By Landing Ceesay
The Managing Director of Star Oil Company Abdou Rahman Barrow, gave testimony in the Gam Petroleum Corruption Scandal trial.
Mr. Barrow appeared on Thursday as the Eleventh Prosecution Witness (PW11) in the trial involving two staff of Gam Petroleum at the High Court of the Gambia.
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 fuel products worth USD 20 million at the depot.
Mr. Barrow told the court that he has been in the petroleum business since 2013 and he was the financial controller of Star Oil Mauritania and The Gambia.
Talking about the relationship between Star Oil and Gam Petroleum, Mr. Barrow said Star Oil is a shareholder at Gam Petroleum depot with a 24.8% share.
He told the court that other shareholders at Gam Petroleum are Social Security and Housing Finance, Gambia Ports Authority, GNPC and the Ministry of Finance.
PW11 said in March 2021, Star Oil acquired Petro Gas and are the 100% owners of the company.
The witness said Star Oil being an OMC had a customer-client relationship with Gam Petroleum, and said as a shareholder, he was sitting at Gam Petroleum as a board member.
Barrow told the court that he knows all the OMCs in the Gambia except GACH Global, but knew about GACH when the fuel shortage hit Gam Petroleum.
“The only thing I know about Gam Petroleum’s relationship with GACH Global is that they had a throughput agreement with Gam Petroleum as an OMC,” Mr. Barrow told the court.
He said his company’s relationship with Gam Petroleum is that they store their products and pay Gam Petroleum their throughput fees.
Explaining to the court how he learnt about the fuel shortage at the depot, the. witness said Star Oil sent some trucks for loading and those trucks were not loaded while they had positive stock.
Mr. Barrow said he was then called to the depot by the Director of NIA Ousman Sowe, and they physically confirmed that the diesel was empty and petrol was very low.
“I then informed my board of Star Oil that there was a shortage at Gam Petroleum. I later informed the Chairman of Gam Petroleum Board of Directors Abdoulie Tambadou. On a Monday, I was called by SIS (NIA) and this time they wanted to check the stock level of heavy fuel, jet fuel and petrol in the tanks and we did that,” the witness said.
PW11 told the court that an emergency meeting attended by the 1st accused was called by the Board Chair of Gam Petroleum to discuss the shortage.
He said the board chairman informed the board about the claims from the Director of Star Oil Ebrima Ndiaye.
Mr. Barrow said the 1st accused explained that there was a delay in a vessel that was supposed to come to the Gambia; and added that they confronted each other during the meeting because Star Oil was not comfortable with the issue and wanted to better understand the stock situation at the depot to know who owes who.
“The next day, I remember Mr. Tambadou, Gam Petroleum Board of Directors Chairman and The then Minister of Trade went to the depot to investigate the stock situation. The Chairman said the government was to set up a task force to investigate the issue of missing stock,” Mr Barrow said.
He said during that period they were unable to get products from Gam Petroleum and had to import products from Senegal, which they are still being refunded by Gam Petroleum for.
Mr. Barrow said the OMCs were not the only ones claiming their products from Gam Petroleum, but even the International Traders were claiming for their products.
The witness said part of their missing products at Gam Petroleum were reconciled against the negative balances owed the depot and others were not accounted for.
He said when his company Star Oil was taking over Petro Gas, they were on a negative but ended up clearing it, and said Petro Gas and Star Oil were uplifting on a negative balance.
“This was a practice at Gam Petroleum but it is not a standard industrial practice. The depot is a warehouse where OMCs and International Traders store their products. The agreement said Gam Petroleum should not release the products without the authorization of the owners,” Mr Barrow told the court.
The hearing continues today for cross examination of the witness by the defence counsel.
Lawyer Abdul Aziz Saho 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.