By Omar Bah
Businessman Alagie Conteh, the proprietor of Dabanani Electrical Company, has alleged that his company account at Bloom Bank has been blocked by the police Financial Intelligence Unit on the instruction of the Inspector General of Police for political reasons.
The UDP leader, Ousainu Darboe disclosed the news of the freezing of the account at a political rally on Sunday.
Mr Conteh, an electrical engineer and former managing director of Nawec, is also a supporter of the opposition UDP.
Confirming the circumstances surrounding the blocking of his account to The Standard, the businessman said: “The money concerned is an advanced payment for a contract I signed with KEI of India, one of five companies that won an Ecowas contract for electrification projects in The Gambia, Guinea Bissau and Mali. Almost all the companies who bid for the project wanted to work with Dabanani because of our experience and record in this type of work. I signed an agreement with my Indian partner KEI that should they win the contract, I will be responsible for installation at a fee of $10 million. So when they eventually got the contract, and because I sensed the politically motivated unfriendly climate towards my company in the Gambia, I made sure we signed a contract for the work proper so that they would not be pressured to dump my company after partnering them to prepare the bidding process. They then asked me to provide a performance bond and an advanced payment bond, both of which I secured from the Bloom Bank,” Mr Conteh said. He further stated that under the contract, once the bonds are secured, the contract becomes effective and they should pay advanced payment. “According to law, banks are obliged to send a report to the FIU whenever a transaction in a corporate account is up to D2 million. My bank did that but normally, if the FIU doesn’t have any problem with the transaction, they don’t even respond. But in this case, at some point, the government took interest and the IGP sent a letter to the bank signed by one Alieu Jawara requesting the bank to provide all information regarding this transaction. And they were even very forceful because somebody came to the bank and said they will not leave until they get all the information which the bank provided,” Conteh said.
He explained that later, the bank officials were called to the IGP’s office where they informed the IGP that the transaction is genuine for an official legitimate contract and there was nothing wrong with the transaction. Conteh alleged that the IGP threatened the bank to be careful and that they are watching them very closely. “Soon after that, the FIU replied to acknowledge receipt of the Bank’s report on our transaction but surprisingly asked the bank to block the account. The bank then told the IGP that they have not seen any problem in the transaction and that even if they are going to block the account, they are only going to do so for ten days as required by law unless they, the police, call me over the matter. And as I speak to you this evening [yesterday], my account remains blocked,” Conteh said.
He added: ”This whole thing for me is politically motivated because it has been proven to the rightful authorities, the FIU, that the transaction is legal and the funds are for a genuine contract. It is therefore a fat lie for anyone to suggest that I am doing money laundering. I am too decent to do something like that. But systematically now, this government is depriving me of getting any contract in this country to the extent that I had to take contracts in the name of other people. Can you imagine? This is the most repressive attitude any government can do to a decent citizen just because he supports a different party from the one in power,” he said.
Conteh alleged that even institutions that prefer to work with him would now tell him that “we have instructions not to award contracts to you. I never wanted to talk about these issues but now it is getting too much,” Conteh lamented.
Asked what his next step would be if his account is not unblocked, Conteh said he is talking to his lawyer and “we are going to take the matter to court and claim damages of not less than $5 million because this is outrageous, slanderous and damaging to a legitimate business entity like Dabanani.
“What is even mind boggling and a clear case of political machination is that I heard they even went to Nawec and that Nawec told the IGP that I should not have been given the contract until they approve it when I am already a subcontractor to NAWEC. Why should they do something like that? I am really disappointed with NAWEC if that is what is actually happened,” he said.
The Standard contacted the deputy director general of the Finance Intelligence Unit (FIU) for comments but he didn’t pick his phone or reply to our enquiries.
Equally, the police spokesperson Lamin Njie was also contacted on the phone but he too did not pick his telephone or reply to our enquiries sent by text.