After years of legal wrangling, a man accused of money laundering and immigration-related offences yesterday walked out of the high court in Banjul a freeman, after the court said not enough evidence was heard to secure a conviction.
Christopher Badjie, a Gambian with multiple names, was acquitted and discharged by Special Criminal Court judge Justice E.A. Nkea, following a marathon judgment delivered in his favour.
Badjie was initially charged with 19 counts, later dropped to 17 counts, eight of which were brought under the Anti-Money Laundering Act, and six charges brought under the Immigration Act; two counts of forgery and one count of uttering false documents.
The prosecutors had alleged in count 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 16 and 17 that on various dates between 2006 and 2007, the accused person transported 750,000 pounds sterling into The Gambia from the United Kingdom, being money unlawfully obtained from Mrs. Sandra Ryan.
The prosecution also accused Badjie of acquiring landed property in Bijilo with the proceeds of money unlawfully obtained outside The Gambia, and that with intent to defraud unlawfully obtained two gold wristwatches in the UK from Mrs. Ryan, respectively valued at 48,100 and 33,000 pounds sterling.
He was also accused of opening private accounts in his name with Trust Bank Ltd, Guaranty Trust Bank Ltd, Ecobank Gambia Ltd, into which he deposited proceeds of his unlawful activities in Britain and other countries.
Badjie was also accused of being in possession of several Gambian passports and ID cards with different numbers, and was alleged to have forged and uttered a forged South African international passport to immigration officials at Banjul International Airport.
The prosecution in order to prove their case called two witnesses and tendered several exhibits in support of the charge, while the accused did not testify in his defence, but called one witness and tendered one exhibit in support of his defence.
Justice Nkea in his marathon judgment reviewed the case of the prosecution and defence before pronouncing in favour of the accused person.
He said the burden to prove the guilt of an accused person was the duty of the prosecution, except otherwise provided for by statute.
The standard required was to prove beyond all reasonable doubts, he said.
The facts proved must be incompatible with the innocence of the accused, and if any reasonable doubt was raised on the evidence, the accused must be discharged and acquitted, he added.
Justice Nkea told the court that the law under the relevant section of the Anti-Money Laundering Act which forms the basis of count 1, required the prosecution to prove the following elements: that the accused transported funds from a place outside The Gambia to a place in The Gambia; that the transported funds were proceeds of an unlawful activity, and that the transportation was designed to conceal or disguise the nature, location, source, ownership, or control of the said funds.
“These elements must all co-exist before the prosecution can sustain a conviction,” Justice Nkea declared.
The offence under the section of the Act under which count 2,3,4,5,6,16, and 17 had been brought required the prosecution to prove that the accused acquired, possessed, or used a property; the accused knew or had reasons to believe that the property in question was derived directly or indirectly from acts outside The Gambia; and that such acts would have constituted an offence punishable by imprisonment of not less than two years if they had occured in The Gambia.
Justice Nkea further adduced that the concept of ‘criminal property’ which lies at the core of the money laundering offences, was essentially defined in the Act to include money, investments, holdings, possessions, assets and other intangible or incorporate property whether situated in The Gambia or elsewhere.
The evidence in support of count 1 was directly connected to the purported mortgage of PW2’s house from which she allegedly gave out unspecified sums of money to the accused person.
The entire evidence of PW2 in support of count 1 leaves him with more questions than answers, the judge went on.
He further stated that there was no evidence on record that the accused ever received the sum of 750,000 pounds sterling from PW2.
Even if it were to be believed, which was not, that PW2 gave the entire mortgage sum of 485,000 pounds to the accused, it has not been explained how that sum rose to 750,000 pounds as alleged in count 1.
“I now asked: ‘What is the amount of money which the accused allegedly receive from PW2?’ This question was not answered by the evidence in records.”
The judge stated that there was no evidence that the accused fraudulently or unlawfully obtained any money from PW2.
The judge holds that the prosecution in his view failed to prove the 17 counts against the accused person.
“From the foregoing, it is obvious that the prosecution failed to prove its case with certainty as required by law in all 17 counts. The accused person Christopher Badjie or Christopher Bah is accordingly acquitted and discharged from all the 17 counts,” Judge Nkea declared.
“In view of the fact that travel restraints had been in placed on the accused person, I direct that such travel restrictions are withdrawn forthwith”.
The judge also made an order regarding bank accounts in the name of Christopher Badjie.