By Binta A Bah
First accused Ousman Bahoum, believed to be the owner of a vessel that capsized killing more than 60 migrants including Gambians, has denied bribing four immigration officials standing trial for corruption.
Prosecutors accused him of giving D75,000 to secure the release of his migrant boat that was initially seized by the immigration officials, themselves facing charges of corruption in the same high court presided over by Justice Bakre.
Bahoum is accused of conveying persons by water for hire in an overloaded vessel, rash or negligent act causing death. Prosecutors alleged he negligently overloaded a vessel at Jinack village in the North Bank Region to convey 195 migrants to Europe through the high seas which capsized and resulted in the death of 63 migrants and endangered the lives of other migrants. His co-accused persons are Sarjo Sanneh, an immigration migration officer stationed at Barra in North Bank, Omar Bojang, the Officer Commanding the Barra Immigration Post, Baboucar Gassama and Ansumana Touray, all facing eight charges of conspiracy to commit felony, official corruption, giving false and information to a public servant, charges they all denied.
In his testimony yesterday, Bahoum in fact denied he owned the boat. “I am a wrestler. I did not load the vessel nor did I bribe the officers. I owned a play station in Barra. The owner of the vessel is one Mr Sarr from Senegal who I came to know while I was in Senegal for one of my wrestling matches,” Bahoum told the court.
According to him, after he returned to the Gambia, he got a call from Mr Sarr who told him that he heard that vessels were leaving the Gambia for Spain which he, Bahoum, confirmed to Sarr prompting the Senegalese to come to The Gambia where he contracted some people to build a vessel for him.
Bahoum said Sarr claimed he paid more than five million CFA to build the vessel which was pushed into the sea in Barra by one of the state witnesses, Gibril Beyai who was paid D5000, before Sarr went back to Senegal to get a GPS.
However, according to Bahoum, the next thing he knew was that he got a call from Sarr that the vessel was intercepted by officers and was released a day after.
The trial continues.