Thursday, 26 January 2017

As Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh Entered Exile, Plane Stuffed With Riches Followed

By Dionne Searcey from Dakar and Jaime Yaya Barry from Banjul | New York Times |

On his last night in the country, Yahya Jammeh, Gambia’s former president, rolled toward his flight into exile in his trademark Rolls-Royce.

Flanked by a motorcade, the vehicle cruised down the wide streets of Banjul, the capital, as Mr. Jammeh headed to the airport on Saturday after finally agreeing to give up the presidency. It turns out the Rolls-Royce went with him.

The vehicle, with its custom headrests stitched with the honorific “His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya A. J. J. Jammeh,” was loaded onto a cargo plane accompanying the president. He also departed with a second Rolls-Royce, a Mercedes-Benz, and other cars and luxury items, according to an airport official and a diplomat familiar with activities in the country.

Both declined to be identified because of the instability in Gambia, where Mr. Jammeh had refused to step down despite losing an election last month to Adama Barrow. Mr. Barrow was sworn into office on Thursday at the Gambian Embassy in Dakar, Senegal, but has yet to set foot in his country.

Mr. Jammeh first took power in a coup in 1994, beginning a brutal and sometimes bizarre administration that jailed opponents and journalists, hunted people thought to be witches and unleashed fear so intense that even Gambians who had fled to Senegal were afraid he was spying on them.

Gambia had been locked in a tense showdown since Mr. Jammeh was ousted in the election, but after initially conceding defeat, he announced that he rejected the election results. Refusing to give up power, he vowed to use the military to defend his presidency.

A coalition of West African troops entered the country, and presidents of nearby nations flew in to negotiate with him. On Saturday night, Mr. Jammeh boarded a plane, accompanied by the president of Guinea.

Mr. Jammeh is now in exile in Equatorial Guinea, a nation known for its own brutal government. President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has arbitrarily detained and tortured critics, as well as disregarded election outcomes. His family has faced international prosecution for using hundreds of millions of dollars in oil profits to enrich itself.

Late last year, a fleet of luxury cars — including a Porsche and a Bugatti Veyron owned by the president’s son, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue — were impounded by the authorities at a Geneva airport as part of a money laundering case.

On Monday, opposition party members in Equatorial Guinea said they objected to the nation hosting Mr. Jammeh.

“Mr. Jammeh is dangerous — he killed opposition members, he stole from his country and his people,” said Andrés Esono Ondo, the secretary general of the opposition party Convergence for Social Democracy. “We already have one dictator as a president. We don’t need another.”

The diplomat who declined to be identified said that Mr. Jammeh had tried to withdraw money from the Gambian central bank in recent weeks but was denied access. Two weeks ago, he shipped 22 vehicles to Mauritania. As he was flying into exile on Saturday, at least one cargo plane also left stuffed with the luxury cars and other household items.

The airport official said 10 more cars and additional goods were still on the tarmac waiting to be loaded onto another cargo plane, but it was unclear when it was scheduled to fly out.

On Monday in Gambia, troops from the West African coalition swarmed the statehouse, without resistance, to secure it for Mr. Barrow’s arrival. As of late in the day, it was still unclear when Mr. Barrow, who owns a real estate company and has no political experience, would arrive. For now, he was camped out with family and aides in a house he owns in an upscale neighborhood in Dakar, working on naming his cabinet.

More Gambians who had fled across the border to Senegal, which surrounds Gambia on three sides, were returning home, waiting for their new president to arrive. United Nations officials had feared the rush of people out of the country would set off a humanitarian crisis if the standoff lingered.

As Mr. Jammeh left the country, the United Nations, the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States released a joint declaration saying they were committed to preventing the seizure of assets from the former president and his family and loyalists.

Mr. Barrow has dismissed the document as nonbinding, and many Western diplomats have noted that its careful language would not rule out action against Mr. Jammeh. Mr. Barrow has said he will create a truth and reconciliation commission to look into allegations of misdeeds during Mr. Jammeh’s rule.

Some residents in the capital said they were outraged that Mr. Jammeh had been allowed to leave their country with many of his valuables.

Fatima Fanny Ceesay, 24, a seamstress, said anything that Mr. Jammeh left behind should have been seized after he left the country, even if those items were part of an agreement to persuade him to go.

As Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh Entered Exile, Plane Stuffed With Riches Followed
“Yahya Jammeh came to power with nothing,” Ms. Ceesay said. “Everything he has, he stole from Gambians. They should not let him take anything with him apart from his clothes to put on. He is a big thief.”


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