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In Tamba, Fofona treason trial, witness denies knowing date of Fofana's arrest

Nov 2, 2010, 11:48 AM | Article By: Sainey M.K. Marenah

Muhammed Sowe, a police officer attached to the Major Crime Unit of The Gambia Police Force, yesterday told the special criminal court that he did not know the date of the arrest of Sarjo Fofona, the 2nd accused person.

Sowe  continued his testimony under cross-examination by defence counsel L.K. Mboge in the treason trial involving Lt General Lang Tombong Tamba, former Chief of Defence Staff, and Rear Admiral Sajor Fofana, former Chief of Naval Staff.

The duo are been tried before Justice Ikpala in connection with the 2006 foiled coup attempt allegedly spearheaded by the former CDS Colonel Ndure Cham, who was reported to be at large.

The accused persons, who were escorted to court amid tight security, with both hands cuffed and feet shackled, are facing a four-count indictment of conspiracy to commit treason, concealment of treason, and treason.

The witness denied knowing the date of the arrest of the 2nd accused, Sajor Fofana, when counsel Mboge asked whether he knew Fofana's arrest date.

"You said earlier in your evidence-in-chief that you wrote the statement of the 2nd accused," quizzed the  counsel and, in response, the witness said, "yes".

The witness admitted obtaining the statement inside the panel, in response to a question posed by counsel Mboge as to whether the said statement was obtained inside or outside the panel.

"Look at Exhibit B and tell the court the date you obtained the statement," counsel Mboge continued. Officer Sowe said, "On 28th April 2010".

"The 2nd accused was arrested on 2nd March 2010?" asked the counsel, and the witness replied, "yes".

"I guess it is true that it was 56 days from the date of the arrest of the 2nd accused to the day his statement was obtained," the witness said in response to another question by counsel Mboge with regard to the number of days.

"Will you agree with me that, for 56 days, the accused was not told the reason for his arrest," Mboge challenged the witness, who insisted that he could not recall that was the case.

"In exhibit B, is there anywhere that the 2nd accused confessed or agreed to the charges," counsel Mboge further quizzed.

The Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions, Mikailu Abdullahi, then rose and objected to the question on the grounds that it was only the court which could determine that, but not the witness.

He then cited section 3 of the Evidence Act, and urged the court to disallow the question.

In response to the DDPP’s objection, counsel L.K. Mboge said: "My lord, there is no question that is more relevant than this, and it should be allowed."

Justice Ikpala overruled the prosecution’s objection, and told the witness to answer.

Mr Sowe then said he did not know whether the 2nd accused confessed to the crime or not.

"I am putting it to you that the 2nd accused never agreed to the charges against him." In reply, the witness said: "I did not know."

Defence counsel L.K. Mboge then announced that he had no further questions for the witness.

The prosecutor then applied for an adjournment to call his next witness.

Mboge stood up, and told the court that he was objecting to the prosecution's application for an adjournment, on the grounds that "the prosecution has a list of witnesses and can call anyone."

"The prosecution ought to prepare themselves, and they have many witnesses in their custody, including Bunja Darboe and Yahya Darboe, both convicts my lord," L.K Mboge submitted.

"In the event that the court is minded to grant an adjournment, I am applying for consecutive days to expedite the case," Mboge told the court.

He further submitted that the remaining witnesses are under the power of the state, urging the prosecution to diligently prosecute the case.

Shortly before the prosecution's application for an adjournment was granted, Lawyer L.K Mboge said he had an application to make.

He told the court that it was reported to him that his clients were in shackles and chains, while being escorted to court, adding that there was no longer fear that the accused persons will escape.

"My lord the accused persons had never attempted to escape, since the beginning of the trial," he added.

"This is a constitutional matter. We will come formally, and argue that application," he told the court.

The case was then adjourned till the 3rd, 8th and 9th November 2010.

During Monday's court session, the guards escorting the accused persons to court attempted to shackle their feet while they were still in the courtroom, an action that prompted the trial judge, Justice Ikpala, to intervene, and he warned the officers to remove the chains from the accused persons when they are in his court. However, shortly after the accused persons left the court- room, security officers again placed shackles and hand-cuffs on them.

Meanwhile, outside the courtroom, relatives of the accused persons were seen shouting and crying bitterly.

Readers would recall that General Tamba was last July 15 convicted and sentenced to death after being convicted for treasonable offences, in connection with a 2009 alleged coup plot, along with seven other men by Justice Emmanuel Amadi.

Rear Admiral Fofana, it would be recalled, was the president of the general court martial that convicted and sentenced some military men for their role in the 2006 foiled coup attempt.