2 March 2018

Gambia: Former Westwood Official Testifies At 'Janneh' Commission

Mr. Anthony Panetta, former administrator of Westwood Company, was yesterday was taken to task by the 'Janneh' Commission as he was compelled to produce numerous documents relating to the said Company.

Mr. Panetta, a consultant with BPI Tourism and Services, was summoned in connection to Westwood, and is also expected to furnish the Commission with documents relating to the sale of vehicles by his former employer.

Earlier, Panetta told the Commission that the former president gave tax exemption to Westwood Company; that the Company was registered on the 16th April 2014, and he joined them in July 2014; but that he resigned in September 2017; that BPI is a registered Gambian Company and is responsible for the management of Ocean Bay and Sun Beach Hotels respectively.

On the shares of Westwood Company, Panetta said BPI owns 50% shares while Kanilai Family Farms owns 50%; that when he joined BPI in 2014, the former directors intimated to him that they had directives from the office of the former president for Westwood Company to export timber. However, he said the directive was not issued to him but rather to Westwood Company and he would not know when the Company started exporting timber.

According to him, the former Commander of the Republican Guards Saul Badjie, and one Mr. Nacrin, signed the contract for the exportation of timber on behalf of the Companies while the director was Dracos Hussein who was also a shareholder; that one Topya Mark is managing the hotels.

Panetta further told the Commission that there was an authorization from the office of the former president dated 1st June 2014 and a letter from the Department of Forestry dated 16th June 2014, authorising the Company to export wood; that another letter was from the Interior Ministry which was a permit for the exportation of wood as well; that prior to the authorization, he did not know what the Company was doing, noting that the Company was operating when he joined it and confirmed that it was only Westwood that was exporting wood from The Gambia. He stated that in 2015, the Company started the movement of timber.

At this juncture, documents relating to the Company were tendered and admitted in evidence.

Continuing his testimony, Panetta said the directors recruited him to work for the Company; that no taxes were paid before the change of government. He however said part of the taxes that was paid amounted to D20, 000,000. According to him, he was told that the former president gave the Company tax exemption.

On the relationship of Westwood and West Coat logistics, he said they are twin Companies.

Panetta informed the Commission that he was appointed as first director at the Mineral Company of The Gambia; that APAM and KFF had 50% share while Amila got 50%. A letter from the office of the former president, copied to the Inspector General of Police and the Commissioner General of the Gambia Revenue Authority (GRA) was also produced and admitted.

Further responding to Mrs. Bensouda, he testified that he did not know why Mr. Hussein registered the Company in 2014; that his responsibility was to work with the Managing Director on a day-to-day activities of the Company.

Dwelling on the vehicles belonging to Westwood Company, he confirmed that they used to own 5 vehicles but that these were sold to BPI Tourism and Services in June, 2017.

At this juncture, Mrs. Bensouda told him that he is required to provide documents relating to the sale of the vehicles, as well as total sums of money paid to KFF, including documents, indicating that they were exempted from paying taxes. He was also informed that Mr. Hussein should appear before the Commission.

Certificate of business registration, Export Certificate, Memorandum of Article of Association and related documents were admitted in evidence.

Further on the Mineral Company of The Gambia, he said there was an annual report on exploration from Koina and Badari respectively and the equipment at the airport was for the refinery of gold; But was quick to add that he would not know the source of the gold.

At this juncture, Commissioner Bai Mass Saine interjected and asked him why they decided to deal with a top military aide of the former president. In response, Mr. Panetta said it was strange to him because in his native country France, someone close to the government or a military chief is not allowed to do such. Further responding as to whether the practice of dealing with the ex-general was acceptable, he said it was not his decision.

He finally testified that Foresight Audit Firm's audited reports for Westwood Company were usually sent to the shareholders of the Company. He confirmed that the Company owned two dollar accounts at Zenith and Eco Banks respectively.

Testifying earlier, the outgoing mayor of Kanifing Municipal Council Mr. Yankuba Colley, revealed to the Commission that the opposition APRC had never received any funds or grants from KMC for its political activities.

Mr. Colley, who doubles as the party mobiliser, was summoned by the Commission in connection to the refurbishment of the party bureau by Omar Malack and Sons Enterprise, which contract he signed on behalf of the party.

According to him, the bureau belongs to AMRC but they were occupying the premises until they were forcefully evicted some time last year; that the purpose for the refurbishment was to enable the party to occupy the premises but could not ascertain whether the party was paying rent since he was not part of the administration; that AMRC inform them that they had arrears to settle.

Mr. Colley further revealed that he would not know the source of funds for the contract but believe that it was funded by the party itself. Colley however confirmed signing the contract which he said cost D1.9 million.

"I don't know the contractor at the time. It was the former President who identified the contractor as one Omar Malack. I would not know where the contract was signed but I believed it was signed at the office of the Secretary General", said Mr. Colley.

He claimed that the party's source of funds was through membership contribution and fund raising which he spearheaded; that Ministers, National Assembly Members and Mayors' salaries were deducted as contributions for the activities of their party; that the party had never received any fund or grants from KMC or the office of the former president for its political activities, further noting that he was not aware that the funds used for the refurbishment were public funds given by Taiwan.

Next to testify was Omar Malack, the proprietor of O. Malack and Sons Enterprise, who said he is a contractor and carpenter by profession.

Malack was summoned to explain the contracts awarded to him by the office of the former president for the renovation of the APRC bureau at Kanifing and the deputy governor's residence at Mansakonko in Lower River Region.

Mr. Malack told the Commission that he was called by the then Secretary General Ousman Jammeh, for the contracts.

According to him, the contract for the refurbishment of APRC bureau was signed by Yankuba Colley on 8th June 2010 and the cost of the contracts was D1.9 million which was funded by the Taiwanese government.

He said the contracts were executed and then produced the certificate of business registration and contract agreements to back up his evidence which were admitted as exhibits. During the course of admitting the documents, Chairman Sourahata Janneh observed that one of the documents bore O. Malack and Sons 'Limited' and asked him whether he owns any liability Company to which he responded in the negative. The Chairman then advised him not to use the word 'Limited' again since he does not operate a Liability Company.

Mr. Malack finally told the Commission that he had done other works for the office of the former president at Farato Farms in 2009, funded by the former president, Yahya Jammeh.

Hearing continues on Monday 5th March, 2018.

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