THUG ON THE RUN

Jammeh heist: Thief’s end is nigh

You can run, but you can’t hide forever from justice

In Summary
  • Hyena, a documentary about life in The Gambia under him as president, records he looted pension funds.
  • He had to be bribed to give false promises of access roads to rural rice paddy farms.

Two Africans – a president and a former one – own multimillion-dollar mansions (Bentcross Drive 9908 and 9909) in the luxurious Potomac suburb in Maryland, 20 miles from downtown Washington.

Former President of The Gambia Yahya Jammeh sought refuge with President Teodoro Obiang' Nguema of Equatorial Guinea after the opposition ejected him from power in 2016. 

Jammeh later took asylum in the United States. Jammeh reigned and plundered The Gambia for 22 years. He and Nguema represent the plunderous face of Africa.

 

Now Jammeh may lose the property he bought with proceeds of impunity. The US Department of Justice has asked the Maryland District Court to allow the seizure of Jammeh's house. The move is a lesson to dictators and their lackeys.

The Washington Post once described Jammeh and Nguema as "the real dictators of Potomac". Bentcross is a tapestry of mansions of looping drives, manicured lawns, tennis courts, and swimming pools. The properties are guarded with passcode iron gates and security cameras. Successful doctors, business executives, professional basketballers, and lawyers prefer the address.

Area property records show an NBA player sold 9908 Bentcross to Jammeh's family trust for $3.5 million in September 2010. The house is 8,818 square feet, with 11 bathrooms. It sits on 2.3 acres in the metropolis of a 'first-world city'.

Potomac, an affluent city of 45,824 people, hosts money-makers, like African thieves who bleed their subjects. The late Mobutu Sese Seko of the former Zaire, the late Kamuzu Banda of Malawi, and José Eduardo dos Santos of Angola, are the other exemplars of avarice of the previous era.

Journalists exposed how Jammeh and his cronies plundered nearly $1 billion in public funds and resources. Jammeh's name – His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr Yahya A.J.J Jammeh Babili Mansa – is as extravagant as the man it defines.

Luanda Leaks, a product of exemplary investigative journalism, incriminates the family of former Angola president. Isabel Do Santos, daughter of the former president, personifies the loot of billions of Angolan dollars.

Jammeh and Nguema, from neighbouring poor West African countries, would not have acquired these properties if they had not stolen.

 

Jammeh is a thug on the run. But the flight may soon ground. When it does, his life of luxury may be disrupted. The message shall then be: You can run, but you cannot hide forever from justice.

The Gambian first family reportedly paid $3.5 million (Sh367.5 million) in September 2010 for the house. US authorities believe these funds were stolen from The Gambia.

Transparency International says Jammeh’s 22-year reign is a textbook case study of grand corruption at its most extreme. In 2019, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project documented the previously unknown scale of grand corruption under Jammeh.

Journalists exposed how Jammeh and his cronies plundered nearly $1 billion in public funds and resources. Jammeh's name – His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr Yahya A.J.J Jammeh Babili Mansa – is as extravagant as the man it defines.

Hyena, a documentary about life in The Gambia under Jammeh, records the man "was everything. He was worse than bad." He looted pension funds, which he spent as he wanted.

The president had to be bribed to give false promises of access roads to rural paddy rice farms. The sick were taken to hospitals on donkey-drawn carts. World Bank statistics indicate the average person in The Gambia earns $460 (Sh49,615) a year.

Marr Nyang, a Gambian activist and founder of the civil society organisation, Gambia Participates, told Transparency International: "(Last) week’s announcement by the US offers hope that, sooner rather than later, Jammeh will pay for his crimes. Assets he illicitly acquired at the expense of The Gambian people will be recovered."

TI partnered with Gambia Participates to record the experiences of various communities who suffered under Jammeh’s regime. Their stories – documented in the community-led film, Hyena, are testimonies to the human cost of corruption and to people’s perseverance.

Marr says, "The Gambian people eagerly await for other foreign governments, where the rest of Jammeh's assets are located, to follow suit." Jammeh and Nguema, comrades in plunder, also own properties in Morocco and Malibu in California.

TI continues to demand that authorities in other jurisdictions – including Belgium and France – investigate the remaining pieces of the $1 billion Jammeh heist.

TI says going after Jammeh’s foreign assets is one of the critical first steps for ensuring justice for the Gambian people. The US promises to follow through with the recovery of stolen funds and then safely return them to The Gambia.

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