Bombshell: Gambia Government Under Fire Amid Diplomatic Passport Scandal

By Ousman A Marong & Baboucarr Ceesay

Investigation into the on-going diplomatic passport scandal has been greeted with leaked correspondences between Mr. Abubacarr M. Tambedou, Attorney General and Minister of Justice, the Secretary General, Office of The President and Permanent Secretary; Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The Justice Minister’s application and response from Office of The President indicating approval has not only gradually exposed how the national document is undeservedly issues to certain individuals but also exposed how a public official involved in securing diplomatic passports for five of his family members and got approval.

A leaked response to his application captioned “RE: REQUEST FOR DIMPLOAMTIC PASSPORT” with reference number OP/224/272/01/TEMP (95-LK) confirmed approval: “Please be informed that approval has been granted for the under mentioned names to be issued Diplomatic Passports.”

Tambedou applied for the diplomatic travelling documents for his mother, Abi Tambedou, Mariama Aziz Tambedou (step-mother), Mariama Tambedou (sister) Haddyjatou Marie Tambedou Faal (sister) and Rougi Aly Kebe (wife).

The response to Tambedou’s application for the documents on behalf of his family members dated June 13, 2019 was signed by Lamin E. Kanyi for Secretary General.

In his application letter captioned “Application for Diplomatic Passports” with reference number AG/C/27/03/Part 1/(57) dated June 6, 2019 addressed to the Secretary General, Office of The President, State House, Banjul, the Justice Minister requested for President Adama Barrow to approve the issuance of diplomatic passports for the five members of his family.

The application indicated that the whole matter originated from discussion as manifested by the opening of the letter, “As discussed.”

“My mother and my step-mother regularly travel to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for the annual hajj. Given their advance age and current state of physical health, travelling on ordinary passports create immense physical and logistical challenges for them especially regarding their movements on arrival and departure from the airport. These challenges could be significantly reduced if they travel on diplomatic passports which entitles them to certain diplomatic privileges and eases their conditions during the hajj,” reads Tambedou’s application.

In efforts to further justify his application, Gambia’s justice minister in his letter said: “On each of their travels to Saudi Arabia, my mother and step-mother are assisted by my two sisters who always accompany them during their movements. My sisters would not however be able provide the usual assistance to my mother and step-mother if they also do not carry diplomatic passports to facilitate their movements together with them. It is for these reasons that I humbly request the approval of His Excellency for the issuance of diplomatic passports to them.”

Minister Tambedou’s reaction
When contacted on phone and asked about the legal requirement to obtain a diplomatic passport, Mr Abubacarr Tambedou responded that the matter is not about law but foreign affairs, adding that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is in charge.

He quizzed: What is wrong in formally applying for a diplomatic passport and get approval from legitimate government officials.”

The minister said he sought advice and followed the procedure by transparently applying.

Tambedou who did not agree with the use of the word “Scandal” in the diplomatic passport issue during the conversation, asked: “What is the scandal in this.”

Without stating any specific case of illegal sale of passports, the Justice Minister argued that instead of focusing on more serious issues of the unlawful sale of passports, people are expending their intellectual energy on legitimate request with legitimate approval from legitimate Government officials.

Who should have Gambian diplomatic passports
According to a diplomatic source, the 2008 presidential decree provided that diplomatic passports should be “administered under the responsibility of the Ministry of Foreign affairs which will ensure their correct control and maintenance.”

He said the decree also explains that the passport can only be granted to Gambian diplomats, their spouses and their children while they remain minors.

Even though it did not state anything about diplomatic passport, Section 44 (1) of the Immigration Act says: “The Director of Immigration shall be sole authority for the issue or replacement of a valid passport.”

An official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Gambians Abroad said he has no knowledge of any established criteria for diplomatic passport.

“You know these are former President Yahya jammeh’s established protocols that gave the presidency quite a range of autonomy,” he opined.

According to Madi Jobarteh, renowned human rights activist, as the name and purpose imply a diplomatic passport is only for diplomats and persons performing diplomatic functions or conducting services for The Gambia in the international scene.

“Diplomatic passports therefore cannot be for persons running their personal or family or business affairs. Hence it is unjustified to give the national diplomatic passport to any human being who is not a diplomat or performing functions for The Gambia Government in the international stage.”

He said the important point is that, family or no family, the county’s diplomatic passports were and continue to be indiscriminately handed over to all sorts of undeserving citizens and non-citizens alike during the Jammeh era as well as under the Barrow Government.

“This only tantamount to bastardizing our sovereignty and dignity as a nation,” he intimated.

For Jobarteh, there cannot be any justification for giving diplomatic passports to people who don’t deserve it no matter how well intentioned and humanitarian the justification.

He acknowledged that he has considered the Minister of Justice’s request letter and appreciated that the reasons therein are purely humanitarian.

He added that he would also want the same comforts for his mother as a son, but quick to note that the Minister is the legal advisor of the Government hence he should be the one to give advice to colleagues and public servants about the legality of issues, decisions and actions.

Police nab
However, in the last week of August, the police commenced arrests of persons in connection with the act of facilitating and wrongly obtaining Gambian diplomatic passports for unqualified people with suspicion of fake diplomatic passport holder.

 Police statement signed by Public Relations Officer, ASP Lamin Njie said, the diplomatic passport fraud involves three protocol officers of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Saikou Sanneh, Ibrahim J.S. Sanneh and Ousman Touray (currently at large).

Police said Malick Tunkara was arrested at the airport in possession of a suspected fake diplomatic passport, while Yankuba Suso and Musa Njie got into police net for their involvement.

The police added that two officers of Gambia Immigration Department, Superintendent Banka Jatta and Chief Inspector Lang Tombong Sabally were invited for questioning.

Michael T. Ladipo, a Nigerian national was also nabbed in connection with the deal, according to Banjul cops.

Foreign business persons as Gambian ambassadors at large
Copies of diplomatic passports made available to MAMOS TV that also went viral on social media showed six European diplomatic passport holders, four among them are businessmen, all ambassadors at large, one female with the title of economic adviser on her document.

All the non-Gambians holding the country’s diplomatic passport accessible to this medium have Gambian status on the document.

The March 4, 1973 born Ziemian Roman Kazimierz of Jelenia Góra, a city in Lower Silesia, south-western Poland is an ambassador at large, according his diplomatic passport. Jelenia Góra is located within the Lower Silesian Voivodeship, close to the Krkonoše mountain range running along the Polish-Czech border. Roman’s passport numbered D0014195 and was issued on July 18, 2019 with.

According to Crunchbase website, Roman Ziemian is an entrepreneur and one of the founders of FutureNet, a technology company that offers a wide range of products to the people from all over the world. He worked on contracts in in Germany, France, Switzerland, Sweden, Austria, and Cyprus.

Morgenstern Stephan Karl of Berlin, Germany, founder and chairman at FutureNet, born on October 7, 1962 has also acquired status of ambassador at large with passport number D0014194, issued on July 18, 2019.

Further findings on Crunchbase website revealed that in 2012, Roman met with Stephan Morgenstern which marked the beginning of a long journey in their business spending 2 years on polishing and molding a vision of a social platform to fulfil grand ambitions.

The diplomatic passport of the 30 December, 1994 born Ziemian-Hortman  Anstasiia of Winnzj, a city in west-central Ukraine also says she is an Economic Adviser. Her passport numbered D0016169 was issued on 25 July 2019.  Our findings showed that Anstasiia has connection with Roman Ziemian and Karl’s FutureNet.

Born on November 20, 1995, Baugartner Nidal of Sirnatch TG, a municipality in the district of Münchwilen in the canton of Thurgau in Switzerland also got his ambassador at large status through his Gambian diplomatic passport issued on June 19, 2019 and numbered D0013944.

The moneyhouse website, a business information hub states that Nidal is among the board of directors and authorised signatory of Luxury Immobilien AG, a real estate development company headquartered in Wil SG, Switzerland. Luxury Immobilien AG is a Company limited by shares from the sector “Connecting properties to local public utilities/infrastructure”. Luxury Immobilien AG was founded in 2014.

Brandl Andreas Helmut, born on September 7, 1967 also has on his passport the status of an ambassador at large. The Munich man’s passport number is D0014014. Andreas got the document on June 21, 2019.  The German citizen in Munich is a partner at moneyhouse, without subscription, with 7 ordinary shares of CHF 1000.00, equivalent US$1009.32 each (previously: shareholder and managing director with individual signature), indicates his data on moneyhouse website as recorded by Swiss Official Gazette of Commerce (SOGC).

The November 14, 1988 born cruiserweight German boxer and businessman, Daser Mario, is another non-Gambian made ambassador at large by his Gambian diplomatic passport. He is the holder of passport bearing the number D0001423, issued on July 17, 2019.

Two other Gambians who are all members of President Barrow’s Youth for National Development with designation of Business Executives also acquired diplomatic passport.

Ansumana Singhateh, member of President Barrow’s Youth for National Development, Business Executive born on August 8, 1991 was issued a diplomatic passport on January 16, 2019, numbered D0001294.

Bubacarr Keita, Bussiness Executive at Tambasansang residing at Kerr Sereign is also a holder of diplomatic passport with number D0001295, issued on January 16, 2019. Born on December 15, 1990, Keita is a member of President Barrow’s Youth for National Development, he is said to be managing Saac’s tailoring, salon and spa and The Boss Luxury Auto Sales. He is also the CEO of Fire Protect Gambia Limited.

Kebba Lang Fofana of Niamina Dankunku born on July 28, 1981 obtained diplomatic passport numbered D0001293 issued to him on Januaey 16, 2019.

Fofana, also a member of President Barrow’s Youth for National Development is Business Executive, according to his passport.

The expiry dates of all the passports are 2024, giving them the normal life span of five years.

An analyst said this could be just a tip of an iceberg of the practice of issuing Gambian diplomatic passport to every tom dick and harry either for money or favouritism. “This can be a catalyst of massive issuance of diplomatic passport leaked so far but a signal that the current regime can compromise Gambia for wealthy businesses and business persons of other nations, especially the West,” he stated.

The State House lie
Mansa A. Sumareh, the Chief Driver at State House was ‘disowned’ by a statement signed by the Director of Press and Public Relations at the State House after his alleged involvement in the diplomatic passport scandal.

The statement came when his arrest was published by The Standard newspaper. Sources revealed that Mansa Sumareh is still the Chief Driver at State House contrary to the rejoinder titled “Clarification,” which hurriedly followed when the diplomatic passport scandal just loomed and published by The Standard newspaper on September 2, 2019.

Signed by the Director of Press and Publication Relation at Office of the President, State House  the “Clarification” said: “The attention of the public is hereby drawn to a news article published in The Standard newspaper on Monday 2nd September 2019 that erroneously described one Mansa Sumareh as ‘‘the President’s driver’’.

“For the purpose of clarity and accuracy, Mansa Sumareh is neither the Chief Driver nor a driver of the president.

“Mr. Sumareh ceased being the Chief Driver of the Head of the State since November 2018.

“The office solicits your kind cooperation to correct this error immediately to avoid any more confusion on this matter.”

According to Sumareh’s payslip made available by Living Voice, our source at State House indicates that he has been receiving his salary and still holds the position and title of Chief Driver at State House in Banjul.

In an interview with The Standard, Mansa upheld: “I am still working at State House…..Who ever said I am sacked is lying.”

Minister Tambedou should resign”
The leakage of the two letters, from the State House and Justice Minister Abubacarr Tambedou respectively have generated criticism and calls for the minister’s resignation.

The Minister’s involvement in obtaining diplomatic passports for family members emerged when arrests and questionings were being conducted in connection with the matter.

Assan Sallah, a former Daily Observer news editor now resident in Germany said if Barrow had not approved Justice Minister’s request to abuse his office, then the minister should have been sacked and charged with abuse of office to set an example and send a strong signal to others who might have been involved in any form of corrupt practice or abuse of office.

He also called on Tambadou to simply resign and save himself and President from ‘this shameful practice.’

“Ethics and code of conduct for the civil service must not be compromised,” he stressed.

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