BANJUL (Reuters) - Gambia is selling several planes and a fleet of luxury cars bought by former president Yahya Jammeh as it seeks to reduce a mountain of crippling debt contracted during the authoritarian leader’s decades-long rule.
Jammeh, who seized power in a 1994 coup, fled Gambia early last year as West African neighbours were poised for military intervention to topple him after he refused to step down following an election loss to current President Adama Barrow.
While most of his people struggled in poverty under one of West Africa’s most oppressive regimes, Jammeh acquired vast wealth, much of which he packed into planes and carried with him into exile in Equatorial Guinea.
However, a fleet of vehicles, including several Rolls-Royces with Jammeh’s name embroidered in their red leather headrests, were left behind on the tarmac.
“The fleet of expensive vehicles at State House and the three planes bought by former president Yahya Jammeh have been put on sale,” Finance Minister Amadou Sanneh told Reuters. “My ministry will soon start publicising the sales.”
The International Monetary Fund warned Gambia on Wednesday against any new borrowing after its debt stock reached 130 percent of gross domestic product at the end of last year.
Most of that debt was contracted under Jammeh, either through borrowing or the government’s taking on the liabilities of state-owned enterprises.
“Let me be very clear ... it may even go higher because we have not opened the books of the state-owned enterprises,” said Jaroslaw Wieczorek, who led a recent IMF mission to Gambia. “It could be a lot of liability.”
Since taking office and discovering government coffers were largely empty, Barrow’s administration has worked to disentangle Gambia’s state finances from Jammeh’s sprawling personal business empire.
Sanneh said last year that around $100 million - more than a third of the government’s annual budget - had been siphoned from state firms.
Barrow set up a commission that visited Jammeh’s many properties - one estate boasts a mosque, jungle warfare training camp and a vast private safari park - to establish an inventory of his possessions with the aim of recovering looted assets.
Investigators have also sought to establish what wealth Jammeh may have stashed abroad.
The process has faced opposition from Jammeh’s political party and supporters, who have accused Barrow’s government of carrying out a witchhunt against the ex-president.
Additional reporting and writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Mark Heinrich