After the Yahya Jammeh Family in Equatorial Guinea were served with U.S. Court documents requiring their response to suits of forfeiture against this property in the U.S., an order was granted by the Maryland District Court on 29 September, 2021. United States District Judge Deborah K. Chasanow, granted the said order to forfeit the $3 million property to the U.S. Government.
However, sources confirmed that forfeiting the property to the U.S. government is not the end of the process. “It is justice for the people of The Gambia,” one civil society activist said in an interview yesterday.
“Immediately after the case began in U.S. Courts, the Victims Center wrote to the District Attorney of Maryland about this. We asked that proceeds from the sale of this property be used to compensate the victims of human rights violations under the 20 years of the Jammeh rule,” Sheriff Kijera, chairman of the Gambia Center for the Victims of Human Rights Violations said.
Mr. Kijera explained that several other consultations followed this letter, between the center and other stakeholders, including the U.S. Ambassador to The Gambia, and The Gambia government.
“Government has given assurances that this will be done. The U.S. Justice Department also agreed to set aside these funds to the Gambia after all processes of acquisition and sales are conducted,” he explained.
It had been a journey that began in 2016, when the Democratic Union of Gambian Activists (DUGA) began campaigning against the buying of the said property in Potomac, the U.S.A., after it was reported by an online Gambian newspaper.
“We first heard that Zineb Jammeh had bought a property in Potomac, Maryland, through this paper. The property was not identified in the said publication. So we began searching for the property sales from Montgomery property sales in Maryland during the specific timeframe in question…,” Chairperson of DUGA, Ms Sohna Sallah told The Point yesterday.
“We began physical tracing of the property after it came off that the house was bought with funds under a trust name. This is usually done to shield sources of the funds used in some dubious transactions such as money laundering and other criminal activities. We later confirmed that it was their house,” Ms Sallah further explained.
She, however, could not verify if the U.S. government knew about the property under the former dictator’s ownership or not. Or, whether it was the series of protests held at the property in 2016 that brought this to their attention.
“The campaign helped to raise public awareness on not just the property but also the decadence that Zineb was living under in the U.S.… Once Jammeh left in January 2017, the wheels started rolling to retrieve that property for The Gambian people,” Sallah said.
She expressed optimism that return of the proceeds from the property will be subject to paying off debts owed by the Jammeh family to entities in the U.S., plus legal costs associated with the suit. Once that’s done, The Gambia government would be allowed to take what is due to the Gambian people.
In December 2016, the U.S. State Department allowed Gambia government to take possession of a vehicle in the property because the Embassy was paying insurance on it. A Mercedes Benz S500 vehicle that was at the property after Zineb Jammeh vacated it in December 2016, went into possession of the Gambian Embassy.
For Mr. Sheriff Kijera, the chairperson of the Victims’ Center, he has a message to the NPP/APRC alliance that accountability for crimes committed under Jammeh are not beyond reach of Gambian people. “Even where the Gambia government did nothing, the U.S. government is already holding Jammeh accountable,” he said.