Mr Samba, a lawyer by profession, was a full-time businessman by 1994.  He had long resigned as a State counsel and was not actively practising law. 

He became the president and chairman of Gacem, a cement importing and packaging company established in 1992 with 50% shares owned by him.  By 1994, Gacem’s annual turnover was estimated at around a mere 5 to 7 million dalasi, equivalent to about $156,000 at the current exchange rate.

On the other hand, the military ruler came to the State House a pauper, but as he tightened his grip on power, he pilfered and looted the smallest country of mainland Africa.

Samba became a close confidante of Yahya Jammeh as soon as the latter took over The Gambia government in a coup d’état in July 1994.  Suddenly, the duo became the two chief business magnates The Gambia ever produced.

Samba suddenly became larger-than-life in the business sector, having enough money to buy shares in a bank, set up a construction company, establish a water bottling company, set up fuel stations and a largescale petroleum storage facility, and build magnificent commercial properties.

As Samba’s dealings with Jammeh became apparent, a need arose for him to keep some of his wealth beyond the shores of The Gambia.  He incorporated Amasa Holdings as an offshore company based in the British Virgins Island, a notorious tax haven.

Reports about Samba emerged in April 2016 when the first stories were published as part of the Panama Papers, a global investigation led by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). 

At the time, no Gambian reporter had access to the full set of documents linking Samba and the company, Amasa Holdings, whose details were among those leaked in the Panama Papers trove. 

Now, with exclusive access and in collaboration with CENOZO and ICIJ, Lamin Jahateh, a freelance Gambian journalist, can reveal details drawn from hundreds of leaked documents relating to Samba, Amasa Holdings and the offshore world. 

Samba registered Amasa in the British Virgin Islands as an International Business Company on 25 March 2004, according to legal documents from the Panama Papers.

Even though the beneficial owner of the company was not listed, Samba and his daughter, Sira Samba, were named as owning 1,000 and 100 shares, respectively.

According to leaked Panama Papers documents, Samba used Amasa to buy at least seven properties in London, United Kingdom, between 2005 and 2011, cumulatively costing more than £10,160,000, equivalent to more than 650 million Gambian dalasi at present exchange rate. 

Less than one year after registering the company, he bought a house close to central London near Regent’s Park for £995,000 (about 64 million dalasi at current rate) in May 2005 through Barclays Bank Plc, UK, according to the leaked files.

Exactly one year after, in May 2006, Samba purchased another flat in London, this time close to the famous Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum, for £1,075,000 (about 69 million dalasi) through Barclays Bank Plc.

Three months later, in August 2006, files show he bought another property at the same address for a further £890,000 (about 57 million dalasi).

Five months later, in January 2007, Samba's Amasa bought another property for £2.95 million (about 189 million dalasi). 

Amasa continued to acquire properties in luxurious London neighbourhoods from September 2007 into July 2011, including three properties for at least £700,000 (about 45 million dalasi), £950,000 (about 61 million dalasi) and £2.3 million (about 147 million dalasi), respectively.

The use of loans and bank facilities is one of the most common ways of laundering money in the real estate sector. 

A finance lecturer at the University of The Gambia, Ba Lamin Darboe, said it was amazing how any Gambian business could accrue more than £10 million within such a short period of time considering the business environment in The Gambia at the time. 

It is unclear what due diligence or know-your-client steps Barclays Bank Plc took while facilitating these transactions or what security was offered by Samba to qualify for such substantial loans.



Clean business

Samba confirmed to ICIJ in March 2019 that he owned Amasa Holdings with his daughter, saying he decided to incorporate the business in the United Kingdom “because as a non-resident there are certain taxes I would have to pay if it is in my name”.

He added that through Amasa Holdings, he obtained loans from the banks to do some residential property business.

“I was financed by the bank,” he said. “I bought and did some improvements on the homes and then sold them.” 

A Barclays spokesperson declined to comment on the story.

The use of loans and bank facilities is one of the most common ways of laundering money in the real estate sector. 

Ava Lee, senior anti-corruption campaigner at Global Witness, said buyers with illicit funds apply for a loan or mortgage to buy a property and later settle the mortgage in full after a short time. 

She said the case of Amasa Holdings Ltd is “a fairly classic model” of a shady business where an anonymous company is set up somewhere like the British Virgin Islands and the company is used to open bank accounts and buy properties while the real name and identity of the owner stays secret. 

“Not only does this help avoid raise suspicion with the bank, estate agent and UK authorities, it also conceals your identity from people back home – who might otherwise ask how you managed to afford such an expensive property,” Ms Lee pointed out.

From a broader perspective, it has been observed time and time again that UK property is incredibly appealing to corrupt politicians and criminals who use it to launder and invest stolen cash and find safe haven for themselves and their families when the going gets rough elsewhere. 

But Lee said a few things are changing in the UK to address this.  For example, the UK government has introduced Unexplained Wealth Orders which vests authorities with the power to ask someone they suspect to have suspiciously acquired a property to prove they bought it legitimately.

Meanwhile, it appears that the British Virgin Island government's financial intelligence agency has been investigating Amasa because the government has requested information from the erstwhile registered agent of the company, Mossack Fonseca, according to Panama Papers.  

Bai Matarr Drammeh, a business man and former president of the Gambia Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said people sometimes go into offshore business to launder money and take the supposedly clean money back to their country or somewhere else as an investment portfolio. 

“In other cases, it is a matter of feeling that people should not know that you got money and you need to hide the fact that you have such huge amount of money. Therefore, you go offshore where you are guaranteed safe keeping and non-disclosure,” he said.

Nonetheless,  Samba had already started venturing into commercial property development even before going offshore. 

Between 1995 and 2004, he built magnificent commercial properties in The Gambia.  These included the UN House in Cape Point, Bakau, the Standard Chartered House on Kairaba Avenue Traffic Lights, and the Guaranty Trust Bank headquarters on Kairaba Avenue.

A real estate expert and property valuator who did not wish to be named estimated that these three properties could not have been constructed for anything less than $8 million (392,000,000 dalasi).  He is afraid of possible reprisal from Samba.  

Chronological red flag: the oil saga

While Samba was buying properties in the UK and building magnificent edifices in The Gambia, he was involved in some contracts with former president Jammeh.

The crude oil support by the then Nigerian government to the Jammeh Government was one key venture. Twice Nigeria gave crude oil support to The Gambia: in 1996 during the time of Dictator General Sanni Abacha, a friend of Jammeh, and then under Olusegun Obasanjo, in 2002.

In 1996, several millions of dollar’ worth of crude oil was supplied by General Abacha to The Gambia at a concessionary price to keep the oil price in the country down and for government to make money to keep the wheels of the economy moving. 

In November 2002 , President Obasanjo also approved similar support of 180,000 metric tonnes (over 200 million litres) of refined and crude petroleum products to The Gambia government.

In both cases, the oil was allegedly diverted and sold overseas without ever arriving at its original destination, The Gambia. 

Proceeds from both deals were kept in a secret bank account in Switzerland, according to local newspaper reports at the time. 

Samuel Sarr, a Senegalese with Gambian family ties who was made the principal negotiator in the 2002 deal, confirmed the existence of the foreign bank account but could not disclose the account owner. 

More than $550 million (over 27 billion dalasi) was received from the sale of the oil in 2002, according to media reports.  This amount is more than the entire national budget of The Gambia in 2019.

“It’s all lies. I’ve never, never been to Nigeria to lift crude oil. Let them come with any evidence.” 

These moneys were never reported in the national budget where all government incomes and expenditures should be reflected, nor were they reflected in any official transaction.

The Earth Resources Management Agency in Nigeria, which was initially involved in the deal on behalf of The Gambia Government, said the 2002 crude oil support was lifted by those fronting for The Gambia and specifically implicated Amadou Samba.

When contact for comments in March 2019, Samba denied any involvement. 

“It’s all lies. I’ve never, never been to Nigeria to lift crude oil,” he said.  “Let them come with any evidence.” 

However, it has been established that the lead negotiator of the crude oil support of 2002, Mr Samuel Sarr, was in business with Samba.  The two of them, together with a cousin of Samba, brought Elton Oil Company to The Gambia shortly after the crude oil saga. 

Speculation was rife among some of those with knowledge of the crude oil support programme that it may form the root of Jammeh and Samba’s vast and sudden riches.

When the crude scandal broke out, politician Omar Jallow went so far as to describe it as “one of the most capriciously corrupt and disgraceful practices that The Gambia has ever witnessed”. 

The construction contracts

Amadou Samba and Yahya Jammeh started their patronage from Jammeh’s day one in government.

Barely six months after Jammeh took over the presidency, Samba registered a construction company, GAMSEN, in January 1995.  In the same year (September), the military ruler gave him a $10 million project to construct Banjul International Airport’s new terminal building. 

After that, the company was awarded more and more public construction projects including the Arch 22, a commemorative monument at the entrance of Banjul, built to the tune of US$1.15 million (over 57 million dalasi at current rate) in 1996. 

It also built the Serekunda General Hospital (the second biggest hospital in Gambia), the Supreme Court complex in Banjul, the Serekunda Market (Gambia's biggest market) and Bwiam General Hospital.

Economic experts said awarding lucrative public work projects to their friends and relatives is one of the easiest ways that politicians enrich themselves and their families. 

Almost none of these contracts followed the public bidding process. 

But Samba said that it was common for companies to receive contracts without tender during the military transition government and that his company was far from the only one. 

“So many contracts were given by transition government. None of them was tendered,” he told ICIJ.

According to Samba, the fact that he was awarded the untendered contracts had nothing to do with any relationship he had with former President Jammeh, saying “in Gambia, people build up all kinds of impressions.”

The string of businesses 

From 1995 to 2008, a period of about 13 years, Samba established or bought shares in at least nine companies, different from his local commercial property building and letting.

In 2003, teamed up with a close associate of former President Jammeh, Muhammed Bazzi, a Belgian-Lebanese, to set up Euro African Group in 2003.

Barely one year after the establishment of the company, it was granted an exclusivity contract as sole importer of fuel into The Gambia by the Jammeh Government from 2004 to 2015, according to documents tendered at the commission of inquiry set up by the government of President Adama Barrow to investigate the financial dealings of the former President Jammeh, his family and close associates from July 1994 to January 2017 when he fled the country. 

While the Nigeria oil deal was ongoing, Guaranty Trust Bank Plc in Nigeria applied and was granted license by the Gambian authorities to operate in the country and Samba became the only Gambian major shareholder of the subsidiary, owning 12.6% shares, according to the company’s shareholder list.  ‘Other Gambian and non-Gambian individuals / institutions’ own 9.5%.

However, according to an anonymous Gambian investor, the 12.6% shares registered on Samba’s name actually belonged to Jammeh.  Samba himself owned about 8 of the other 9.5% shares but that is not registered on his name.

“I got to know this from the Nigerian investors themselves because when they came here first, they wanted my company to buy some shares of the bank. But they later told me before they could decide how many percent would be allocated to me, they have to first meet the president [Yahya Jammeh],” the anonymous investor said.

“After meeting Jammeh, they later told me the president bought 12 per cent shares but this was going to be registered on Amadou’s name.”

Samba eventually became the chairman of GTBank Gambia. And many accounts of Jammeh as the president, including his salary account, and the State House accounts were domiciled at the GTBank.

In June 2001, the same year that Samba bought shares in GTBank, he incorporated Elton Oil together with his cousin, Edi Mass Jobe.  It’s a filling company that deals in gasoline, diesel, gas oil, lubricants, etc. The company opened its first fuel station for business in April 2002. 

“After meeting Jammeh, they later told me the president bought 12 per cent shares but this was going to be registered on Amadou’s name.”


Just as Elton Oil started operations, Samba also established Gam Water, owing 99 per cent of the company which produced purified, bottled natural mineral water.  Samba recently sold the company.

Samba with Bazzi, again, established Global Electrical Group, a private company producing electricity and selling it to NAWEC.  The company, commissioned in 2006, is 99% own by Bazzi and 1%, Samba.

Samba and Bazzi again, together with other government institutions, later established Gam Petroleum, a storage facility that stores oil for national and international companies.  Samba owns 10% of the shares at Gam Petroleum which was established in 2008.

A financial audit of the company by PKF, an audit firm, revealed that from 2010 to 2015, it made no profit. Yet in February 2015, Samba sold his shares of this lost making company to the government of Jammeh for 3.5 million euros (over 195 million dalasi).  The company has now been transformed to a public corporation, called the Gambia National Petroleum Corporation.

In 2008, the same year that Gam Petroleum was established, Samba and Bazzi established Gamveg, a vegetable cooking oil producing company.  Each of them owns 50% shares there. 

Interestingly, while Bazzi and Samba were establishing Gam Petroleum and Gamveg, Samba apparently still had enough money to be buying properties in the UK through Amasa Holdings.

Responding to the perceptions that his rapid rise in the business world was on the coat tails of a corrupt president, Samba said that for the 35 years he has been in business “I have never been involved in anything shady”.  

He blamed the accusations of wrong-doing on jealousy.  

Board position

Samba also served as a board chairman of Social Security and Housing Finance Corporation (SSHFC), a mandatory contributory benefit pension scheme for all employees in the country, both in public and private sectors.  It is the most financially liquid government corporation.

A career civil servant said board members and chairpersons of public corporations were literally appointed by Jammeh and it was not uncommon for him to put people he can “work with” in these places.

According to documents presented at the commission of inquiry, while serving as the board chairman of SSHFC, the corporation provided a cumulative loan of $183 million (over 9 billion dalasi) to National Water and Electricity Company (NAWEC) to buy generators through Global Trading Group, a company established by Bazzi, a friend of Samba.

In 2010, several loans were given to NAWEC by SSHFC amounting to more than $300 million (over 14 billion dalasi), mostly for fuel and generator spare parts mainly through Euro African Group and Global Trading Group.

Similarly, in June 2011, SSHFC, under Samba’s chairmanship, provided a total sum of $18.9 million (over 939 million dalasi) as loan to NAWEC for the provision of heavy fuel from Gam Petroleum, a company partly owned by Samba himself.

Samba has been officially declared a close associate of Jammeh by the commission of inquiry which submitted its report to President Adama Barrow on 29 March 2019.  By law, the president has to act on the recommendations of the report within six months.

Samba had appeared before the commission on a number of occasions.

He said he was called to the commission because people thought that he was closely associate with Jammeh, “which was wrong”. 

“Jammeh victimised me on a lot of occasions,” he challenged. “He was competing with me in the cement business, in the water business.”

But Samba said he didn’t always have a choice. “If he [Jammeh] calls me for a meeting, I will go. If I don’t, I could be in prison.”

A comprehensive set of questions was sent to Samba providing an opportunity for his input on his alleged close relationship with former President Jammeh and the perceived benefits he derived thereby.

His lawyer replied by declining to answer any of the questions on the basis that these matters were sub judice as the commission of inquiry was then on-going.  

 

Company Name

Date created

Shares amount or percentage

Comment

  1. Gacem

1992/3

20 % 

Used to own 50% but he sold the 30%

  1. Gamsen

1995

100 %? 

(could not be ascertained)

Closed

  1. GTBank Gambia

2001

12.6 %

 
  1. Elton Oil

2001

Could not be ascertained

Sold 

  1. Gam Water

2002

99 %

sold

  1. Euro Africa Group

2003

45 %

 
  1. Amasa Holdings

2004

1,000 shares

Closed 

  1. Global Electrical Group

2005/6

1 %

 
  1. Gamveg

2008

50 %

Not in operation

  1. Gam Petroleum 

2008

10 %

Sold