22 November 2017

Gambia: 'Nearly U.S.$10 Million Spent On Maintenance of Aircrafts, Over D72 M On Hajj Packages'-Lamin Cham

The Managing Director of the Gambia International Airline (GIA), Lamin Cham, yesterday revealed to the 'Janneh' Commission that about ten Million US Dollars was spent on the maintenance of some of the States Aircraft's, within a period of three years and over D72, 000,000 was spent by the office of the former president on Hajj packages, from the year 2011.

He said he inherited five state aircrafts out of which, two were scrap while three were in service; that among the scrap aircrafts were C5 GNM and C5 GAM but that he could not remember how long they've not been used. He said Boeing 727 was last used during the political impasse when the former First Lady used it to travel to the United States.

According to him one of the Aircraft is under maintenance in Bonn, Germany, and has been there for two and a half years; that the last time they visited Germany, it was almost done and once Gambia Civil Aviation (GCA) recommends that it's airworthy, they will bring it back. He added that states aircrafts are jointly managed by the GIA and GCA but that GCA being the 'technical experts', are responsible for identifying maintenance facilities around the World, and submit their recommendations to GIA for onward transmission to the office of the former President.

Earlier business tycoon and proprietor of Excel Construction Company Amadou Samba, continued with his evidence but denied the claim that he was a close associate of former President Jammeh.

When asked by Commissioner Saine how often he used to communicate with Jammeh on phone. Samba said Jammeh whom he considers a friend, used to call him two to three times a day, or sometimes continuously for a week; that most of their talks centred on social issues and not business related; that though he was not visiting State House frequently, he used to clear security anytime he was supposed to meet the president at state house through protocols.

"My relationship with Yahya Jammeh was more on the phone than meeting him personally and he never visited me at my house. He used to invite me to his birthdays in his house together with others as a guest," he said.

When asked by Commissioner Saine whether he is the sole owner of the compound at South Atlantic road in Fajara, he responded in the affirmative noting that he acquired that property for $475, 000 from one Lebanese in 1994; that it is correct as alluded to by Commission Counsel Amie Bensouda, that he did endorse some of the properties acquired by the former president because Jammeh asked him to do so.

According to him, he played a pivotal role between the two former presidents, Jawara and Jammeh and was even the one who travelled to UK to bring former president Jawara back to the country.

On the ownership of Excel Construction Company, Samba said he owns 40% while Patrick Ricchatti and his son Kabba Samba, each own 30%; that the said Company is in operation and it was after the 30th December attack in 2014, that the former president requested for the fencing of State House. According to him, the job Jammeh wanted, needed specific skills and materials which a French contractor was initially contracted to do.

The contract awarded to Excel according to him, was in three phases and the first involved the payment of D11, 766,012 while the second phase of the contract amounted to D21, 324,470; that there is an outstanding sum of D2, 180,000 which triggered them to stop after completing 85% of the work contracted to them.

At that juncture, Mrs. Bensouda applied to tender the Memorandum of Article and Association, Business Registration Certificate, Certificate of incorporation, undated first phase contract for the fencing of state house as well as several letters from the Company, addressed to the office of the president as exhibits. However, the contract was returned to Mr. Samba on the ground that the attorney Ida Drameh, who prepared the document did not append her signature on it.

Commissioner Saine at that point reminded Mr. Samba that most of the expenditures were for the former president and the Commission rarely sees expenditures made on behalf of the Gambian people and then asked him to explain any project he knows where Jammeh ignored himself and put Gambians at the center stage. Mr. Samba in response said Jammeh is selfish and everything he does was for himself. He however said Jammeh did a lot of infrastructural projects for the country which people are benefiting from such as construction of roads, the airport and taking people to Mecca among others. On why he supported a selfish leader, Samba said it was his constitutional right to support any political party of his choice.

Earlier in his testimony while reacting to the testimony of Momodou Lamin Sonko, the country coordinator of MA Kharafi on the sale of Kairaba Beach Hotel, he said Sonko's testimony was an afterthought and that he deviated from his testimony; that he has listened to the evidence of Mr. Sonko whom he said was trying to manufacture evidence and appealed to the commission for Mr. Sonko to produce documents that he was alleged to have signed, with regard to the sale of Kairaba Beach Hotel. "There is nothing like Amadou Samba in the Sales Agreement of the hotel and I never went to the Standard Chartered Bank with Mr. Sonko in regard to the sale of Kairaba Beach Hotel," he clarified. Mr. Samba at that point tendered deeds of assignment on the sale of the hotel which he said was prepared by Commission Counsel Amie Bensouda, and was admitted as exhibit.

Mr. Samba testified that the document will show the history of the hotel since he has earlier told the Commission that the hotel was on liquidation at the time of the sale.

According to him, Baba Jobe was dealing with Robert Aswandi, former manager of the hotel and he was answering to the former president which he said indicated that the hotel belongs to Jammeh; because Baba did not have money to buy the hotel.

Mr. Samba said he dares not to say that Jammeh bought the said hotel from public funds and has no vested interest in the Chairmanship of the hotel which he said, was even symbolic because there was no commission for him and he was not hungry.

"I have never discussed the sale of the hotel with the ex-president but I remembered Robert Aswandi calling me on two occasions during the sale of the hotel, on the stocks and mortgage of the hotel. Apart from this, I knew nothing about the hotel," Mr. Samba added.

Next to testify was the Managing Director of Gambia International Airline (GIA), Lamin Cham, who became the Managing Director in January 2017. Prior to his appointment, he joined the airline in 1997 as Marketing Officer and rose through the ranks to become MD. Mr. Cham said the GIA was in charge of travels of the former executive; that they are also responsible for accommodating the pilot crew and their salaries; that the executive used to choose the type of aircraft they intend to use in collaboration with the ministry of foreign affairs and all budgets relating to their travel were submitted to the office of the former president.

According to the witness, from 2013 to 2016, the sums of $2, 360,664 and € 27, 507 were used as maintenance cost for C5 RTG while the sum of $6,6093,265 and €4,54,609.70 was spent as maintenance cost for the Challenger aircraft. At that juncture, Cham informed Commissioners that they did not produce any information on scraped aircrafts. However, he said there are no documentary evidence with him but at some point, they were made to understand that the Bazzi Group was in charge of managing state aircrafts.

Dwelling on the number of pilgrims Jammeh took to Mecca (Hajj) from 2011-2016, he said in 2011 the former president sponsored five people at a cost of D595, 000 while in 2012 he paid for 127 pilgrims through bank transfer, amounting to D17, 333, 500 and for that of 2013, the office of the former president sponsored 82 pilgrims which was also through bank transfer, amounting to D13, 858,000; that in 2014 there were 85 pilgrims and the amount involved was D14, 875,000 and in 2015, 44 pilgrims were sponsored for D9, 292,976. In 2016, he said the sum of D16, 940,000 was spent on 77 pilgrims.

Mr. Cham disclosed to Commissioners that they used to get instructions from the office of the former president that he was sponsoring certain number of persons for pilgrimage. At that point Counsel observed that from 2013-2016, GIA spent nearly $10,000,000 for maintenance of some of the aircrafts and spent over D72, 892,000 on hajj packages for pilgrims, from 2011.

Statements on Hajj packages sponsored by the office of the former president and expenses on the aircrafts from 2013-16, were admitted as exhibits.

Sitting continues today.

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