By Kemeseng Sanneh
Lawyer Ida Drammeh representing business tycoon Abubacar Jawara on Friday continued with her cross-examination Momodou Sabally over comments he made about his client.
Sabally, the Campaign Manager for the United Democratic Party (UDP) has been sued by Jawara, the Chief Executive Officer of GACH Global for comments he made against him which were supposedly defamatory. The factory owner (Jawara) wants a compensation of Eight Million Dalasi (D8,000,000) from Sabally and in addition, an unreserved apology from the politician.
The former Secretary General and Head of Civil Service, now a member of the UDP and now called “Babala Commandor” said his comments were fair and made in the public interest. He stated in his statement that Jawara is a politically exposed person.
On Friday, Sabally was asked about his knowledge of Abubacar Jawara’s vast business interest, but he responded that he only knew that Jawara is a businessman and has business interests. Lawyer Ida Drammeh for Jawara pushed further to refer Sabally to his affidavit (sworn statement) that he mentioned that Jawara has a ‘vast’ business interest. Sabally replied by saying he could not recall mentioning the word “vast” in his statement. Drammeh referred Sabally to paragraph 4 of his statement.
“Will you agree with me that the word vast means very great quantity, or immense,” Lawyer Drammeh asked.
“That would be correct,” Sabally answered.
Momodou Sabally claimed that he is a politically exposed person because he is engaged in politics even before he joined UDP.
Sabally admitted that he is not familiar with the National Environment Agency (NEA) laws in response to Lawyer Drammeh’s question about his knowledge regarding environmental laws.
“So you know mining is one of those that require NEA approval before a license is granted,” asked Drammeh.
Momodou Sabally replied in the affirmative.
“It is correct Mr Sabally you did not check whether the NEA was done before you made those comments,” Lawyer Drammeh asked.
“Yes, I don’t have to in order to make a fair comment on it,” Sabally answered.
Lawyer Drammeh said: “I am putting it to you that you are reckless and malicious.”
“No, I am speaking for the public interest,” Sabally answered.
Lawyer Drammeh asked whether he has the right based on public interest to say things that are false or wrong. Momodou Sabally answered “Yes,” adding he did not say anything false and wrong.
“Now, are you very familiar with the plaintiff’s (Jawara’s) businesses,” Lawyer Drammeh asked.
“I know he is into mining, tomato production and gun importation,” Sabally asked.
Lawyer Drammeh also put to Sabally that he did talk about Jawara’s rice cultivation, generators and other issues.
“You also talked about his government bids. Have you seen them?” Lawyer Drammeh asked.
“I have not seen all of them,” Sabally answered.
“You have not seen any of them,” Drammeh said.
“Yes, but I heard about it in newspapers and on social media posts,” Sabally said.
“Do you want people to believe everything on social media?” Lawyer Drammeh asked.
“Not necessarily,” Sabally answered.
Lawyer Drammeh asked whether he (Sabally) also believes everything in the newspapers. Sabally responded that “not necessarily” because not everything in the newspaper is true. Momodou Sabally added that even he sees things in newspapers that are not true about him.
Lawyer Drammeh asked whether he (Sabally) knows how many youths are employed in the GACH tomato factory situated in Lamin, the production of the factory, and the statistics of the tomato factory, but Sabally replied in the negative, saying he does not know.
Drammeh asked whether he (Momodou Sabally) was aware that the office of the IGP had to inspect the warehouse before he (Jawara) imported the guns and that the police issued the licence for personal use and importation. Momodou Sabally answered that he was not aware of that.
“I am putting it to you that the plaintiff was given a licence to import guns for sale in September 2018,” Lawyer Drammeh said.
“No, I am not aware of that,” Sabally answered.
Momodou Sabally (centre) outside the court house
Lawyer Drammeh still asked whether he’s aware that the Police wrote to Jawara’s sales manager requesting a background check but Sabally answered that he is not aware of that.
Lawyer Drammeh told Sabally that he did not make any attempts to find out whether the office of the IGP issued a license to Jawara or not. Sabally said he (Sabally) ought not to have done that when there was rampant inflation of drugs, a high rate of deportation and crimes.
“I do not have to in order to make a fair comment on the matter,” he said.
He said he made a fair comment and he was not obliged to wait for the IGP in order to make a fair comment in the public interest.
“I am putting it to you that you did not check the accuracy of the facts of the stories before you published them,” Lawyer Drammeh puts.
“I do check the accuracy of what I published. generally, yes,” Momodou Sabally answered.
Lawyer Drammeh asks whether he generally included checking with the National Environment Agency (NEA), the Inspector General of Police (IGP) and the Office of the President to verify facts. Momodou Sabally said he does not have to do that because we are in a newfound democracy.
“You agree that when you make statements it generates responses,” Lawyer Drammeh asked.
“Yes for the common good,” Sabally answered
Sabally said his speech was made in the public interest.
“It is correct that you don’t have the right to insult anyone?” Lawyer Drammeh asked.
“Yes, unless that person insults,” Sabally answered.
“I am putting it to you that the plaintiff lost 8 Million as a result of your publications,” Lawyer Drammeh said.
“No,” Sabally answered.
Lawyer Drammeh still put it to him (Sabally) that because of his publication, Jawara had to close his factory because he could not get vital raw materials.
“No,” Sabally answered.
When asked about where Jawara gets his raw materials from, Sabally said the factory is optimal because raw materials are always available even from Casamance. Sabally said Jawara can get tomatoes in the Gambia.
“I am putting it to you that you don’t know anything about that,” Lawyer Drammeh puts.
“I do know about it because industrial theories said you don’t establish where you can’t get raw materials,” Sabally answered.
Momodou Sabally said he has never been to Congo and he did not check with their Government before making comments about Jawara.
Momdou Sabally denied the claim by Lawyer Drammeh that he had received $3,000 from Jawara. Sabally further denied the claim by the Lawyer that he asked for a D70,000 favour from Jawara to pay his house rent. Sabally said he has never sought such favours from Jawara.
“You used an expression like irrefutable and irreversible,” Lawyer Drammeh said.
“Yes,” Sabally answered.
“Because you think you are always right,” Lawyer Drammeh said, but Sabally replied in the negative.
Alleged Cocaine Importation
About his comments about the Cocaine consignment saga, Sabally said he is aware of the ongoing prosecutions of Banta regarding the matter, who he said he does not know. He added that he has never met Banta Keita.
Lawyer Drammeh said the burning down of the police station in Sanyang was about the demise of youth, but Sabally denied this as he stated that it involves so many social issues that angered the youths of that village.
Drammeh told Sabally that the police station and the fish meal factory in Sanyang were both burnt but Sabally said he does not know about the fish meal factory. He said he did follow the police statements [to know what obtained in Sanyang before making his comment].
“On the 28th March 2021 you are aware of the statement of the killing of one youth and police are calling for calm?” Lawyer Drammeh asked.
“I don’t know about this statement,” Sabally answered.
Lawyer Drammeh said Sabally knew this because an angry mob of young people reacted to the demise of the youth. Sabally said the Sanyang violent protest occurred in the context of social issues that happened around that time.
Drammeh informed Sabally that Abubacar Jawara was the one who built the police station. Sabally said Jawara is known in the public as someone who gives out gifts including to the police. Momodou Sabally added that the police station should not be built by Jawara or a businessman.
“Are you independent,” Lawyer Drammeh asked.
“Yes, I am,” Sabally answered.
At this point, Lawyer Drammeh applied for certain paragraphs in the affidavit or statement of defence to be struck out. She pointed out paragraphs 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 28, 30, 38, and 41. The Lawyer said those statements are hearsay evidence referring to the National Assembly and other documents which are not before the court. She cited Section 138 of the Evidence Act about evidence dealing with documentary evidence. She submitted that National Assembly proceedings are documented and therefore must be presented before the court.
Lawyer Drammeh submitted further that Sabally’s statement talked about press statements and police statements that were not tendered before the court. She added that Sabally also talked about Malagen Online Newspaper publication. She argued that these documents have not been tendered in court by Sabally.
She said other paragraphs were about investigations by the police, NIA and the Gambia Armed Forces but Sabally did not tender the documents.
Lawyer J. Sambou for Momodou Sabally argued that the objections that Lawyer Drammeh made was supposed to be done at the pre-trial stage and not now. Barrister Sambou relied on Rule 23 of the Rules of the High Court. Sambou said the submissions by Lawyer Drammeh lacked merit and should be disregarded. He said it is late for Lawyer Drammeh to make such an application relying on Rule 35 of the High Court Rules. Sambou said the purpose of the pre-trial is meant to deal with objections and amendments. He asked the court to dismiss the application.
Justice Bakre interjected and told Lawyer Sambou that the law says that he (the Judge) cannot take a statement without the evidence which is not before the court.
Defense Counsel Sambou maintained his ground referring the court to sections 89, 90, 91, and 92 of the Evidence Act.
The presiding Judge adjourned the case to enable Sambou to consult with his senior, Lawyer Abdoulie Fatty who was absent.
The matter was adjourned till 15th March 2023 from 9 am to 11:45 am.