By Yankuba Jallow
The Banjul High Court presided over by Justice Aminata Saho-Ceesay has on the 30th July 2018 in its ruling has refused the Attorney General’s application to discharge the freezing orders in respect of some properties under Alhaji Yahya AJJ Jammeh and releasing them from the custody of the Registrar General.
The Respondent, Alh. Yahya Jammeh, an ex-president of the Gambia is in exile whilst all his properties and accounts were frozen by the High Court. The Applicant, the Attorney General (AG) on the 18th May 2017 brought a motion before the high court pursuant to Section 51 (1) of the Anti-Money Laundering and Combating of Terrorist Financing Act seeking a restraint order of Jammeh’s properties.
In her ruling, Justice Saho-Ceesay said: The application is refused on the grounds of prematurity and is consequently dismissed.”
She held that the affidavit in support filed by the Applicant makes no mention of whether the Attorney General has concluded the investigations into the alleged criminal conduct of the Respondent, instead the Applicant grounded his application upon depositions to the effect that during an appearance before the Commission, the Director General of Gambia Tourism Board (GTB) revealed that the Respondent, personally, and through businesses owned by him had unlawfully acquired about 34% of land with the Tourism Development Area (TDA) in the Kombos. She added that the Applicant further deposed that the government of the Gambia through the GTB is desirous of allocating certain areas in the TDA which are the subject of the restraining order for urgent development of tourism facilities, so as to meet the needs of the upcoming tourist season as well as the November 2019 Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) Summit.
“The foregoing reasons no matter how crucial they are, are incapable of causing the discharging or the varying of part of the restraint order of the 22nd May 2017. This court in my view cannot discharge or vary the restraint order upon the application of the Applicant. The Court is empowered to do nothing at this stage until the conclusion of the investigations conducted into the alleged criminal conduct of the Respondent at which time a recommendation may be made at the conclusion of the Commission of Inquiry, for a confiscation order against the Respondent. In my view, it is only upon an order of confiscation being made, that the government can then utilize the lands for the purpose it intends to and not before,” she ruled.
She held that without any findings of the alleged criminal conduct of Jammeh and a subsequent confiscation order, the properties subject to the restraint order are incapable of use for the purpose that the government intends to use it for, no matter how worthy and imperative the purpose.
“For the government to descend upon the Respondent’s properties at this point in time, in the absence of the conclusion of the criminal investigation and a subsequent order of confiscation; will, with respect amount to nothing short of a travesty, in my view. I am guided in this regard by Section 22 of the Constitution of the Republic of the Gambia 1997, which provides for protection against deprivation of property except where the conditions stated therein are satisfied,” she concluded.
The AG sought for an order restraining Yahya Jammeh from disposing of or dealing with all moveable and immovable properties held by or in his possession, his agents, associates, and family members pending the conclusion of the investigation initiated by the Attorney General into the alleged criminal conduct of Jammeh. Also, the AG sought for an order restraining Jammeh, his servants, agents, family or associates from disposing of or dealing with all livestock or other animals held by or in the possession or in their control. He also sought an order for the livestock to be seized and kept under the custody of Gambia Livestock Marketing Agency (GMLA), pending the conclusion of the investigation. AG further sought for an order for all wildlife and other animals held by or in the possession or control of Jammeh, his servants, agents, associates, and family members to be seized and be kept under the custody and control of the Gambia Wildlife Services pending the conclusion of the investigation initiated by the Attorney General. In addition, the applicant sought for an order directing all banks and financial institutions within the Republic of the Gambia to freeze or place a monetary hold on all bank accounts and treasury bills belonging to the Respondent and companies associated with him. Also, the applicant sought an order restraining Jammeh from disposing or dealing with all companies owned by or under his control or under the control of his agents, servants, associates and family members. Finally, the applicant sought for an order for the court to grant the custody and control of all companies owned by or under the Respondent to Augustus Prom, a firm of certified accountants registered in the Gambia pending the conclusion of the investigation.
The high court granted all the prayers sought by the AG and ordered that the order shall subsist for a period of 180 days.
The applicant on the 6th June 2017 made another application before the high court to unfreeze the bank accounts of the Jammeh Foundation for Peace Hospital with the reasons that the hospital is owned and operated by the government and that the signatories are appointed by the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare through the Hospital’s Board.
This application was also granted by the court.
On the 20th November 2017, the applicant sought for an extension of the validity of the Restraint Order for a further period of 180 days. In support of his application, the Respondent told the Court that as a result of the investigations being carried out by the Attorney General, enough grounds were established to warrant the setting up of a presidential commission of inquiry pursuant to section 200 of the 1997 Constitution to look into the financial dealings of the Respondent. That there is a commission established on the 12th July 2017 by Legal Notice 15 of 2017 for an initial period of 3 months commencing 10th August 2017; that the commission has extended its duration by 6 additional months to enable it to complete its mandate; that the revelations made before the commission have linked the Respondent to unauthorized withdrawals from the Central Bank of the Gambia and other government accounts; and that there is a likelihood that a confiscation order might be made against the Respondent at the conclusion of the commission.