as Managing Director, Director or Shareholder.
Mr. Ghattas: “I am a shareholder in all these companies and I was the Director of United African Group, GADSON and for the Shipping Agency I was Managing Director. I was also MD for SANGHAI and APAM”.
Chairman: “Every registered company is obliged to submit returns to the Registrar of Companies, Ministry of Justice. Did you do that?
Mr. Ghattas: “I’ve to ask my accounts.” The witness was quick to change the answer to “Yes we did.”
Chairman: “Can we have copies of those documents?”
Mr. Ghattas said: “Yes.”
Chairman: “Did you have audited accounts for all these companies?”
Mr. Ghattas: “Yes but United African Group is a new company.”
Chairman: “Did you have external Auditors and if so who are your external auditors?”
Mr. Ghattas: “I don’t know the name.”
Chairman (pressing the question further): “Do you know that you pay external auditors to do the job?”
Mr. Ghattas: “Yes the name of the gentleman is Tomas but I don’t know the name of his Audit Farm.
Chairman: ‘‘How much did you invest in the country?’’
Mr. Ghattas: ‘‘I cannot refresh my memory as to how much I invested but I was engaged in Land, Mining, Marine Shipping, Trucks. The GADSON money is from my job, sub-contract in the Gambia. Everything doesn’t come from here (Gambia) because I invited others too.”
Chairman: “Who invited you into The Gambia?”
Mr. Ghattas: “A Mining Company invited me in The Gambia to do business. It was a trip in The Gambia as tourist but later on I know lot of people in the Gambia. I know Muhammed Bazi, General Sulayman Badjie and Antsouman Jammeh.
Chairman: ‘‘How did you come to know Mr. Momodou Sabally?’’
Mr. Ghattas: I know former Secretary General Momodou Sabally just like this,”
He was asked about several other people including Mr. Amadou Samba but he said he does hear about some of them but never met them physically.
Prior to Senior Janneh questioning the witness, Mr. Ghattas’ attorney, Lawyer Sheriff Tambadou, was given the opportunity to cross-examine him and under cross-examination by his lawyer, the Lebanese businessman told the Commission that upon receiving his appointment letter from Nuha Touray as Managing Director of APAM, Mr. Touray told him that he was to take instructions from General Sulayman Badjie at the Office of the President.
Mr. Ghattas: “Gen. Badjie asked me about my salary but I turned down the salary because I wanted my company to do the services. Gen. Badjie proposed a salary of between D25, 000.00 and D27,000.00 per month. Apart from Gen. Badjie, I did not discuss with anybody about APAM.’’
Counsel Tambadou: “Where do you take instructions from?’’
Mr. Ghattas: ‘‘I only take instructions from Gen. Badjie through phone calls.’’
Mr. Ghattas continued to respond to his lawyer’s questions: “I have never received written instructions from General Badjie. I only have two receipts. One signed by General Badjie while the other was signed by a lady. I can’t recall her name.”
Counsel Tambadou: “Why was the Guaranty Trust Bank Account blocked?” Mr. Ghattas: “Because APAM was required to produce documents like the Memorandum of Article and Business Registration Certificate. I contacted Gen. Badjie but he keeps on telling me next week, next week and next week. During the Presidential Elections, I received a call from General Badjie that he needed D3, 000,000.00 but I told him I cannot give it out and the next day, I was demoted.’’
Counsel Tambadou: “Who awarded services to your company?”
Mr. Ghattas: “I told General Badjie that I have the facilities to do the job and APAM’s payment to Muhammed Bazi was normal. The account at First International Bank (FIB) was blocked because of the same problem with GT Bank and I did not know that APAM was not incorporated prior to my appointment as Managing Director.”
At that juncture, Lawyer Tambadou enquired as to when he can address the Commission on issues surrounding his client but the Chairman responded that he can do that at the tail end of the Commission. Meanwhile the Commission’s Counsels are also expected to examine Mr. Ghattas.
Sittings continue today.