Jetliners, limos on the block as Gambia sells autocrat's assets

Saturday, June 30, 2018

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BANJUL, Gambia (AFP) — Gambia's ex-President Yahya Jammeh flew into exile last year, leaving a fleet of presidential planes and luxury cars as a memento of more than two decades in power.

Now the government is looking to sell the former autocrat's assets to raise millions of dollars for health and education projects in the dirt poor nation.

Five planes and 30 luxury cars including Rolls-Royces and Bentleys, as well as four plots of land in some of the country's finest tourist areas, are to be auctioned online.

On the tarmac of Banjul airport a Boeing 727, a Bombardier Challenger 601, and a Soviet-era Ilyushin Il-62M painted with the words “Republic of the Gambia” are now covered by a thin layer of dust.

Jammeh's old planes — including two crop dusters whose green paint is gradually becoming veiled — can be seen from the airport's restaurant.

In the garage of the presidential office, two armour-plated Hummers share the space with five Rolls-Royces, one Bentley, BMWs, pickup trucks, Mercedes and a Mini Cooper with a plate bearing the initials “MYJ” — for Mariam Yahya Jammeh, the daughter of the former president.

The West African state hopes to raise US$10 million (8.5 million euros) from the sale, Amadou Sanneh, the finance minister, told parliament last year.

“What we are doing as a government now is to design a web portal where all the assets would be posted,” Lamin Camara, permanent secretary for the ministry of finances, told AFP. A date for the sale has yet to be decided.

Jammeh's 22-year rule was marred by accusations of rampant corruption and human rights abuses.

The strongman was ousted when a coalition, fronted by Adama Barrow, won elections in December 2016. After refusing to step down he flew into exile in Equatorial Guinea.

“As far as we are concerned, these vehicles, these properties were purchased with state resources. They rightly belong to the state,” Abubacarr Tambadou, the justice minister, said.

Jammeh and his family left on January 21 2017 — but within hours an aide to Adama Barrow, the new president, accused him of looting millions of dollars in his final days of power.

“My government inherited an extremely challenging legacy, characterised by a broken economy, gross abuse of financial procedures, plunder of our meagre state resources,” Barrow told potential donors at an international conference in Brussels in May.

Jammeh ran everything from bakeries to farms during his tenure and was regularly accused of taking over successful businesses for his own gain.

The former ruler is suspected of stealing more than US$50 million from the state, according to the government.

To secure his departure and avoid a military intervention involving five West African countries, Jammeh was allowed to bring his fleet of luxury cars to Equatorial Guinea — but most had to stay in The Gambia for lack of space on the plane.

The funds raised from the sale will be earmarked for education, health and agricultural projects, in a country where most people live under the poverty line, according to government officials.

A few months after his departure, his assets in The Gambia were frozen and some started being sold.

Cattle left on some of his farms were sold earlier this year.

The presidential planes were bought with loans signed off by the Social Security and Housing Finance Corporation, a public body tasked with financing social services and housing, its finance Director Abdoulie Cham said.

“If you don't follow directives, something will happen to you,” Cham told a commission of inquiry into the financial dealings of Jammeh and his associates.

“These are the things you cannot question.”

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