Lang Conteh Narrates Ordeal with the Former Regime

By Mamadou Dem

Continuing with his testimony before the ‘Janneh’ Commission that is probing into the financial dealings, assets and close associates of former president Yahya Jammeh, the former Foreign Exchange Manager at the Central Bank of The Gambia Lang Conteh, alleged that the ‘Paul’ Commission was setup purposely to investigate him on how he acquired his assets and other luxuries.

According to him he has been into investments since he was in University in the United States and that he invested substantially in Stock Exchange; that this was where he acquired most of his wealth prior to his return to the Gambia in 2000.

Earlier, he said when he was arrested and charged, there was nothing in the charge sheet regarding Kairaba Beach Hotel neither was it mentioned during the course of his trial. He reiterated that the former president wanted him and Baba Jobe to transfer ownership of Kairaba to Amadou Samba, but they insisted and the only thing they agreed on was to transfer the management to Mr. Samba which they did in the form of a letter and signed; that when he went to the hotel to deliver the letter to the Manager, Mr. Samba showed up but that Baba Jobe was not happy with that; that since after that transaction, he did not know anything about the hotel.

The former Manager said when he was arrested he made a statement about Kairaba Beach Hotel, noting that after seven months of detention at the NIA, Mr. Jobe was also brought and they were forced to sign a document on the basis that they will be freed despite the presence of his lawyer, Antouman Gaye at the NIA, who wasn’t allowed to enter; that his case was investigated by the current Director General of the State Intelligence Service (SIS) together with Sheikh Omar Jeng.

Asked what relationship he had with the late Baba Jobe, the witness responded that Mr. Jobe was his friend prior to becoming a business associate and it was held that he would be responsible for the outstanding $2,000,000.00 for the purchase of Kairaba.

When shown a document bearing his signature with Baba Jobe regarding the transfer of ownership, he said when he was working at the Central Bank, there was nothing like transfer of ownership until when they were arrested and detained by the former regime; that the document they signed while in detention and the one before the Commission were at variance.

During his trial, he said the then Director of Public Prosecution Emmanuel Akim asked for a plea bargain because they did not want the issue of Kairaba to surface in the trial; that he was sentenced to a year which was reduced to five months because of the seven months he spent in detention at the NIA; that all his businesses were confiscated before he went into exile in Senegal. He said prior to the confiscation of his businesses, armed soldiers mounted his Camelot shop and ordered him to close which he said triggered him to go into exile at the said country. On why he and one Abdoulie Cham of CBG went to the United States to negotiate a loan for president Jammeh, he said they were mandated by the former governor of the bank and the loan was finalized. The witness further testified that after he exposed Jammeh’s financial behaviour to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the IMF came up with a condition that the CBG should be an independent bank.

“As the former Foreign Exchange Manager, I report to the Finance Director and General Manager and the balance sheet of the bank then was very transparent and there was nothing that could be hidden. Yahya Jammeh never put a dime for the acquisition of the Kairaba Beach Hotel. It was only after he knew that Baba Jobe has completed the purchase, that he intervened and took ownership of the hotel forcefully,” he disclosed.

According to him the governor of the bank and his deputy, together with the finance director, were the principal officers who could have allowed the former president to take away money without the knowledge of the foreign exchange department and had it been there was no change of government, he (Conte) would have been languishing in Mile Two by now.

Mr. Conteh told Commissioners that when he came from the United States, he found the management of CBG complaining about how the former president loots money from the bank; that he was the first person to ask management to put a stop to it. He said Jammeh’s act for rampant withdrawals of money from the bank, was among the reasons the dalasi depreciated negatively at the time; that the total money Jammeh took from the bank at the time was $10,000,000.00 and they asked him to pay back the money which was done. Mr. Conteh further testified that Baba Jobe transferred 49% of shares of the hotel as well as in “money shop” but there was no document to authenticate this.

Next to appear before the Commission was Adama Njie, former accountant at the office of the president. Mrs. Njie testified that she was responsible for the payment of per-diems. She said she could not remember exactly when she started dealing with the special security account from where the payment of per-diem was made from; that D302, 000,000.00 was spent on per-diem from 2011-2016. According to her, D7, 700,158.00 was spent  as per-diem to the former president and his delegation to Washington in 2011 while in 2013 the sum of D69, 600,000.00 was paid in respect of six trips, out of which was a trip to Paris, France. At that point, Commission Counsel Amie Bensouda told the witness that she will be given time to put her house in order so that she can come back with the list of all the payments, trips and destinations she paid per-diem on.

Hearing continues today.