By Landing Ceesay
Saihou Drammeh, former Managing Director and Lamin Gassama former Operations Manager at the Gambia Petroleum Storage Facility Depot have been granted a US $10, 000, 000 bail bond on Thursday.
Saihou and Lamin are accused of corruption, malpractices, cover-ups, and the missing of $20 million at the Gambia Petroleum Storage Facilitydepotin Lamin Mandinary.
Following the allegations, the duo were arrested and charged with 8 counts including charges of economic crime.
The accused appeared in Court on Wednesday for the first time since their arrest in November 2021. However, the accused persons pleaded not guilty to the 8 counts, 3 of which are economic crime charges.
Counsel M.D. is the lawyer representing the state, while B.S Conteh, and S. Akimbo, are representing the accused persons; before the presiding judge, Justice Haddy C. Roche of the High Court.
On Wednesday, the lawyer for the accused persons B. S. Conteh filed an application for the Court to grant his clients bail, pending determination of their case.
However, on Thursday, day 2 of the trial, the lawyer for the State M. D. Mballow filed a counter affidavit to the Court for the accused persons to remain in custody pending the determination of the case.
He said both the 1st accused person (Saihou Drammeh) and the 2nd accused person (Lamin Gassama) do not have strong family background in the Gambia and can easily jump bail, if granted.
“Your lordship, it is evident that both the accused persons do not have wives and children in the Gambia. So if they are granted bail, they can easily abscond because they have no strong family background in the country,” the state lawyer argued.
Counsel Mballow further argued that if the accused persons are granted bail, they might interfere with their witnesses during the court process.
He also argued that both accused persons were not reporting to police regularly, after their bail from custody, prior to the commencement of this trail.
In his submission, lawyer S. Akimbo for the accused persons said the State does not provide any document as an evidence to prove that the accused persons do not have a strong family background in the Gambia.
He added that although the children and wives of the accused persons are not in the Gambia, but their brothers, sisters, uncles, fathers and mothers are in the country.
Lawyer S. Akimbo argued that the counter affidavit filed by the State does not have any proof to show that the accused persons were not reporting to the police station regularly.
“It is our submission that bail is a Constitutional Right for any accused person and it can be found in section 19, subsection 1 of the 1997 constitution that accused persons have the right to be bailed in the Gambia,” lawyer Akimbo stated.
Akimbo continued that the charges brought against the accused persons are classified under the Criminal Code, and under Economic Crimes Act; and said both are ‘bailable’ offences, not ‘capital offences’.
Meanwhile, Justice Haddy C. Roche, in her ruling on the application for the Court to grant the accused persons bail, pending the determination of the case; after hearing the arguments of both parties stated that the accused are not yet charged with money laundering, and the police who are said to be investigating the money laundering claims against the accused had granted them bail on the matter six months ago; and the police to date, have not revoked that bail, despite the allegation that they are investigating money laundering claims against the accused persons.
Justice Roche added that there is no evidence that the accused persons have either attempted to interfere with witnesses or jump bail during the six months in which been on police bail.
She continued that the State also argued that the accused persons will not have sureties to meet their bail conditions; but said that however, does not stop the court from respecting the Constitutional provision of ‘presumption of innocence and granting bail’.
“The charges against the accused persons are indeed serious. However, the charges are in respect of bailable offences, which are yet to be proved. The accused persons have the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Therefore, their right to bail must be respected. Balancing these factors will require the court to impose bail conditions that reflect the seriousness of the charges, but it does not require the court to refuse to admit the accused persons to bail,” she said.
Upon hearing the counsel and a careful study of the application for bail, the charges against the accused persons, and the attached witness statements, Justice Roche ordered that each of the accused persons be admitted to bail upon providing security in the sum of US US $10, 000, 000 with two Gambian sureties each in like sum of US US $10, 000, 000.
She further ordered that each of the accused persons and sureties must deposit with the court, the original title deeds to their property confirmed to be valued in like sum of US $10, 000, 000.
“Any property provided as security by the accused persons and their sureties must be confirmed to be free from encumbrance. Each accused person must surrender his passport and any other travel documents to the court,” Justice Haddy C. Roche ruled on 5th April 2022, on the application filed by the lawyers for the accused persons for the Court to grant their clients bail pending determination of the case.
The presiding judge then adjourned the hearing to Monday (9th of May 2022), a day on which the State is expected to bring its first witness to testify.