Gambia selling former president’s assets


Gambia is selling several planes and a fleet of luxury cars bought by former president Yahya Jammeh as it seeks to reduce a mountain of crippling debt contracted during the authoritarian leader’s decades-long rule.

Jammeh, who seized power in a 1994 coup, fled Gambia early last year as West African neighbours poised for military intervention to topple him after he refused to step down following an election loss to current President Adama Barrow.

While most of his people struggled in poverty under one of West Africa’s most oppressive regimes, Jammeh acquired vast wealth, much of which he packed into planes and took with him into exile in Equatorial Guinea.

A fleet of vehicles, including several Rolls-Royces with Jammeh’s name embroidered in red leather headrests, were left behind.
“The fleet of expensive vehicles at State House and three planes bought by former president Yahya Jammeh have been put on sale,” Finance Minister Amadou Sanneh told Reuters. “My ministry will publicise the sales.”

The International Monetary Fund warned Gambia against any new borrowing after its debt stock reached 130% of gross domestic product at the end of last year.

Most debt was contracted under Jammeh, either through borrowing or government taking on liabilities of state-owned enterprises.
“Let me be clear … it may even go higher because we have not opened the books of state-owned enterprises,” said Jaroslaw Wieczorek, who led a recent IMF mission to Gambia. “It could be a lot of liability.”

Since taking office and discovering government coffers were largely empty, Barrow’s administration worked to disentangle Gambia’s state finances from Jammeh’s sprawling personal business empire.

Sanneh said last year that around $100 million – more than a third of government’s annual budget – was siphoned from state firms.

Barrow set up a commission that visited Jammeh’s many properties – one estate boasts a mosque, jungle warfare training camp and a vast private safari park – to establish an inventory of his possessions with the aim of recovering looted assets.

Investigators sought to establish what wealth Jammeh may have abroad.

The process faced opposition from Jammeh’s political party and supporters, who accuse Barrow’s government of carrying out a witch hunt against the ex-president.