By Mamadou Dem
Mr. Ousman Njie, Acting Chief Executive Officer of the Standard Chartered Bank and Hawa Sisay Sabally, a senior private legal practitioner, yesterday appeared at the ‘Janneh’ Commission to explain monetary transactions carried out by the former regime. Mrs. Sabally was summoned in relation to the sum of $3,000,000 transferred by Captain Ebou Jallow, to a private bank while Mr. Njie was summoned in relation to the sale of Premier Agro Oil Company and Kairaba Beach Hotel respectively.
During Mrs. Sabally’s testimony, Counsel Bensouda, told her that some amount was retrieved by the Central Bank of The Gambia and it was said that the Ministry of Justice was involved. She then asked her to explain how the Ministry got involved in the transaction.
Mrs. Sabally however intimated that she was not the Attorney General at the time of the transfer but was the Solicitor General; that in 1995, she acted as the Attorney General but was finally appointed in 1997 and subsequently terminated in 1998. She finally testified that she would not know how the Ministry got involved.
Ousman Njie, Acting Chief Executive Officer of the Standard Chartered Bank, while appearing before the commission, apologized on behalf of the bank for not appearing on the 6th of December 2017. Mr. Njie testified that it was correct that their Bank sold Premier Agro Oil Company to the former Government in 2006; that there was an acknowledgement from Musa Balla Gaye, the former Finance Minister, confirming the payment of D20,000,000.00 in relation to the purchase of the said company; that the Sheriff Division was in charge of the sale and payments were effected through the Bank’s solicitor, Ms. Ida Drameh.
According to Njie, Premier Agro Oil Company was owned by Indians and was involved in the purchase and processing of groundnut. At this point, the witness, after looking at some documents given to him by Counsel, confirmed them to be in connection to the sale of the Company. He recalled that the Bank was dealing with the Ministry of Finance because the sale was arranged with them. Documents relating to the sale of the Company, including the Company’s statement of accounts showing deposits of D20, 000,000.00 in sequence, were admitted as exhibits.
When asked whether there was a title deed, he said the collateral was a plan but he was not sure whether a title deed was deposited; that they were searching for the Memorandum and Article of Association, noting that there was an overdraft given to Kairaba Beach Hotel and the facility was extended to the hotel to the tune of $2,500,000.00 for the renovation of the said hotel. When asked how he knew about these transactions given that there was no document with him, he responded that he knew it after he spoke to some staff of the Bank.
Mr. Njie further confirmed that the bank received a transfer of $10,000,000.00 out of which $7,500,000.00 was debited to Trust Bank; that the facility was liquidated. At this juncture, Commissioner Saine asked why the Managing Director of the bank did not appear and was told by the witness that he was out of the jurisdiction, but was comfortable to proceed with his testimony. However, it was put to him that the Commission was not comfortable with testimonies that were not accompanied with documents. The witness responded that they made searches for the Kairaba Beach Hotel file, but could not trace it out. Counsel urged the Bank to endeavour and produce the file because there was controversy surrounding the sale of the hotel. The Chairman of the Commission advised him to inform the MD of the Bank to appear before the commission. At this juncture, Counsel Bensounda told him that he was expected on the 18th of December 2017.
Next to testify was Mr. Abdoulie Cham, former Central Bank Financial Controller, who reappeared for the second time. Mr. Cham told the commission that in 2001, they went on a mission to Standard Chartered London, after they received a Power of Attorney in connection to a loan amounting to $150,000,000.00 in Los Angeles, in the United States of America; that the loan was between Jewel Finance Corporation and the former Government.
According to him, the purpose of travelling to Standard Chartered London was because the Banjul-based branch advised them to travel to the UK in respect of the loan, and they wanted to know the amount as well as the risk involved in the loan facility. Mr. Cham reiterated that $28,500,000.00 was withdrawn from CBG which he said was a bridging facility and was treated as such; that when they received foreign currencies, they would do the postings in their books but could not tell whether the sums of money were recovered. He further confirmed that there was a withdrawal of $5,000,000.00 on the instruction of the Ministry of Finance.
At this juncture, Mrs. Bensouda applied to tender an IMF Country Report dated May 2004, which was admitted together with the Power of Attorney and other relevant documents as exhibits.
Mr. Cham was asked about the proprietors of several Bureau de Change such as ‘Waychett Faling’, Global Investment and Asset Management, but he said he could not remember some of the proprietors. Commissioner Abiosseh George told the witness that she could not understand why some payments were made without capturing them in their records. Mr. Cham responded that since the former Governor, among others, never took formal responsibilities, he could not do otherwise.