US$2.5M supposed to be paid to Forestry Department - Counsel Bensouda Tells Witness

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

The commission’s counsel, Amie Bensouda, yesterday told the director of Forestry, Muhammed Jaiteh, that the sum of US$2.5 million was supposed to be paid by West Wood Company to the Department of Forestry.

Mr. Jaiteh was testifying on the exportation of timber before the Janneh Commission. 

According to him, the exportation of timber started in 2007 and they constituted a committee to look for those who were interested in the exportation of timber. He stated that the Forestry Act was silent as to how the exportation of timber should be done, further disclosing that a permit is given upon the number of containers one can export.

He further revealed that the exportation of timber was controlled by the Department of Forestry; adding that West Wood Company was identified along with Universal Trading Company as stated in a letter by the former president.

Mr. Jaiteh told the commission that in June, 2014, West Wood Company was identified to export timber by the office of the former president. He added that it was given an exclusive permit, further stating that their department issued licence to applicants who satisfied the act to export timber, and that they were at the mercy of West Wood Company, and the company frustrated their efforts.

He explained to the commission that the company should not remove the wood without the consent of the Department of Forestry.

At this juncture, he presented a letter dated 27th of July, 2016, to the commission. However, Counsel Bensouda put it to him that US$2.5 million was supposed to be paid to the department of forestry. In response, he said this was the amount owing which had not been settled; adding that from 2014 to 2016 11,710 containers were exported by West Wood Company which should be able to tell the commission the total number of containers they exported.

According to him, the former president annexed some community forests, noting that Nyambai forest was annexed by the former president in 2009. He testified that West Wood Company paid the sum of D77, 954,000 to the forestry department, and that no step was taken in 2016 to stop the exportation of timber.

At this juncture, a report prepared by the witness was tendered and admitted in evidence.

Next to testify was Hassan Jallow, permanent secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, who reappeared in connection to the Japanese Food Aid.

Prior to dwelling on the subject matter, he was shown some documents for the delivery of rice to KGI which he signed. He said the process was led by the Ministry of Agriculture and he informed KGI in writing about the arrival of the vessel for the rice from the Japanese grant, adding that he was not responsible for delivery of the rice to KGI.

Mr. Jallow revealed that he was not aware of any arrangements for KGI to pay monies generated from the sale of rice to the Central Bank, noting further that he did not know when the account at the Central Bank was opened.

At this juncture, Counsel Bensouda put it to him that he could have found out what was happening at the ministry, and he said that he could not and that Cherno Mballow, the then director, would be able to help.

Counsel Bensouda again put it to him that KGI owed the former government D189,676,154. In response, he said he never dealt with this issue, and that he did not know whether there was any reconciliation done.

He was urged by the commission to provide some outstanding information concerning the directors at the ministry. 

Testifying via Skype, Mr. Muhammadou Batata Juwara, former deputy chief of protocol of the former president and currently based in New York, testified in connection to the lifting of crude oil to The Gambia from the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

He said he was not involved in the lifting of the oil; adding that he was given a power of attorney by the former president to go to Nigeria to sign for the crude oil deal. However, he said he could not remember whether it was to sign on behalf of the former government or the former president in August, 1996.

“I received a letter from Dominic Mendy dated 26th August, 1996, which was a power of attorney and the former president asked me to go to one Mr. Johnson who gave me some documents which I took to Nigeria,” he testified.

On whether he travelled alone to Nigeria, he responded in the negative; adding that he went with one Samuel Sarr whom he said was a businessman from Senegal. He said he met Sarr and one Mr. Ndow at Kairaba Beach Hotel while strolling with his children. He stated that Mr. Ndow introduced Sarr to him and said that Mr. Sarr wanted to see the former president but it was not possible.

He said when he reported to work the following day, he asked the former president whether he saw Mr. Sarr and the former president responded that he did not trust Mr. Sarr. However, he told the former president that it was important to listen to them at times.

He then asked him to invite Mr. Sarr to come to state house and then told Mr. Ndow that Sarr had an appointment with the former president. He said Mr. Sarr told him to travel with him to Niger but he told him that he could not proceed to that country without obtaining permission from home.

He said he then contacted the former president and he (Jammeh) asked him to join Mr. Sarr in Niger. He said upon arrival in that country, he was given a secret code and he went to the French embassy in Niger and was asked to wait in his hotel in Niger.

Mr. Juwara disclosed that somebody met him at his hotel with a suitcase containing CFA currency which was handed to him and the person left; adding that Mr. Sarr told him to travel with the suitcase of money to The Gambia. He narrated that he went to the VIP lounge and later travelled to The Gambia.

He stated that the man who met him at the hotel was a French man and the sum of money in the suitcase was 60,000,000 CFA, further noting that he went to Dakar where somebody was waiting for him at the airport, who told him that they should travel by land.

According to him, the man told him that the former president was waiting for him, and he then called the former president and asked him whether he was the one who authorized the person to travel with him. He said the former president confirmed it and then they both travelled to The Gambia.

He stated that the said man was the Gambian high commissioner to Dakar, who was Mr. Njogu Bah, further testifying that he met Samuel Sarr once or twice about the signing of the crude oil.

Mr. Juwara told the commission that he was just like a messenger on his trip to Nigeria, and that he went to the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) with the power of attorney, and that Maba Jobe was the high commissioner to Nigeria.

He further revealed that he saw no relevance for him to be given a power of attorney when he was travelling with Dominic Mendy to Nigeria as the Trade minister, noting that he also signed a contract with Chanrial Company in France while he was there with Mr. Samuel Sarr.

The former protocol officer disclosed that there was an agreement dated on the 23rd of August, 1996, with Nigeria and the former government which he signed, and that he was only told that crude oil was given to the former president but he could not remember how much oil was allocated to The Gambia.   

 Sitting continues today.

Author: Dawda Faye