By Lamin Jahateh
BANJUL (Reuters) – Gambia’s former president Yahya Jammeh personally stole at least $362 million (278 million pounds) from the state during his 22-year rule, the justice minister said on Friday following a nearly two-year investigation.
Jammeh, who seized power in a 1994 coup, fled Gambia in 2017 for exile in Equatorial Guinea as a West African regional force closed in on the capital Banjul to enforce his election loss to President Adama Barrow.
Speaking to reporters, Justice Minister Abubacarr Tambadou provided a summary of a report submitted on Friday by a commission of inquiry. The report was based on interviews with 253 witnesses.
“This is a staggering amount of money that could have had significant impact on the lives of the ordinary people of this country,” Tambadou said.
“Instead, it was money used to satisfy the pretentious and delusional lifestyle of an egotistic megalomaniac, acts that were both unconscionable and criminal.”
Jammeh has not commented on the accusations from his base in Equatorial Guinea, but his supporters in Gambia have dismissed investigations of him as a witch hunt.
The new authorities believe he took many of his valuable cars and treasures with him, after a period of rule characterised by extrajudicial killings, torture and forced disappearances as well as the pilfering of state assets.
Tambadou said the government was working to recover the money. The government has previously said funds were stolen by creating fake accounts at the central bank and skimming money from the national telecommunications agency and other state institutions.
So far, Barrow’s government has sold off some of the possessions Jammeh left behind, including planes and Rolls-Royces with his name embroidered in the head rests.
A report earlier this week by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), a non-profit investigative reporting outlet, said that Jammeh and his associates “looted or misappropriated” at least $975 million, according to bank statements, government documents and Jammeh’s correspondence.
Gambia, meanwhile, faces a debt burden that reached 130 percent of gross domestic product last year, leading the International Monetary Fund to warn the country against any new borrowing.
(Writing by Aaron Ross; Editing by Peter Graff)