By Binta A Bah
Former fisheries permanent secretary, Bamba Banja, has opened his defense with a flat denial that he ever received bribe from a Chinese private company as alleged by prosecutors.
Banja is standing trial on three charges of economic crime, official corruption and public officer receiving property to show favour. He is accused of engaging in corrupt practices by receiving money from the proprietors of Golden Lead Company Limited in September 2018 to free their vessel from detention which was engaged in illicit fishing, a charge he has always denied from the start.
Testifying for the first time in a crowded courtroom yesterday, Banja began by explaining that a committee which included representatives from the Attorney General’s Chambers, fined Golden Lead one million dalasi after it committed an infringement by fishing in the wrong zone.
He said after the fine was paid, the vessel was released to Golden Lead through its agent.
Banja said the prosecution’s allegation that he accepted bribe to influence other members of the committee in that meeting is false.
“It is not correct that I received any bribe. I cannot influence the decision of my colleagues from other institutions. I don’t have the power to do so. I was never approached by anybody to influence the decision made by the committee. I have never accepted bribe owing to my personality and integrity”, Banja stressed as he answered questions from his lawyer, Abdoulie Fatty.
According to Banja, the decision to fine Golden Lead was agreed upon by the committee, arguing that he did not do any action that deprived Gambia government.
“I did not commit any economic crime. A crime was committed by Golden Lead and a fine was paid to the government,” he stressed.
When his lawyer reminded him that there is purported evidence of an audio in court claiming to be his voice, Banja responded: “I’m not associated with that audio.”
Banja also denied inviting the Chinese investors to his residence in Batokunku or having a telephone conversation regarding bribery or corruption activities.
The trial is adjourned for cross-examination by state prosecutor, Saikou Lamin Jobarteh.