By Yankuba Jallow
Musa Cham, a resident of Sukuta has on Monday, 26th October 2020 gave testimony of his encounters with alleged criminal syndicate groups at the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), the Gambia Police Force, government employees and some land dealers.
The Sukuta born said the members of the syndicate group were in a joint enterprise and were taking people’s properties illegally. The businessman said certain people at the Department of Physical Planning or Department of Land and Survey in addition to the police, NIA operatives and private citizens like Yankuba Cham and Sait Mboob among others were part of what he called a ‘criminal syndicate’.
“These are people in the same venture,” the witness said.
The witness said Lalo Kanteh was a land dealer, Yankuba Cham used to work for either the Department of Physical Planning or Department of Land and Survey and Sait Mboob was a land dealer.
The building material dealer said police officer Boto Keita and his subordinates were part of the alleged criminal syndicate group, and NIA Officer Dembo Mbye was the leading figure in the group.
“If they see your signature, they can duplicate it. This was how they were taking people’s properties,” the witness said.
The witness described them as wicked people.
“Sait Mboob forged my signature. He brought out several documents and if you look at them, you will think I am the one who appended my signature on them,” the witness said.
In describing the alleged criminal activities of the professed criminal syndicate, the witness said the group members used to approach an individual if they knew the person has a plot of he/she wanted to sell. They will declare their interest in purchasing the place and whatever price you tell them they will accept, he added. He said they will give the land owner a small token to prepare the transfer, but they will ask the land owner to sign on a paper that he received advanced payment.
“This is how they get people’s signatures,” the witness said.
The witness said the purported fraudsters would then duplicate people’s signatures indicating receipt of several payments of the sum agreed.
“After duplicating your signature, they will come and demand for the transfer and if you tell them to complete the payment, they will insist that the payment was already made and would show you signed documents bearing your own signature,” the witness said.
The witness maintained that if the land owner insisted that he/she would not sign the documents, he or she would be taken to the NIA headquarters where the person would be made to sign under duress.
“At the NIA, you won’t be allowed to talk – they will just dictate you and you will do it,” the witness said.
The witness said Yankuba Cham mentioned above was very important in the deal. He said he makes documentations for the group members and would forge the Alkalo’s signature.
“Yankuba Cham makes documents and back dates it so that, in court, the real owner would lose because of the [principle] that the first in time [is the first in law],” the witness said.
He said if one gets into trouble with the criminal syndicate, they used to take the person to either police or somewhere and deal with the person in a way he/she would comply with their request.
“When they request for the transfer papers and you demand for your money that is where the problem starts,” the witness said.
The resident of Sukutasaid he was a victim of this alleged criminal syndicate.
He said a syndicate member in the person of Lalo Kanteh declared interest in a plot of land he was selling. The witness adduced that he agreed with Kanteh a price of D150,000, but Lalo Kanteh gave him D25,000 as advanced payment.
“They will show documents with your signature with date and time – that you have received the payment. They duplicate people’s signatures,” the witness said.
He said this happened around 2005, adding Boto Keita, Lalo Kanteh and Dembo Mbye were active players in this alleged dubious activity.
“I prepared all the transfer documents and when I called Lalo Kanteh to come and complete the payment so that I will give him the official transfer, he [Lalo] said there is no balance payment between us,” the witness said.
The witness said he held onto his document and refused to hand over the transfer paper to Lalo Kanteh as he did not complete the payment.
According to the witness, Dembo Mbye called him from the NIA and when he got to the place, he found Lalo Kanteh sitting with the NIA. The witness arrived at the NIA at 11 am and was there till 6 pm.
The NIA insisted that the witness has to effect the transfer of land documents to Lalo Kanteh. Two NIA operatives went with the witness to his house, he said.
The witness said he was asked how much he bought his house furniture, clothing and other things they saw in the house. The witness said while he was answering their questions, the two operatives were recording him and left when they were done with their recording.
He said upon his return to the NIA headquarters, Lalo Kanteh swore to shoot him or hit him with his vehicle.
“That was how they took my compound. They took the official transfer which I prepared and handed it to Lalo Kanteh. Dembo was commanding the NIA operatives,” the witness said.
He said the transfer paper he prepared at the Department of Physical Planning and Department of Land and Survey were all marked ‘cancel’ by Lalo Kanteh and he was asked to sign another set of official documents at the NIA. The witness said he was told that after signing, the document, it was going to be taken to the Department of Physical Planning.
“I feel that if I don’t sign those documents I may die. I felt insecure,” the witness said.
He said he is the only male child of his biological parents.
“I had to sign for my safety and for the sake of my family,” he said.
He said late in the evening, he was bailed by one of his sisters and was asked to report the following day at 8 am.
The witness was helped by Lawyer Ousainou Darboe to get back his land and was able to get back his land using the courts.
“I got back my land,” the witness said.
There was a day in August 2016 the witness went to his compound to work and a man came to him named Tala Mboob. There were two compounds between Mboob and the witness.
The witness informed Mboob that he intend to sell his plot and he agreed with Mboob on D800,000 including the house the witness built. Mboob gave the witness D250,000 as advanced payment for him to go and prepare the documents.
After some time, Mboob returned and informed the witness that the land is reserved by ex-President Yahya Jammeh, but Mboob was adamant that he was going to continue with the payment. The witness paid Mboob the amount, but he refused to take the money with the claim that the money has been in his possession for some time.
“Mboob said he did not receive the money because it has taken time with me,” the witness said.
Lamin Ceesay, a resident of Brufut called from the NIA Headquarters requesting the witness to come to answer. He said one Lawyer Gomez called Ceesay after the witness spent some time at the NIA headquarters. The witness was allowed to go home on the first day with emphasis that he has to bring all his documents with respect to the land. On the following day, the witness came to the NIA and was put in cell for 21 days.
He said Mboob offered to pay D230,000 for the property that is valued for D800,000 and he refused to accept the offer because it was too small for the property.
The witness adduced that he was tortured during his 3rd week under detention at the NIA. The witness showed the TRRC his right arm which sustained injury as a result of the kicks and the beatings he endured in the custody of the NIA.
“My hand was paining me. Two of my fingers had a problem. I was kicked at my ribs,” the witness said.
The witness said this was when he informed his tormentors that he was ready to sign the document. The witness said he signed the document.
The witness said he was not arraigned before a court of competent jurisdiction in his 21 days detention.
He said there was a day after his release when one NIA operative one Lamin Ceesay asked him to go with the wholesome (D230,000). The witness adduced that Ceesay took D90,000 from the amount as payment for the time he spent at the NIA as if it was a hotel.
The witness said it is the same piece of land he disputed with one Hawa Jallow. Cham said Hawa Jallow is a mother in-law to NIA operative Noah Kijera.
The witness said 10 meters was taken from his 15 by 40 meters of land and added to Hawa Jallow’s land. The witness said he was left with 5 by 40 meters. The witness adduced that this was done by Lungs, a clerk to the Kombo North District Tribunal and some tribunal members. He said the land is situated between Brusubi roundabout and the Banjul International Aiport – not far from the big garden in Sukuta.
“Lungs made the judgment right there in the bush and he asked me to demolish the house I was constructing,” the witness said.
The witness was served with a letter to answer to the high court because his land was going to be demolished by the Sheriff’s Division.
“I was informed that the Chief has entered judgment against me and I was told to demolish my building or else the Sherriff Division will write to the Department of Physical Planning for the house to be demolished because it belongs to Hawa Jallow, but I did not do what they advised me to do,” the witness said.
The witness said one night he was forced to sign a document that shows that the land belongs to Hawa Jallow.
“They were about six people and I was told they will deal with me if I don’t sign the document,” the witness said, adding Hawa Jallow and her husband were present when the threat was being made.
The witness said Kijera and the others threatened to strip him naked if he insists on not signing the document.