By Landing Ceesay
The former Board Chairman of Gam Petroleum (GP) Storage Facility Depot in Lamin Mandinary, Mr. Abdoulie Tambadou testified in the company’s corruption scandal trial.
Mr. Tambadou appeared in court as the Fifth Prosecution Witness (PW5) in the trial at the High Court of the Gambia involving two Staff of Gam Petroleum.
The 2 staff namely Saihou Drammeh (1st accused), former Managing Director and Lamin Gassama (2nd accused), former Operations Manager of the institution are charged with 8 counts (3 counts of economic crimes and 5 other counts) in the alleged corruption scandal.
The eight counts are levelled against the two in their maiden court appearance at the High Court in Banjul on 4th April 2022 presided over by Justice Haddy Roche.
Their appearance in court followed their arrest regarding their alleged involvement in the alleged corruption, malpractices and the missing of USD 20 million at the depot.
Mr. Tambadou told the Court that the relationship between Gam Petroleum and the International traders is a petroleum storage relationship; adding that the relationship between Gam Petroleum and the Oil Marketing Companies (OMCs) are throughput facilitation commonly known as (TPF).
“The storage relationship has to do with the international traders signing storage agreement with Gam Petroleum. In which volumes of petroleum products are stored in the depot and the various charges are detailed in the agreement with the respective agreement of the parties,” he said.
Explaining to the court the shortage of fuel at the depot, Mr. Tambadou said around October 2021, one of the private shareholders (Star Oil Gambia) during a board meeting raised a query on the Gam Petroleum that their own petroleum stock together with other international traders went missing at the depot.
“A letter was then written to myself as chair of the board of directors at Gam Petroleum by Ebrima Njie, one of the non-residents board of directors at Gam Petroleum on behalf of Star Oil Gambia Ltd. After receiving the letter, an extraordinary board meeting was conducted by myself in which a representative from PURA was invited and the whole board met to dig into the issue of the allegation related to us by Star Oil Gambia Ltd. During that board meeting, PURA explained the inspection report of the status of the tanks. Whilst Ebrima Njie’s letter was read in the board meeting where his 2nd board representative Mr. Abdou Rahman Barrow, the Star Oil Managing Director gave explanation to the rationale of the letter,” the witness told the Court.
The witness continued that the 1st accused (Saihou Drammeh, former Managing Director) was part of the board meeting.
When the state counsel M.D Mballow asked whether the 1st accused was confronted at the meeting, the Defence lawyer Christopher E. Mene arose to object to the state counsel’s question.
The state counsel M.D Mballow, then changed his question by asking the witness about the reaction of the 1st accused. The witness then said the 1staccused was asked to provide his explanation on the letter from Star Oil and the explanation of the status of the stock by PURA. The witness said the 1st accused denied the status explanation that there were missing stocks.
“The explanation he gave as to the fuel shortage was that, there has always been the practice of loading stocks to OMCs who have confirmed nominations, meaning confirmed expected delivery of petroleum at the board meeting,” the witness said.
State Counsel M.D Mballow asked the witness whether he believed the 1st accused’s explanation as to the reason for fuel shortage. The witness responded in the affirmative, and said he did not have any reason not to believe as he had not seen the individual records of the negative stocks that led to the fuel shortage.
“From the storage agreement, I do not think that the international traders knew about the explanation. Because the storage agreement between Gam Petroleum and the International traders does not allow for the giving of credits to the OMCs which led to the negative stock as far as I’m aware,” the witness said.
The witness said there was a stoppage of operations in the depot for both Petrol and diesel as both quantities were completely finished at the depot; which he added sparked public outcry on the lack of petroleum products.
The State Counsel M.D Mballow asked the witness whether he found out from the international traders regarding the 1st accused version. The witness responded in the affirmative.
“A meeting that I attended in which an ADDAX representative disputed the version of the 1st accused of allowing OMCs to uplift their products on negative balances, they requested for the immediate settlement of their fuel products before they reconsider their decision of not bringing fuel into the country.
“When the Officer for ADDAX made the assertion. He was requested to formalize the claim and to make reference to the agreement signed between Gam Petroleum and ADDAX on the storage, the products and the volumes i.e., the quantities and the price of those products. He was requested to produce the format of Bank guarantee, they required as a minimum to reconsider their position of not bringing fuel to Gam Petroleum and that agreement was made and submitted to Gam Petroleum,” the witness said.
The witness said the inconsistency as far as the non-approved releasing of petroleum products as explained by ADDAX compared to Gam Petroleum explanation as being normal practice was part of the allegations written to Gam Petroleum and operations manager to provide explanation with respect to their disciplinary proceedings.
“Did you observe any inconsistency between ADDAX and 1st accused regarding the respective disciplinary proceedings?” state counsel M.D Mballow asked. “The stock physical quantities found in the depot were knocked off against the claim from ADDAX as to their total quantities left in the depot that was used in the settlement agreement. The reconciliation was not agreeing to the claims from the traders as both the 1st and 2nd accused were not able to provide final figures of the stock of the traders and the OMCs,” the witness responded.
The witness said as a board, they did a reconciliation exercise with the government led by the then Minister of Trade and that they held meetings at both GNPC Headquarters and at Builders.
He said the 1st reconciliation meeting was attended by the 1st accused while the subsequent meeting was attended by both the 1st and 2nd.
“During the 1st reconciliation meeting at PURA, the 1st accused explained that they have stock figures in the depot and was allowed to go with Mr. Gassama the 2nd accused and the police with PURA representative Mr. Ceesay, but the reconciliation proved that no accurate records were kept of the traders and the OMCs. It was during one of those meetings that the task force was set up by government advice for the police to do a full investigation and take the necessary action,” he said.
The witness said during one of those reconciliation meetings in a late-night exercise when PURA and 1st accused went to the depot to confirm but they came back without reconciling figures.
Mr. Tambadou added that the minister of trade as head of the task force then requested the continuation of the meeting that very night in PURA.
The witness said it was during that meeting when the task force had a review of the OMCs position stock, traders’ stocks and OMCs negative stocks name by name.
“When that information was confronted to the 1st accused, he then confessed to having been allowing some of the OMCs to be receiving stocks even though those OMCs did not have confirmed nominations meaning confirmed expected deliveries. At that night the task force directed that the reconciliation be exhaustive and then go to the 1stand 2nd accused persons with the security personnel to the depot that same night.
“After a day or two, the task force requested for an update of the reconciliation and the security personnel were called at GNPC Brusubi and the figures still differed with the OMCs and the traders. That same information was related to the subsequent meeting of the GNPC and I was giving the information to Gam Petroleum on the status of the reconciliation,” he said.
The witness said as far as he knows the figures provided by 1st and 2nd accused were never reconciled and that of the claims of the international traders and the OMCs.
Mr. Tambadou said the international traders provided the evidence of their deliveries to the depot, the vessel outcome signed by 2nd accused, also provided copies of approved releases, which Gam Petroleum used to allow in tank transfer from the respective traders to the OMCs.
He said the traders also provided stock holding certificates signed by the Operations Manager of the depot who is the 2nd accused.
“The OMCs positive stock provides evidence of the release and from the negative side they also provided to Gam Petroleum their evidence. We allowed them the net of the two, if the release is more than the approved release from their respective stores then one is termed as positive OMCs. If it is reversed i.e., if you issue out more than receive from the international traders is termed as negative.
Talking about how Gam Petroleum arrived at settling the International Traders, Mr. Tambadou said the settlement mentioned in the ministry was the agreement reached with the international traders on terms and conditions of how Gam Petroleum will pay the said missing stock.
Mr. Tambadou said the International Traders were asked to submit their claims, bank guarantees and a board meeting was called in which verification was made of the quantities. He said the figures provided by them was less than the physical quantity found at the depot.
“I was involved in the settlement agreement of ADDAX ENERGY and TRAFIGURA of Singapore and they were negotiated by me. For the PSTV, I partly participated before and I was moved out as chairman of board of directors at Gam Petroleum,” he said.
Lawyer M.D. Mballow represented the State, while lawyers Christopher E. Mene, B. S. Conteh, S. Akimbo, Bakurin Pauline, and Sasum Sillah represented the 1st accused and 2nd accused persons in the hearing.
The hearings would continue on Monday