Gambia’s defeated president finally gave up power — and took luxury cars and millions of dollars with him.
NAIROBI — As the plane carrying Gambia’s disgraced former president prepared to depart the small west African country on Saturday, onlookers caught a last glimpse of Yahya Jammeh’s face through the window. He had been forced from the country that he ruled for more than two decades. But, bizarrely, Jammeh was smiling.
According to Gambian officials, he had one big reason to be happy. Before leaving the country, he had managed to steal millions of dollars from the government’s coffers. He had loaded a cargo plane full of luxury cars and sent it abroad.
“The Gambia is in financial distress. The coffers are virtually empty. That is a state of fact,” Fatty said, according to the Associated Press. “It has been confirmed by technicians in the Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank of the Gambia.”
Later in the day, a spokesman for Barrow, Halifa Sannah, said at a news conference that “everything is intact,” regarding the central bank, according to a report from Reuters. It was unclear whether Sannah was contradicting the earlier claim by Barrow or only asserting that Jammeh’s theft did not extend to the bank.
Jammeh was known for his expensive habits, even as the country he ruled for more than 22 years was mired in poverty, with thousands of people taking the perilous route across the Mediterranean to Europe each year. He owned a fleet of Rolls Royces with his name embroidered on the headrests. A trust linked to the former president purchased a $3.5 million house in Potomac, Md., in 2012. His daughter attends a Manhattan private school that costs more than $40,000 a year.
When he lost an election in December, Jammeh refused to step down. Finally, after thousands of west African troops threatened to oust him by force, he agreed to leave Saturday on a plane accompanied by the president of Guinea. Although he was offered asylum in Morocco and Nigeria, it remains unclear where Jammeh plans to live.
Scandals involving the enormous wealth and lavish lifestyles of African leaders ruling some of the world’s poorest countries are far from uncommon. But recently there has been a slew of particularly high-profile cases.
Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, the son of the president of Equatorial Guinea, is on trial in France for embezzlement and money-laundering. His assets included a $30 million mansion in Malibu and 11 sports cars, among them several Ferraris and Bugattis. –Washingtonpost