Lebanon born businessman Muhammed Bazzi has been explaining to the Janneh Commission, how he served as an intermediary between the exiled Gambian dictator Yahya Jammeh, and one Ali Sarara, who was tasked to oversee and manage Gambia’s international gateway. Per Bazzi’s own account of events, $10 Million dollars was paid to dictator Jammeh by Mr. Sarara via the Lebanon based company. Mr. Bazzi was the main conduit facilitating the payments since he introduced the so called investors to Jammeh. Funds were deposited to Bazzi’s bank account in Lebanon by Ali Sarara and his company for onward transmission to Jammeh. Mr. Bazzi played a leading role in coordinating the backroom monetary deals between Jammeh and the Lebanon company. He ensured that Mr. Sarara honored his own side of the “agreement” to pay Jammeh half a million dollars per month despite the financial challenges Ali endured during the period in question.
“The president asked Mr. Ali Sarara to give him $500,000 dollar every month from the gateway. Mr. Sarara didn’t want to pay the amount at first. He was experiencing financial difficulties. He had $30 million dollars at the Central Bank of The Gambia at the time, and in order to recover his debt from government he had to concede to Jammeh’s request,” Bazzi testified.
Mr. Bazzi went onto name some of the companies he was dealing with at the time of the deal. He mentioned TELL, a company contracted by the dictator to manage Gamtel’s gateway, Spectrum, Lebanon based telecommunication company, Intel, among others.
Mr. Bazzi has denied having shares in Spectrum. Although, he admitted introducing the company to the Gambia government. He also admitted serving as a broker between Jammeh and Ali Sarara.
According to Mr. Bazzi, he wouldn’t call the $500,000 monthly payments Mr. Sarara was paying to Jammeh through him in some occasions as a bribery, or quid pro. He said Sarara had to entertain Jammeh’s request in order to secure his business interest in Banjul. The dictator was paid $500,000 dollars monthly for a period of two years according to Bazzi. This followed government’s move to contract TELL to oversee Gamtel’s gateway.
Mr. Bazzi said in some occasions the company called TELL was behind in paying Jammeh his monthly $500,000 dollars from the gateway. He said he has on number of occasions bailed out Ali Sarara by paying Jammeh before Ali could raise the necessary funds. Sarara would in turn wire the back payments to Bazzi’s bank account.
According to Bazzi, Mr. Sarara invested on the installation of a switchboard for the Gamtel gateway. He said Ali also suffered a loss of $30 million dollars which was deposited at the Central Bank of the Gambia. He said TELL’s lawyers will visit the Gambia soon to take up the matter with the Ministry of Justice, and the relevant authorities so that Ali Sarara’s money at the CBG, can be recovered. Bazzi also said TELL’s lawyer might come to the Commission with witnesses to clarify issues.
Mr. Bazzi also talked about the shareholders of his Euro-Africa Group Company. He said businessman Amadou Samba owns 45 percent of the shares of Euro-Africa Group. But Samba resigned as Director of the Euro-Africa group in 2010, he said.
“Mr. Amadou Samba because of our financial problem in 2010, he resigned from Euro Africa Group as Director. This was because of NAWEC. He withdrew his guarantee from ECOBANK, GT Bank, and Standard Chattered. He was a partner with us. We joined guarantee for the importation of fuel. He was not happy with what was going on with NAWEC. He withdrew from the company as the Director since 2010. He withdrew his guarantee from the three banks. He was asking us to buy him out. He didn’t sell his shares. He was asking us to buy him out of the company. The company was losing money. I told him that the company is losing money and we cannot buy you out. Mr. Samba owns 45 percent of the shares of Euro Africa Group. He started receiving dividend in 2016,” Bazzi testified.
Mr. Bazzi’s Euro-Africa Group was given the sole exclusivity to import fuel in the Gambia by the former government of dictator Yahya Jammeh. He denied monopolizing the fuel market at the time.
Euro-Africa Group was incorporated in the Gambia in 2004. The company has since been dominating fuel importation into the country.
Bazzi said government was responsible for determining fuel prices. He said prior to Euro-Africa coming into the market, the Jammeh government was faced with acute fuel shortages. He said the existing oil companies in the country were not engaged in fuel importation. He said the government even had a problem of fuel storage. This he said, necessitated their intervention into the market.
Bazzi strongly disputed lead Counsel Amie Bensouda’s claims that fuel prices weren’t affordable to the average Gambian motorist, when Euro-Africa Group was in charge of the market. He never hesitated to say that Ms. Bensouda’s statement was false. Although, he never went further to back up his counterclaims against Bensouda.