Ex-Gambian President Yayah Jammeh Forfeits $ 3.5M Mansion to US Justice Department

Courtesy of The Fatu Network

The United States District Court in Maryland has handed down default judgment and Final Order of Forfeiture in the matter between the United States of America, Plaintiff, v. Real Property located in Potomac, Maryland, commonly known as 9908 Bent Cross Drive, Potomac, MD 20854, property which before this judgement belonged to former Gambian President Yahya Jammeh and his wife, Zineb Jammeh

Background

The matter which has finally been adjudicated started with a civil lawsuit on Wednesday 15th July 2010 with prosecutors seeking forfeiture of the real property located in Potomac, Maryland. According to them, the 'Defendant Property' (the mansion) was acquired with proceeds derived from illicit bribes and stolen public funds misappropriated by the former President of Gambia, Yayah Jammeh, and his wife, Zineb Jammed in violation of U.S. and Gambian law.

The U.S. prosecutors laid their case that Yahya Jammeh could not have acquired the funds to buy a multimillion-dollar mansion in the United States from his legitimate earnings. They also argued that neither could have his wife, Zineb, who was neither gainfully employed nor had a source of income to afford the property in the U.S.

Prosecutors argued that neither Jammeh nor Zineb (who do not appear to have family wealth) could explain how they acquired their assets.

“Ex-Gambian President Yahya Jammeh and his wife thought that they could hide funds stolen from the Gambian people by buying a mansion in Potomac, Maryland. The United States will not allow criminals to profit from their crimes and will seek justice for crime victims both here and abroad," said US Attorney Robert K. Hur for the District of Maryland

Service of Process.

Several attempts were made to serve the Jammeh’s as by law establish. Noticeably,  on or about February 4, 2021, the U.S. Department of State transmitted a Request for Assistance to the Central Authority of Equatorial Guinea pursuant to Article 18 of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime, to which both the United States and the Republic of Equatorial Guinea are parties, seeking assistance in determining the current location of the Jammeh's and serving the Jammeh's with notice of the commencement of the civil forfeiture action against the Defendant Property. Case 8:20-cv-02071-DKC

According to the Declaration by the U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Equatorial Guinea, Susan N. Stevenson, despite good faith efforts, the United States was unable to confirm that the Amended Complaint was served on the Jammeh's in Equatorial Guinea.

Ambassador Stevenson delivered the Request for Assistance to multiple government officials in Equatorial Guinea and delivered the original documents to be served on the Jammeh's to the Minister of Justice in Equatorial Guinea on May 4, 2021.

Although the President of Equatorial Guinea told Ambassador Stevenson on July 13, 2021, that documents were sent to the Jammehs' residence (implying that the Jammeh's remain in Equatorial Guinea), the Minister of Justice subsequently advised Ambassador Stevenson that his ministry had been unable to locate the Jammeh's and advised: “that the case should proceed with the understanding that the Governments of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea and the United States had made good faith efforts to advise the Jammeh's of the complaint.”

The judgement confirmed that the prosecutors used all internationally agreed means of service reasonably calculated to give notice to the Jammeh's.

Alternative Service

On May 26, 2021, prosecutors sought an order permitting alternative service since Plaintiff had been unable to serve the property owner. The court was convinced that multiple means for serving the property owner already completed were appropriate in the circumstances. Therefore, upon the request of Plaintiff, and pursuant to the required legislation the court ordered that the motion to permit alternative service is granted.

“Accordingly, in accordance with 18 U.S.C. § 985(c)(2) and Maryland Rule 2- 121(c), the United States filed a motion to permit alternative service on August 13, 2021 (ECF No. 113), which the Court granted on September 1, 2021, (ECF No. 14). Specifically, the Court found that the property owner of the Defendant Property was served no later than March 4, 2021," the judgement read.

After serving the Defendant Property, and since no extensions to these deadlines were requested, consented to, or granted by the Court and no person or entity filed either a claim to the Defendant Property or appeared to contest the forfeiture of the Defendant Property,

with the expiration of the time the Plaintiff (The United States) requested the entry of a Default Judgment and Final Order of Forfeiture, transferring title of the Defendant Property to the United States and directing the Attorney General to dispose of it according to law.

Judgement

In her Judgement Hon. Deborah K. Chasanow, United States District Judge made it clear that after following due process, it is ordered, adjudicated, and decreed that the court now has jurisdiction over the Defendant Property in this action. It also grants The United States’ Motion for Entry of Default Judgment and Final Order of Forfeiture.

The judgement further notes that since the United States, has filed a Verified Amended Complaint for Forfeiture in Rem [a lawsuit or other legal action directed towards a property, rather than toward a particular person] that complies in all respects with the legal requirements

and no person had filed a claim to the property within the time allowed, the Defendant Property, including the Trustees of the MYJ Family Trust, is hereby fully and finally forfeited to the United States.

“The United States shall have judgment as to the defendant’s property and no other person or entity shall have any right, title, or interest in the defendant's property. The United States shall dispose of the forfeited property in accordance with the law. This Order shall constitute certification of the Court’s finding that there was reasonable cause for the seizure or arrest of the defendant’s property subject to forfeiture,” The judgement reads.