Court Frees Immigration Officer in Diplomatic, Service Passport Scandal Case

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By Kemeseng Sanneh (Kexx)

Justice Francis Achibonga has freed Lang TombongSabally – an immigration officer, who was standing trial in a diplomatic and service passport scandal case.

LaminDarboe – a driver at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Lang TombongSabally – an officer working with the Gambia Immigration Department were charged with stealing, conspiracy, receiving stolen property and making documents without authority.

The prosecution argued that LaminDarboe met Lang TombongSabally during the course of his employment. Lang TombongSabally requested for empty booklets of diplomatic and service passports from LaminDarboe. LaminDarboe, who is a driver at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, took the empty booklets of service and diplomatic passports from the office of the director of protocol without the director’s knowledge and consented, and handed it over to Lang TombongSabally. Lang TombongSabally sold the booklets and gave LaminDarboe and another person their shares of the proceeds. They were arrested in the course of their new found “lucrative” business and brought to court.

The driver, LaminDarboe, pleaded guilty to charges of stealing and conspiracy and he was accordingly sentenced based on his guilty plea. Lang TombongSaidy pleaded not guilty to the charges against him conspiracy, receiving stolen properties and making document without authority.

At the closure of the prosecution’s case, Lang TombongSaidy made a ‘no case submission’ but he was unsuccessful after the court dismissed it. But for the charge of making documents without authority, Lang TombongSaidy was successful.

Conspiracy:

Lang TombongSaidy was charged with conspiracy to commit a felony contrary to section 368 of the Criminal Code as he was accused of conspiring with LaminDarboe to steal and sell empty booklets of diplomatic and service passports belonging to the Gambia Government. The Judge said to succeed on the charge of conspiracy the prosecution must prove that there was an agreement to steal and an intention to commit the unlawful act. The prosecution called three (3) witnesses to prove the case against Lang TombongSabally. Prosecution witness one said he is a businessman. He testified that he purchased a blank diplomatic passport from Lang TombongSabally through Pa ModouDrammeh. He narrated three (3) instances he purchase the empty passport booklets. For Justice Achibonga, he said the witness was telling the court what Pa ModouDrammeh told him. The witness never witnessed the accused (Lang TombongSaidy) giving Pa ModouDrammeh the empty passports booklets. The witness admitted that he never saw Lang TombongSaidy giving the empty booklets to Pa ModouDrammeh. The Judge held that the first prosecution did not have personal knowledge of what happened and he was only saying what was related to him by Pa ModouDrammeh. He labeled the evidence as hearsay, adding the evidence was manifestly unreliable and the court cannot rely on it.

Prosecution witness 2 was a police officer who was part of the team of investigators comprising intelligence officers from the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), the Immigration and the Police, in this matter. He explained that the panel was set up after they received intelligence report that some people were engaged in issuing diplomatic passports to unqualified people. He testified that one MalickTunkara was arrested, who said the diplomatic passport was issued to him by one Banka Jatta. Banka Jatta is a Superintendent at the Gambia Immigration Department (GID). He explained that the passport was examined and it was found to be fake. He informed the court that Banka Jatta also said he got it from Lang TombongSabally, which led to Sabally’s arrest. He said after his arrest, Lang TombongSabally said he also got the empty booklets from LaminDarboe and that was how LaminDarboe was arrested. The witness said he recorded the statement of Lang TombongSabally and stated that Sabally made admissions before the panel. For Sabally, he denied appearing before any panel. The Judge said the investigation report was not tendered in court to give the court the opportunity to look into the report. The Judge held that the evidence of Lang TombongSaidy was corroborated by the testimony of Defence Witness One. He added that the prosecution did not challenge the evidence of Lang TombongSaidy and did not cross-examine DW1.

The Judge held that MalickTunkara is a very important witness, but the prosecution did not give any reason why they did not call him.

“The failure to call a material witness by the prosecution is fatal to the prosecution’s case,” Justice Achibonga said. The prosecution called the third prosecution witness LaminDarboe, the first accused person who was convicted based on his own plea, and regarded him as an accomplice. He stated that the position of the law is that evidence of an accomplice has to be corroborated.

LaminDarboe said he gave Lang TombongSabally 5 empty booklets of diplomatic and service passports. He added that Lang TombongSabally gave him money on two occasions. Lang TombongSabally said he does not know LaminDarboe as he denied receiving the empty passport booklets.

The Judge said the evidence of LaminDarboe was not corroborated and therefore, said he has doubt in the prosecution’s case. He added that the defence raised by Lang TombongSaidy created doubt in the prosecution’s case as he held that the prosecution failed in its pursuit to prove the charges against Lang TombongSaidy.

Receiving Stolen Property:

The Judge said the essential ingredients of the charge is that the prosecution must prove that the empty booklets of diplomatic and service passports have been stolen; that they were received by a person; that it was the accused person who received it; and the accused knew or had reason to believe that they were stolen.

Justice Achibonga said the only evidence before him was that of LaminDarboe who testified that he gave the empty booklets to Lang TombongSabally.

“There is no credible evidence,” the Judge said, and said the evidence of LaminDarboe is not credible and the court cannot rely on it since he is an accomplice. He then acquitted and discharged the accused person of all the charges brought against him.