By Mamadou Dem
As the ‘Janneh’ Commission progresses, Commission Counsel Amie Bensouda and Bazziz’s attorney, Victoria Andrews, exchanged legal arguments while the legal adviser of Spectrum and Tell Companies, Mr. Muhammad Mactar was about to testify. This happened yesterday 17thJanuary 2018 and the line of testimony of the witness, brought the legal argument between the two learned Counsels.
Mr. Mactar informed the Commission that he is based in Lebanon and has degrees in law; that he has been practising for 42 years.
However, before he continued with his testimony, Commission Counsel Amie Bensouda, objected on the grounds that her understanding was that the witness was to testify on behalf of Bazzi but not ‘Tell’. The witness responded that he is the legal officer for both ‘Tell’ and ‘Spectrum’ and therefore represents them.
According to Mr. Mactar, he was contacted by Mr. Ali Yusuf Sarari to establish payments made on behalf of ‘Tell’ and ‘Spectrum’, to Mr. Bazzi’s account in Lebanon; that in 2007, he drafted the contract for ‘Spectrum’.
At this juncture, Counsel Bensouda interjected and told the Commission that the foundation of the witness was hearsay and such evidence does not apply before the Commission; that what the witness said was what Mr. Sarari told him; that the proper witness to appear was Mr. Sarari. She then objected to the witness giving evidence, considering the gravity of the issue at hand; that the witness should not be allowed to continue.
She further submitted that Mr. Bazzi, being a close associate of the former president, has already filed a process at the Court of Appeal, challenging the interim order of the Commission and her objection was also at liberty to be challenged. However, Bazzi’s attorney, Victoria Andrews, said it was the witness who should raise privilege but not Counsel of the Commission.
The Chairman of the Commission Sourahata Janneh, asked the witness why he was before the Commission and the witness responded that he was representing ‘Tell’; that he was giving evidence on what Mr. Sarari told him in relation to Tell Company.
According to Mr. Mactar, his evidence was relevant, and the story of ‘Tell’ and ‘Spectrum’ should be heard; that due process must be followed, because the Commission is on fact finding and not a tribunal; that he came to assist the Commission.
At this juncture, the Chairman of the Commission asked him whether he was given any Power of Attorney by ‘Tell’ and the witness responded that he was not in possession of any Power of Attorney from ‘Tell’ at the time; that he is not a board member nor part of the management of ‘Tell’; that he is not qualified as a barrister at law.
The Chairman further explained to him that in The Gambia there is a common law practice and that if he does not have a Power of Attorney, as well as if he is not a member of the board of ‘Tell’ or the management, he could not be heard as a witness. The Chairman intimated to him that if he is not qualified as a barrister in any common law country, he could not practise as a lawyer in The Gambia.
Counsel Bensouda said they would like Mr. Sarari to appear before the Commission.
Delivering his ruling, the Chairman ruled that Mr. Mactar was a competent witness as all those who were named as close associates of the former president; but that such witnesses would not be allowed without showing Power of Attorney; that if the witness was giving evidence based on hearsay, that would not be allowed and will automatically be rejected. Continuing, Mr. Mactar told the Commission that the Chairman of ‘Tell’ is one Francisco Rusio; that Mr. Bazzi was not a shareholder of ‘Tell’ neither was he the director, and that he has never been the director before.
He said he knows that Mr Bazzi was the Consul General of The Gambia in Lebanon; that the relation between Mr Bazzi and Sarari was strained; that during the discussion between the Gambia Government and ‘Tell’, he came to The Gambia but on a very short notice; that he could not remember anything like loan in the discussions and had it been such was brought to his attention, he would have advised otherwise.
According to him, he was instructed by ‘Spectrum’ to sign an agreement between the Gambia Government and the Company which he said, was signed in The Gambia with the Secretary of State, but could not remember when this contract was terminated.
At this juncture, the legal adviser of the said Companies was shown some agreements and asked to confirm whether the one he signed was among them. After looking at them, he confirmed that the one he signed was not among; that he used a flash drive to make some amendments on the agreement he drafted for ‘Tell’.
He finally testified that upon signing the agreement, it was agreed that there should be exchange of correspondences.
Earlier, businessman Mr. Muhammed Bazzi, reappeared before the Commission to give evidence in relation to Spectrum International Investment Holding and Tell Management of the Gamtel gateway.
During his testimony, he informed the Commission that he knows the said Company as well as Ali Sarari; that he did not represent ‘Spectrum’ in The Gambia in the acquisition of the 50% share in Gamtel neither did he has interest in the Company. He acknowledged that he only brought investors to invest in the country as he has done for his own Company.
Testifying further, Bazzi said he introduced the Company to the former president for the negotiation for the contract, but could not remember meeting the former Finance Minister, Musa Balla Gaye, or Neneh Macdouall-Gaye, regarding matters relating to the Company.
According to Bazzi, ‘Spectrum’ and a Dutch Company started investing in Gamtel but five months later, they were kicked out and their contract terminated; that he did not know the reason why.
On the valuation of Gamtel, he said it was valued for $70,000,000 which he said came from the side of the former government; that the agreement was between Mr. Sarari, the former president and some former ministers. He however said out of this amount, ‘Spectrum’ only paid the sum of $32,000,000; that the Company was locally looking for money to start business with Gamtel.
Bazzi said Mr. Sarari paid $35,000,000 to CBG but Counsel put it to him that the records showed Mr. Sarari paid $32, 400,000 as part of the valuation agreement with Gamtel. After looking at a letter on the termination of ‘Spectrum’, he said he had not seen the termination letter because there were breaches and fraudulent activities by the Company; that he did not play any role in ‘Tell’; that he only negotiated the agreement with the former president but knew nothing about the termination of the ‘Spectrum’ contract, neither does he has any idea about Oratus Company.
According to him, two years later, he facilitated for ‘Spectrum’ to come back but does not have any shares in the Company; that he knows the head of Oratus whom he said may be a relative of Mr. Sarari.
At this juncture, Counsel Bensouda put it to him that he gave the former president an equivalent sum of money which was given to him by ‘Tell’, and paid into the personal account of the former president. Bazzi responded by revealing that he was paying $500,000 per month into the said account.
He denied ever serving as an agent or broker for the Company but said he was doing favour for the country and met Mr. Sarari for the first time in The Gambia, but never heard about him in Lebanon. When asked by Counsel why ‘Tell’ paid such a significant amount to the former president and that of his account in Lebanon, Bazzi said the former president requested for a loan from Mr. Sarari for the sum of $5,000,000 but Mr. Sarari refused on the grounds that he had earlier given a loan of $10,000,000 and was not refunded.
Mr. Bazzi however responded that he did not see any document indicating that a loan was given to the former president by Ali Sarari, but was told by Sarari himself; that Sarari never gave any statements as to how much ‘Oratus’ and ‘Tell’ got from the traffic fees. He said Mr. Sarari was claiming for the recovery of $30,000,000.
In responding to Commissioner Saine, Mr. Bazzi testified that it was not his choice to have that direct contact with the former president in the smooth running of his business; that ‘Spectrum’ officials were detained at NIA and later asked to leave the country on the same day they received their letters as ordered, because of allegations of fraudulent activities.
On the issue of a letter authored by Nuha Touray, former Secretary to Cabinet, indicating that government appointed MGI to manage the gateway, Bazzi responded that operators left the country and it was believe that he was the only one who knew where they were.
He said he was threatened and had to fly to Lebanon to bring Mr. Sarara to produce the switches; that when he got back to their country, he told Mr. Sarara that his investment in The Gambia was in jeopardy because of the problem they had in the country; that he even had to appeal to Sarara’s family to convince him.
At this juncture, Commissioner Saine asked him to explain the reasons why he was bringing investors into the country since he could have done his business without meeting the former president directly. Bazzi responded that it was not his choice to meet the former president and he did not want his Company to come down. Further responding to Commissioner Saine, he said it was necessary to bring in investors for the purpose of his business. On whether it was a condition on him to do that without which he would encounter difficulties in his business, he responded that it was not for his business but rather it was for ‘Tell’.
He was asked whether the payments made to the former president by ‘Tell’ were necessary, he responded that it had nothing to do with his business.
Sitting continues on Monday 22nd January 2018.