KANILAI, GAMBIA —
In a warehouse on the sprawling country estate of Gambia’s exiled former leader, Yahya Jammeh, silver platters pile up beside dusty crates of empty champagne bottles with labels commemorating his 1994 coup.
A bailiff picks through the boxes and scribbles down notes — the start of what the new government says is a search for tens of millions of dollars of looted assets, an investigation that Jammeh’s supporters have dismissed as a witch hunt.
A U.S. official in Banjul said Washington was planning to help, and government staff say they are counting on World Bank assistance. The size of the Kanilai estate — just a small fraction of Jammeh’s holdings, according to the government official leading the tour — shows the scale of the task ahead.
“We suspect most of the things were taken away before he left — the treasure, possibly weapons and most of the vehicles,” said the bailiff from Gambia’s high court, Modou Moussa Ceesay, taking an inventory of Jammeh’s possessions.
The former president, accused by opponents and rights groups of widespread violations and corruption, fled Gambia in January as regional forces descended on the capital, Banjul, to enforce the results of an election he lost.
He has not commented on the investigation from his new base in Equatorial Guinea. His still strong band of supporters left behind in the tiny West African state have called the plunder hunt a case of victor’s justice.
Tanks, zebras, camels
Kanilai was Jammeh’s birthplace and is now his most elaborate estate — complete with farm, mosque, tanks, multiple residences, jungle warfare training camp and vast private safari park housing exotic parrots, zebras, hyenas and camels.
Building materials lie next to an unfinished new palace, near a billboard of a smiling Jammeh embracing his family.
The justice ministry team inspected it all under the gaze of a group of Jammeh’s relatives and supporters, all wearing the green T-shirts of his APRC party. One of them stuck up his middle finger at the visiting delegation.
APRC leader Fabakary Tombong Jatta later told Reuters he had no knowledge of any embezzlement of state funds or foreign assets owned by Jammeh.
“These people just want anything with any link to Jammeh, and that’s not fair,” he said, calling the investigation “witch-hunting.”
New President Adama Barrow took office in January and set up a task force to track down Jammeh’s assets in May. “Most of the paper trails are available,” Gambian Solicitor General Cherno Marenah said.
But following those paper trails is proving time-consuming. Investigators made their first visit to the heavily fortified estate just this month.
Finance Minister Amadou Sanneh last month said $100 million — more than a third of the annual budget — had been siphoned from state firms in the riverside nation, nearly half of whose 1.8 million people live in poverty.