By Mamadou Dem
Lamin Fatajo, Project Coordinator, and Muhammed Lamin Mass, acting Finance and Administrative Manager of the Rural Finance Project under the Ministry of Agriculture were yesterday, 11th September, 2014 arraigned at the Banjul Magistrates’ Court charged with a single count of ‘economic crime.’
According to the particulars of offence, the duo between the months of January 2013 to June 2014 in Banjul and diverse places, in the city of Banjul, as Project Coordinator and acting Finance and Administrative Manager of Rural Finance Project under the Ministry of Agriculture respectively, issued salary advances, unauthorized travel allowances, award contracts that do not follow the Gambia Public Procurement Agency (GPPA) regulations and unauthorized payments of sitting allowance which amounts to ‘Nine hundred and fifty-six thousand nine hundred and five dalasis (D965,905,00)” and seven hundred and seven thousand three hundred and twenty seven dalasi (707,327,00) respectively, that cause a detrimental loss to the economy of the Gambia, thereby committed an offence.
Both accused persons appearing before Acting Principal Magistrate Lamin Mbaye Snr. pleaded not guilty and was admitted to bail in the sum of five million dalasi each and ordered to produce a Gambian surety with a valid Identity Card and also surrender their travelling documents with the Registrar of the Court.
Prior to the granting of bail to the accused persons, Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP), Lamin Badjie, applied for the matter to be transferred to the high court as it is the court that has jurisdiction to hear such cases. He further applied for the accused persons to be remanded in prison custody pending the hearing of the case at the said court.
However, the defence team headed by Lawyer Borry Touray, who is together with Lawyer Lamin Camara, submitted that they were not objecting for the matter being transferred to the proper jurisdiction. He however told the Court that the submission made by the prosecution under Section 208 is misconceived.
According to the counsel, the discretion vested in the court to remand an accused person for an offence which the court does not have jurisdiction can only be exercised for non bailable offences.
“I submit that this offence is not an offence punishable with death or life imprisonment,” said counsel Touray.
The defence further submitted that investigations into this matter have been completed, adding that the charge before the court was not a ‘holding’ charge.
“No other reasons have been adverse to deprive the accused person from their constitutional right,” he submitted.
Lawyer Touray informed the court that both accused persons were senior civil servants. “They were detained for more than 72 hours since their arrest over the weekend,” he told the Court.
Counsel further submitted that there is no flight risk because they were earlier granted bail by the police, adding that they are all responsible members of society with families and that their incarceration would not only affect them personally, but also the members of their families.
“I want the Court to take judicial notice that the High Court is on vacation and this matter cannot be heard. I therefore urged the court to grant the accused persons bail,” said the defence counsel.
Delivering his ruling, Acting Principal Magistrate Mbaye Snr. said “I have listened very carefully the submissions of the prosecution and defence regarding the bail of the accused persons.”
According to the trial Magistrate, the prosecution referred the court to Section 208 of the Criminal Procedure Code, adding that the high court has the jurisdiction to treat the case.
“In light of the above, coupled with the fact that they were granted bail before and reporting at the police during the cause of the investigations, I hereby grant bail to the accused persons,” ruled Magistrate Mbaye Snr.
Consequently, the case is transferred to the high court of the Gambia.