By Baba Sillah
Business tycoon Muhammed Bazzi yesterday revealed during his testimony before the Janneh Commission that President Jammeh requested a $5 million loan from Mr Ali Charara, the boss of telecom company Spectrum but it was declined on the ground that the president had refused to refund an earlier $10 million loan given to him.
Bazzi reappeared before the commission to explain how the management of the Gamtel international gateway contract was awarded to Spectrum Investment Holding Company and TELL International among other related matters.
Bazzi said although he knew Ali Youssef Charara, he neither represented his company, Spectrum, in its acquisition of 50% of Gamtel/Gamcel nor had a vested interest in it.
However, the Lebanese-Belgian businessman said he introduced Spectrum to President Jammeh but said he could not remember meeting either Finance Minister Mousa Bala Gaye or Neneh MacDouall-Gaye regarding matters relating to the company.
According to Bazzi, Spectrum and a Dutch company, unnamed, invested in Gamcel for five months before they were kicked out after the termination of their contract for reasons he said he was not privy to.
He said the national telco and its mobile subsidiary were valued at $70 million by the government.
He said Mr Charara paid $35 million to the Central Bank but Commission Counsel Amie Bensouda reminded him that records showed that Mr Charara paid only $32.4 million to the bank.
He said he had not seen the letter terminating the contract with Spectrum but was told the company was involved in breaches and fraudulent activities.
Mr Bazzi said although he did not play any role in TELL, he negotiated its agreement with President Jammeh but denied serving as its agent or broker.
Bazzi confirmed that President Jammeh requested a $5 million loan from Mr Charara and it was declined on the ground that the president had refused to refund an earlier $10 million loan.
After giving his evidence, Bazzi’s lawyer, Victoria Andrews, told the commission that her client had a witness, a former lawyer for Spectrum and TELL, who wanted to testify.
Muhammed Tarif Mactar informed the commission that he was based in Lebanon and has degrees in law and has been practising for 42 years.
According to Mr Mactar, he was contacted by Mr Charara to establish payments made on behalf of TELL and Spectrum to Mr Bazzi’s account in Lebanon. He added that in 2007, he drafted the contract for Spectrum.
At that point Counsel Bensouda objected to say the foundation of the witness was hearsay and the proper witness to appear was Mr Charara himself. However, Counsel Andrews said it was the witness who should raise ‘privilege’, not the counsel to the commission.
Commission Chairman Sourahata Janneh asked the witness whether he was representing TELL and that he was giving evidence based on what Mr Charara told him in relation to the company.
He argued that his evidence was relevant, and the story of TELL and Spectrum should be heard and due process must be followed as the commission is on a fact-finding mission and that he came to assist in that regard.
The chairman asked him whether he was given any power of attorney by TELL but he replied in the negative and said he was not a board member of the company and was not qualified as a barrister at law.
Chairman Janneh however allowed him to give evidence but not based on hearsay.
Mr Mactar told the commission that the chairman of TELL is one Francisco, an Italian and he knew that Mr Bazzi was neither a shareholder in the company nor a director.
He said Mr Bazzi was the consular general of The Gambia in Lebanon, further stating that the relation between Mr Bazzi and Charara was strained.
Mr Mactar further revealed that during the discussion between the Gambia Government and TELL he came to The Gambia at a very short notice but could not remember anything like a loan in the discussions and that if it was brought to his notice, he would have advised against it.
He recalled that he was instructed by Spectrum to sign an agreement between Gambia Government and the company which he said was signed in The Gambia with the Secretary of State but could not remember when this contract was terminated.
Sittings continue Monday.