By Landing Ceesay
The first Prosecution Witness (PW1) in the Gam Petroleum corruption scandal trial at the High Court of the Gambia underwent a 3-day cross-examination by the defence lawyer.
Mr. Amadou Keita, Senior Finance Manager and former Acting Managing Director of Gam Petroleum Storage Facility Depot in Lamin Mandinary who first appeared in court on 9th May as Prosecution Witness 1 in the trial involving two Staff of Gam Petroleum was cross-examined on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
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.
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.
Mr. Keita, (PW1) told the court during his cross-examination led by Counsel Christopher E. Mene (Lawyer for the accused persons) that Gam-Petroleum has a licence to import petroleum products and that the fuel imported by different International Traders is co-mingled in the tanks.
Asked whether the local oil companies have inspectors at the Gam Petroleum depot, Keita said as far he is aware, he doesn’t know any local inspectors stationed at the depot by the local oil companies.
“I was not aware that the International Traders have inspectors, until when the shortage of stock at the depot came up. That was when I came to know that TRAFIGURA has inspectors at the depot. But for the local traders I don’t know of any and as far as I am concerned, they don’t have local inspectors,” PW1 responded.
Also asked whether or not, it is a requirement for both the International Traders and Local Oil Companies to have inspectors at the depot who will sign and endorse the holding certificates of the traders; PW1 responded that he doesn’t know whether it is a requirement for the traders to have inspectors at the depot.
He informed the court that it is the domain of the operations to know whether or not, it is a requirement for both the International Traders and local oil companies to have inspectors at the depot who will sign and endorse the holding certificates of the traders.
Counsel E. Mene, said exhibit P1 tendered by the state lawyer is not only about a throughput agreement, but also combined both the throughput and storage agreements.
“This agreement as you can see, I wouldn’t be able to identify which one is throughput and which one is storage. Some of these things we usually referred to our lawyers. But if you look at the document (P1) as a whole, yes it is both throughput and storage agreement,” PW1 told the court.
The witness continued that as the head of Finance Management at Gam Petroleum he never received any money from International Traders for storage; and he’s not aware that International Traders pay storage fees to Gam Petroleum.
PW1 said the throughput pay is charged to the local oil companies, and the charges are published by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs monthly; saying ‘the throughput in those documents are Petrol, GASOIL, and Kerosene’.
Further asked whether the Gam Petroleum Board of Directors carry out forensic audit before payment was effected on the approved settlement agreement; the witness responded in the negative
“The Board hadn’t done any forensic audit before making payments to the ADDAX, TRAFIGURA and PSTV,” he said.
Then asked whether he has knowledge on petroleum marketing, the witness answered in the negative.
“I am putting it to you that because of your lack of experience of how these things are done, the Board of Gam Petroleum approved payments to these traders, far in excess of what they are entitled to, if any,” Lawyer Mene said.
The witness said he was not a member of the Board and did not present the payment to the Board for approval.
Lawyer Mene also put to the witness that Addax Energy was overpaid to the tune of US $2.4 million because of the witness’ ‘lack of experience’; but PW1 responded that he wouldn’t know whether Addax was overpaid or not.
On who signed the cheques, invoices and transfers in respect to the payments to the traders, Keita said all the payments were authorized by the Gam Petroleum Board of Directors.
But the defence Lawyer insisted that his question was not answered, and in reply, witness Keita told him that they did issue cheques; adding the invoices came from the traders themselves.
Lawyer Mene informed the witness that the contracts between Gam Petroleum and the various traders had provisions on how to deal with how losses of petroleum products stored at Gam Petroleum are to be calculated.
“Did you follow those provisions in arriving at these payments?” Lawyer Mene asked.
The witness said those provisions are for the local oil marketing companies (OMCs); and said that does not apply to the International Traders (ADDAX ENERGY, TRAFIGURA and PSTV.)
Lawyer Mene then referred the witness to Exhibit 8 that was an agreement between Gam Petroleum and TRAFIGURA; noting that Article 7 makes provision on how to deal with calculation.
The witness said at the time the traders made their request, he did not have information relating to the quantity received from them.
He agreed with Lawyer Mene that the Board of Directors was dissolved, after the shortage of stock at the depot.
Mene then asked the witness whether he knows any member of the Board who has training or expertise in petroleum marketing; and the witness said he wouldn’t know because he doesn’t have access to their Resume.
“I am putting it to you that the Board had none who had such knowledge or expertise – they were involved in things that were technical,” Mene said.
“I cannot speak for the Board,” the witness replied to Lawyer Mene.
“Do you think it was right for the Board to approve payment without applying the formula in the agreement?” Mene asked.
“I don’t have an answer,”the witness replied.
Mene said in all storage agreements, there is compulsory insurance to cover all losses in petroleum products in store with reputable international insurance companies to cover all liabilities under various liabilities to the tune of 25 million dollars.
But Keita said that is not ‘correct’, saying ‘the insurance is for general liability and not loss in petroleum products’.
Lawyer Mene asked the witness whether general liability excluded loss of petroleum products stored at Gam Petroleum; but the witness responded in the negative. However, Lawyer Mene insisted that it is included.
Lawyer Mene told the witness that Gam Petroleum did not claim the US $25 million insurance because of their misconceived belief that loss of products is excluded; despite paying their premium to the international insurance company annually.
The witness still insisted that the loss of products is not covered by the insurance and added that the general liability clause does not include loss of products.
“Why do you find it necessary to include insurance when it does not cover products?” Mene asked.
“The agreement is not the same as the insurance contract,” the witness answered.
The witness said he received the claim from TRAFIGURA through one Abdou Rahman Barrow, Director of Star Oil Gambia Limited, who forwarded the claim to him via email. He added that Barrow was also a Board member of Gam Petroleum.
Lawyer Mene put to him that their agreement clearly indicated the channel of communication between Gam Petroleum and TRAFIGURA, is either through the emails, or postal addresses, therein provided; which the witness admitted.
“Is it not strange for TRAFIGURA, whom you said has an agent on the ground (in Gambia) did not communicate to you (Gam Petroleum) through their agent. They did not send a hard copy of their claim to Gam Petroleum. They did not send it via email to the acting general manager or to Gam Petroleum. But it had to be sent to someone who had to forward it to you. Is that not strange?” Mene asked.
The witness said it was not strange at that particular time; before Lawyer Mene then put to him that Abdou Rahman Barrow is the managing director of Petro Gas; which the witness admitted and added that it was the same man who came to his office together with one Ebrima Njie in connection to settlement in the matter of TRAFIGURA.
“Did that not seem strange to you considering all the circumstances TRAFIGURA has an agent on the ground?” Mene quizzed. “It was not strange,” the witness answered.
Mene said Addax Energy SA owns Atlas Company, a local oil marketing company but the witness said he does not know. Mene put to the witness that Ebrima Njie mentioned above is the director of Star Oil Gambia Limited and at the same time was a member of the Gam Petroleum Board, but the witness said he does not know.
Lawyer Mene said Star Oil Gambia Limited has always been interested, as they have previously indicated their interest over the position of the 2nd accused person – the operations Manager; but the witness denied knowledge of that.
Counsel Mene said in 2020, Star Oil wrote a letter to Gam Petroleum expressing their desire to take over the job of the 2nd accused person; but the witness further denied knowledge of that.
Lawyer asked the witness why the storage agreement with Addax was not provided before the court. “I have to refer to my lawyer,” the witness answered.
“I am putting it to you that the reason why you did not produce it was because no such agreement exists,” Mene said. “I don’t agree with that,”the witness said.
“I am putting it to you that you did not carry out a proper audit before you agreed to make payment to Addax,” Lawyer Mene said.
“There was no audit. These figures were reconciled with the stock cash we have. The reconciliation was done by the 2nd accused person and the Minister [of Trade]. I was present,” the witness said.
“I am putting it to you that it is not correct because these figures were not the figures the 2nd accused person worked upon or provided,” Mene said.
“I don’t know what the 2nd accused person provided, but one thing I know is that I have seen a holding certificate signed by the 2nd accused person,” the witness said.
When asked the whereabouts of the holding certificate, the witness said he does not know where it is.
Mene said the Board of GP did not see the fuel densities of the traders, but decided to pay them using average densities which is wrong but the witness said he was not a board member.
“The failure to consider these technical details by the people at Gam Petroleum resulted in the over payment to these traders and in some places, up to US $200 per ton,” Mene said.
“Personally, I don’t know,” the witness said.
The witness denied Lawyer Mene’s claim that the official work hour is from 8 am to 4 pm and that of the Operations Unit is from 8 am to 2 pm describing it as “not correct”.
On whether the 1st accused person blocked the trucks’ passageway using his vehicle, “the 1st accused person knows that I will not lie about him,” the witness responded.
The witness said the Malians started coming to Gam Petroleum to purchase products when the 1st accused person was the general manager of the company.
Mene went ahead to say that the 1st accused person was the one who went to Mali and did the negotiations and arrangements.
The witness on the other hand said he was not aware of any official trip concerning the engagement.
PW1 said some of the local oil marketing companies admitted liability and have been paying their debt in cash or return product, after the problem.
He added that some of the OMCs that failed to return their products that they took in excess are facing litigation in court.
Keita said Gam Petroleum recorded losses between 1st November and 31st December 2021; adding that during the reconciliation process as of the end of December 2021, they recorded negative variance.
He denied Lawyer Mene’s claim that between 1st November and 31st December 2021 GP recorded a loss of up to 2700 metric tons; but the Lawyer insisted that products were lost or missing at Gam Petroleum.
In response, the witness said whether lost or missing, all he can say was that their reconciliation balance indicated the book balance (record) was more than the physical stock they had – that they recorded negative variance.
“You will agree with me that the problem of GP is a system and process problem and not a personnel problem,” Mene said.
“I don’t agree with that because the personnel are the ones administering the system,” Keita replied.
The witness was discharged and the prosecution promised to call another witness.
Case adjourned to today, 16th May at 1:30 pm for hearing of the second prosecution witness.