By Landing Ceesay
The first Prosecution Witness (PW1) concluded his testimony in the Gam Petroleum Corruption scandal trial at the High Court of the Gambia.
Mr. Amadou Keita, Senior Finance Manager and Former Acting Managing Director of Gam Petroleum Storage Facility Depot in Lamin Mandinary appeared in court on Monday as Prosecution Witness in the trial involving two Staff of Gam Petroleum.
The two staff are Saihou Drammeh (1st accused), former Managing Director ,and Lamin Gassama (2nd accused), former Operations Manager at the Gambia Petroleum charged with 8 counts (3 counts of economic crimes and 5 other counts) in the alleged corruption saga.
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 on their alleged involvement in the alleged corruption, malpractices and the missing of USD 20 million at the depot.
Lawyer M.D. Mballow represented the State, while lawyers Christopher E. Mene, B. S. Conteh, S. Akimbo, Bakurin Pauline, and Sasum Sillah represented the accused persons in the hearing.
In Tuesday’s hearing, the State Lawyer Mballow reminded the Prosecution Witness to continue his testimony from where he stopped on Monday’s adjourned date.
In his testimony, Mr Keita said there was a meeting at the 1st accused person’s office which he attended together with one Muhammed Hydara from Mali, and that both the 1st and 2nd accused persons were in attendance.
Keita said they discussed how Hydara’s trucks were loaded and the 1st accused person told Hydara that their trucks will be loaded.
“After the meeting, a few days later, there was no progress in the loading of the trucks. Then Muhammad Hydara decided to leave the country for Mali and the trucks also went back to Mali without loaded,” the witness told the Court.
The PW1 said there was a day the General Manager (1st accused) blocked the entrance of the trucks at around 2 pm by placing his private vehicle on the road.
The Prosecution witness said the 1st accused person informed him that the trucks are not supposed to enter anymore because it was late for them to come.
The witness went ahead to explain that trucks could come at any time so long as they are at the facility; adding that sometimes they stay at the facility until 6 to 7pm and that it was very strange for the General Manager (1st accused) to do that.
Keita said there was a group of people who came to the facility for inspection and they were going in and out of the General Manager’s office; and they were at the facility for some days.
The Prosecution Witness said one Friday; they had a meeting with the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Gam Petroleum and the meeting was attended by the head of Human Resources and administration, the IT manager, and the acting operations manager and himself.
He said the Chairman informed them that there was an investigation commissioned by the President and that the Minister of Trade was the head of the task force.
“The Minister later (Minister of Trade) came to the facility together with his PS and they had a meeting in the conference room about the matter. The Chairman of the Board of Directors of GP gave instruction suspending the 1st and 2nd accused persons. The Minister then requested documents from the 2nd accused person, who was the operations manager at the time. The 2nd accused person couldn’t provide them with the documents and this prompted them to visit the software database of the company to check the stock data. Still, they could not get what they wanted,” Keita told the Court.
The witness said then he (Keita) wrote to some of the International Traders who are partners to the Gam Petroleum, including ADDAX ENERGY, enquiring about their stock they have; and then discovered that the data they have and the one he has are different.
Keita said that the International Traders were furious about the development at Gam Petroleum, and their trustees in the Gambia. He said Gam Petroleum was compelled to withdraw all their investment in the banks in order to meet up their obligations to pay their partners.
“As a result, we took drastic action to withdraw our savings from the banks and deposited it at the Eco Bank,” Keita told the Court.
The witness said In the Board Meeting; the settlement agreement between Gam Petroleum and ADDAX was reviewed and adopted by the entire Board.
He said ADDAX then stated that they got acknowledgement letters mostly prepared and signed by senior government officials and the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Gam Petroleum.
“So I remember the chairman contacted them. Finance Minister (Mambury Njie) through phone and asked him, if they can sign the debt acknowledgement letter from ADDAX to which the Finance Minister agreed.
“I remember on the 15th October 2021, the Chairman called me and said I should meet him at the office of Atlas petrol station in Old Jeshwang at 3pm to sign the settlement agreement. We met at the Atlas and the agreements were signed at Ebrima Njie’s office, the Managing Director of Atlas petrol station who was appointed as the Attorney of ADDAX in the Gambia,” Keita said.
The witness said in the settlement agreement, their payment terms and conditions are stipulated in it. He said when the agreement was signed, he received an email from ADDAX informing him that there is already a vessel at the port carrying about 6,000 metric tons of GASOIL and that they need space at the depot.
“We pay them the first 20% of the total amount owed to ADDAX from this payment, we provided a Bank guarantee and it was a joint Bank guarantee for ADDAX and TRAFIGURA. For us to fulfill that guarantee, Eco Bank requested cash collateral. They said that the cash collateral should be in US dollars and if it is going to be in Dalasi, it should be adjusted to plus 10%.
“In order to liquidate our short term investment in various Banks amounting to D430 million and move all the funds to our Dalasi account at the Eco Bank. Then Eco Bank decided to deduct our Dalasi account [a] little above D356 million for the cash collateral. So at the same time, we were also arranging to pay the 20% installment to ADDAX,” he said.
Keita said the 20% was equivalent to over US$1 million but because they could not find US Dollars in the market, they requested for ADDAX to give them the amount [in an] invoice in Euros. He said they were able to get the Euros from Eco Bank and they pay them through the Eco Bank online platform.
“The payment was successful, and they (ADDAX) confirmed the payment by email,” he said.
PW1 said once the process was completed online, they printed the payment receipt from the Eco Bank online Banking platform.
He said as part of their internal procedure, they prepared the payment vouchers signed by the respective signatories.
“For TRAFIGURA, we also have their settlement agreement signed on the 18th November 2021 like ADDAX; Gam Petroleum is obliged to pay 20% of debt to TRAFIGURA five days after the contract was signed. So we didn’t have enough cash in our account to pay the full 20%. We were able to pay USD $1, 350 000. The first payment was done and we paid USD $250 000 through Eco Bank using the same online banking platform. Then we used Zenith Bank to pay USD $1.1 million. We prepared vouchers with supporting documents attached to it.
“For TRAFIGURA and PSTV, there was an outstanding balance between them and Gam Petroleum. We did not have enough funds to pay them. So the board approached for the loan to be taken from Trust Bank for the approval of D1.2 billion. The Trust Bank needed approval from the Central Bank of the Gambia. So the approval was not forthcoming from the Central Bank. So the Chairman of the task force who is the then Minister of Trade (Seedy Keita) decided to step in because the deadline for TRAFIGURA was fast approaching. He invited the current Managing Director of Gam Petroleum and myself, to his office. So, we looked at the debt position of the 3 International traders (ADDAX, TRAFIGURA, and PSTV). After the deliberation, we concluded that D664 million will be able to pay off the debt,” Keita informed the Court.
The witness further stated that the message was communicated to the Central Bank Governor and the next day the approval of D664 million was given, instead of D1.2 billion.
He said they contacted all the local Banks for US Dollars but there were no Dollars available in the market at the time.
“We asked TRAFIGURA to convert the amount to Euro so that we can pay it in Euro. But there was no Euros in the market. So the Trust Bank suggested to the Central Bank that they can pay Gam Petroleum in Euros so that we can meet the deadline. This issue was treated as a national issue. So the Central Bank agreed. So we prepared the instructions and directed it to the Central Bank to pay it to TRAFIGURA. So the Central Bank successfully executed the payment,” he said.
The witness said the instruction was prepared and signed by him and the invoices attached to it in Euros on the 3rd and 4th March 2022.
He said after they did the transfer, Trust Bank deducted the Dalasi equivalent from their Dalasi account and gave them the dividend. Then they prepared the payment voucher and attached the supporting documents.
“For PSTV, we did negotiate and agreed on the settlement agreement. But we decided not to sign it because we had enough money to pay them. [But] they said in US Dollar [which] we could not get it in the market. Then we ask them to convert it to Euros invoices. We accumulated enough Euros to pay them. We issue instructions to the Trust Bank to pay them from our Euro account,” he said.
Mr. Keita said in addition, the Bank said they have to pay their shipment cost, and they agreed and the payment was done by transfer instruction.
The witness said on the 1st October 2021, they were having D430 million in their various Banks as fixed deposits. He said because of the pre-liquidation they lost interest income.
“Because, the amount involved in daily survival, Gam Petroleum was threatened and for the first time in 4 years Gam Petroleum recorded a loss for the month of November 2021. There were no products for the local companies to uplift, then our revenue for that month dropped by 50%,” Mr. Keita revealed in Court.
PW1 said since lack of products at the depot was a national issue, the government of the Gambia worked with PURA to give temporary licenses to the local companies to buy products from Senegal.
He said that move cost them revenue because they could not uplift, and said in addition to the loss of revenue, the goodwill of the company was also lost.
“Because the Malians did not only trust Gam Petroleum but the Gambia as a whole and the image of the country was affected as far as the Malians are concerned. I was in constant communication with the Malian companies, especially their heads. The International Traders stop bringing petroleum products in their names and local oil companies have to buy before the vessels reach the port. That has been going on up till now,” Mr. Keita concluded his testimony.
Then, the presiding judge Justice Haddy C. Roche adjourned the hearing to 11th May 2022 for the cross-examination of the witness by the lawyer of the accused persons.