‘Ex-President gave tax exemption to Westwood Company’

Friday, March 02, 2018

Anthony Panetta, a consultant for BPI Tourism and Services and former administrator at Westwood Company, yesterday told the Janneh Commission that the former president gave tax exemption to Westwood Company. He was testifying in connection to the said company.

He stated that Westwood was registered on 16 April, 2014, and he joined the company in July, 2014, but resigned in September, 2017.

He added that BPI is a registered Gambian company and is responsible for the management of Ocean Bay and Sun Beach Hotel respectively.

On the shares of Westwood Company, he said BPI owns 50% share while Kanilai Family Farms owns 50% share, noting 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 timbers.

However, he said the directive was not issued to him but rather it was issued to Westwood Company and he would not know when the company started exporting timbers.

According to him, the former commander of the Republican Guard, General Saul Badjie, and one Mr. Gabriel Akram Nakhleh signed the contract for the exportation of timbers on behalf of the companies while the director was Dracos Hussein who was also a shareholder, further stating that one Topya Mark is managing the hotels.

Mr. Panetta told the commission that there was an authorisation from the office of the former president dated 1st of June, 2014, a letter from the Department of Forestry, dated 16th of June, 2014, authorising the company to export wood, and another letter from the Interior Ministry which was a permit  for the exportation of woods as well.

He said prior to the authorisation, 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 woods from The Gambia. He stated that in 2015, the company started the movement of timbers.

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

Continuing his testimony, he said the directors recruited him to work for the company, noting that no taxes were paid before the change of government. However, he said part of the taxes was paid to the tune of D20, 000,000. According to him, he was told that the former president gave the company tax exemption.

On the relationship of Westwood and Westcoat logistics, he said they are twin companies.

Mr. Panetta informed the commission that he was appointed as first director at the Mineral Company of The Gambia, noting 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, however, he said his (Panetta) responsibility was to work with the managing director on the day- to-day activities of the company.

Dwelling on vehicles belonging to Westwood Company, he confirmed that the company used to own 5 vehicles but they 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 Bank respectively.

The outgoing mayor of Kanifing Municipal Council, Yankuba Colley, in his testimony, revealed to the commission that the opposition APRC had never received any funds or grants from KMC for its political activities.

Mr. Colley, who also 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.

He said the purpose for the refurbishment was to enable the party to occupy the premises but he could not ascertain whether the party was paying rent since he was not part of the administration. However, he added that AMRC did 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 the cost of the contract which he said was D1.9 million as well as signing it.

“I don’t know the contractor at the time; it was Jammeh who identified the contractor who was one Omar Malack. I would not know where the contract was signed but I believed it was signed at the Office of the Secretary Genera,l” said Mr.Colley.

He claimed that the party’s source of funds was through membership contribution and fund raising which he spearheaded; adding that ministers, National Assembly Members and mayors’ salaries were deducted as contributions for the activities of their party.

He finally testified that the party had never received any fund or grants from KMC or the Office of the 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.

He 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 8 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 ‘Ltd.’ and asked him whether he owns any liability company to which he responded in the negative. The chairman then advised him not to use ‘limited’ again hence 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 and Farato Farms in 2009 which were funded by the former president, Yahya Jammeh.

Hearing continues on Monday 5th of March, 2018.

Author: Dawda Faye