A former member of Gambia’s military junta retired Captain Ebou Jallow has unveiled that the murder of Gambia’s former Finance and Economic Affairs Minister Ousman Koro Ceesay, might have to do with what he calls “the bad blood” that existed between Ceesay and the former Defense Minister Edward David Singhateh. Jallow, who resigned from the junta, following Koro’s murder, told Freedom Radio Gambia that Edward Singhateh, wasn’t pleased with Koro’s planned move to include in his 1995 budget speech, a secret arms procurement deal the junta had placed through one Serge Muller, a Jewish national, when the military overthrew the thirty years of Jawara’s rule back in July of 1994.
According to Captain Jallow, the military junta, headed by the then Chairman Yahya Jammeh, took close to three million dollars ($3 million) from the Central Bank of The Gambia, back in July of 1994, when Bakary Bunja Darboe, was the Finance Minister to buy arms from Muller, who is also a Belgian citizen. Jallow said he is not sure as to whether Bakary Darboe, was aware of the alleged transaction, but he maintains that funds were taken from the Central Bank to procure arms from Muller.
Jallow says the junta was introduced to Sarge Muller by the former Sierra Leonean Head of State Captain Valentine Strasser, and his Deputy Julius Maada Bio. He adds that Muller was the contact person for the former military rulers in Sierra Leone, when it comes to arms procurement among others.
WHO IS SERGE MULLER?
Serge Muller made his name in the diamond business in Belgium, joining his family company S. Muller and Sons Diamonds NV, a famous Antwerp-based firm, decades ago.
For years, he dealt in diamonds across the world – from Canada to South Africa – building up considerable wealth and an international network of companies.
His best known company, Rex Mining, was incorporated in 1990 in Canada, with a licence to trade in diamonds in Belgium and shares in a mine in South Africa and Sierra Leone, a country infamous for so-called ‘blood diamonds’ – illegally mined gems traded for weapons destined for use in brutal civil wars.
“We have never made a direct connection between Muller and ‘blood diamonds’,” said Salvatore di Rosa, Belgian journalist and co-author of the book Black Diamond, which investigated the illegal trade in the gem. But Di Rosa added that it is likely Muller had, perhaps unwittingly “done business with people who were dealing with them”.
It was the deal in Sierra Leone that brought Muller to the world’s attention.
Muller’s role in the Sierra Leone murky diamond trade role was documented in The Heart of the Matter, a seminal report by NGO Partnership Africa Canada which brought the issue of blood diamonds to the fore in 2000. According to the report, Rex Mining worked on the edge of the diamond business, providing an “anarchic element” to the industry.
Muller was also involved in supplying weapons to Sierra Leone. In 1998, he sold engines, parts and ammunition for the state’s only combat helicopter, which the government used to fight the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), Sierra Leone’s rebel army, in an eleven-year war from 1991 to 2002.
He is cited in a Washington Post article published in 1999 as saying that “the arms deals were unrelated to Rex’s Mining activities”.
But it is widely believed that the weapon’s job was linked to concessions in the Zimmi and Tongo diamond fields.
According to Rex mining’s annual reports, which are still available on its website, the war brought serious security problems for the firm’s mining activities. Then in 2003 and 2004, the government of Sierra Leone cancelled leases claiming that Rex Mining did not comply with the conditions of the original agreement.
Muller failed to inform his Canadian shareholders of issues related to the licence and, in 2009, the Ontario Securities Commission ordered him to resign as director of Rex Mining for a 10-year period and pay a 40,000 Canadian dollar costs to the court.
He returned to Sierra Leone in 2012, as elections loomed, again supplying the government with weapons. Another of his Sierra Leone companies, Amylam, sold Chinese weapons worth $5m to the paramilitary police structure – Operational Services Division. The deal raised concerns over whether the weapons would be used in securing election victory for the president Ernest Bai Koroma and drew criticism from the UN, although it was not illegal.
His business associate Petar Crnogorac told BIRN that prior to his recent arrest in Montenegro, he had been questioned by the US Drug Enforcement Agency and Belgian police.
“His lawyers told us that Mr. Muller was interviewed by Belgian police in his Swiss home in August 2012 when he gave detailed information about all of his professional activities,” he said
“Also, of his own volition, he went to the USA to be interviewed by special agent Michael Menzer of the Drug Enforcement Administration.”
Court documents from Belgium obtained by Salvatore di Rosa show that Muller’s firm Rex Mining was linked to an alleged major cocaine smuggling case.
The alleged traffickers were freed on appeal, but Muller was listed as an “interested party” and it emerged that police found a 10-carat pink diamond worth 500,000 euros in a safe linked to the group.
It also emerged that Muller had lent the leading member of the cleared group, named as Bruno M, 1m euros.
Muller was also renowned for his sponsorship of the Diamond Bullet, a Flemish literary prize for the best Dutch language crime novel.
His story could easily form the plot of one of the many page-turners which he has helped to promote in the past decade.
The final twist in this real-life tale remains unwritten.
HOW DID JALLOW GOT TO KNOW ABOUT THE JUNTA’S ARMS DEAL WITH MULLER?
At the time of the alleged arms procurement, Jallow was in the United States studying. The July 22nd coup happened in his absence. He returned to The Gambia around year end. He was later hired Junta Spokesman and a member of the AFPRC Council. He became a close buddy to the former Defense Minister Edward Singhateh.
According to Captain Jallow, it was Edward Singhateh, who informed him about the $million dollars that was taken from the Central Bank to purchase arms back in 1994. He says Singhateh complained to him that the arms deal had later went south, as Singhateh accuses Muller of allegedly stealing an unspecified amount of money that was allegedly given to him to purchase arms for the regime.
“I was told by Edward Singhateh that out of the $3 million dollars that was taken from the Central Bank to purchase arms for the junta, Muller only uses $ 1 million and he took the rest of the money. He delivered the arms that he had purchased for the junta. Edward was so mad at him. He was even contemplating sending his brother Captain Peter Singhateh to Sierra Leone to secretly kill Muller. This information was disclosed to me by some senior officers of The Gambia armed forces,” Jallow remarked.
Jallow says all the Council members were aware of the secret arms procurement including Sanna Bairo Sabally, the former Vice Chairman. Singhateh was the Defense Minister at the time, he said.
“Bakary Bunja Darboe was the Finance Minister at the time of the transaction. When Bakary left, he was replaced by Balla Jahumpa, who was later replaced by Ousman Koro Ceesay after he was sacked. It was in 1995, when Koro was preparing his first budget speech; he started examining the books; the issue of the $3 million arms procurement came up; Koro even had to use his Secretary to phone me, asking me about the said transaction. I refused to talk to her. I told her to tell Koro to call me. Koro later phoned and he asked me if I was aware of monies taken from the Central Bank. I told him that I was not part of the Junta in July of 1994. I came in later,” he said.
According to Jallow, so many discrepancies had occurred during the alleged arms procurement. He alleged that Singhateh personally told him that he was not pleased with Koro’s move to account for the funds that were taken from the Central Bank.
“Singhateh then started developing hatred for Koro since then. He even told me that Koro was planning a coup with some Ghanaians, which I later found out to be false and unfounded. When Koro closed The Gambian border with Senegal, without the approval of the Council, he used that as an opportunity to call for his firing. I was at the State House when Koro’s firing letter was being prepared by the late Mustapha Wada, the former Secretary General. What followed next was Koro’s sacking from the government.” Jallow remarked.
Jallow says he was in Libyan, when he was informed by Gaddafi that Koro had been killed. He later met Jammeh in Switzerland, where they boarded a transit flight, where Jammeh also told him that it was Edward Singhateh, who allegedly orchestrated Koro’s murder. He says Singhateh himself later confessed to him that he (Singhateh) and others allegedly killed Koro.
Jallow said he was surprised as to why the Janneh Commission did not detect the $3 million dollars that was taken from the Central Bank accounts in the early days of the coup. He called on Gambian journalists to probe into the matter.
A Freedom Newspaper research has shown that the Lead Council to the Janneh Commission Amie Bensouda, was elevated from the position of Solicitor General and promoted to the the position of an acting Attorney General and Minister of Justice, when the Junta had seized power on July 22nd 1994. She was among the longest serving members of the Justice Ministry prior to the coup.
Bensouda never stayed long on her acting AG position. She was later replaced by Fafa Edrissa M’Bai.