Project description

For more than two decades, Yahya Jammeh ruled over Gambia, a tiny West African country known for tropical beaches and tranquility in a region often rocked by conflict.

Jammeh quickly became a dictator after taking power in a 1994 coup d’etat. His administration was implicated in widespread human rights abuses and several waves of brutal crackdowns on dissent. And his bizarre personality drew headlines around the world after he gave himself five titles and claimed to be able to cure AIDS.

Throughout his years in power, Jammeh flaunted his wealth. His lavish private estate in his home village was home to exotic animals, a military training camp and scores of luxury vehicles. He was known to drive a stretch Hummer around the country and he travelled in private jets.

But most of Jammeh’s financial dealings remained hidden — until now.

In a series of stories, OCCRP exposes for the first time how Jammeh and his associates plundered nearly US$1 billion of timber resources and Gambia’s public funds. Tens of thousands of documents — including government correspondence, contracts, bank records, internal investigations, and legal documents — lay bare the true scale of the theft.

OCCRP’s trove of thousands of confidential documents provides comprehensive insight into the financial dealings of former Gambia President Yahya Jammeh. It includes bank statements, contracts, government correspondence, internal reports, and Jammeh’s own directives.

What makes this project innovative?

Over several months, OCCRP reconstructed a detailed version of Gambia's former President Yahya Jammeh’s private economy by mapping relationships between the people, government entities, and local and foreign businesses in the president’s orbit. The analysis included a review of nearly 10,000 banking transactions and a forensic investigation of how government money flowed between Gambian and foreign recipients. This included identifying irregular and “red flagged” transactions, differentiating between money siphoned in cash or via bank accounts, and assessing various forms of debt. OCCRP relied on financial experts during this process.

What was the impact of your project? How did you measure it?

Our investigation was read by hundreds of thousands of readers across the globe. We believe we have succeded in making a complicated financial investigation accessible for readers because of the strong narrative throughout the series. Gambia's governmental inquiry into economic crimes by former President Yahya Jammeh handed its report to the country's new president, Adama Barrow, less than 48 hours after we published our investigation. We believe our investigation pushed the government to submit its report, the release of which had been delayed several times. Our project has also forced a re-examination of the role that Western banks play in African corruption (see: Corruption is not just an African thing, Mail and Guardian, 29 Mar 2019). Raising the profile of data-driven investigations into public corruption in African publications is one of the primary goals of OCCRP. The Great Gambia Heist was republished in Premium Times (Nigeria) and The Elephant (Kenya). It was also covered by the Guardian (UK) and the Associated Press (US).

Source and methodology

OCCRP collected thousands of confidential documents through several reporting trips to the West African region. The documents include bank statements, contracts, government correspondence, internal reports, and Jammeh’s own directives. We relied on financial experts to verify the data. Our team combed through the data and

Technologies Used

The PDFs received by OCCRP, including more than 10,000 banking transactions, required manual extraction in many instances as tools such as OCR could not accurately extract without compromising the accuracy and integrity of the data. The data could not be farmed out to a third party due to sensitivity. Once extracted and documented on PDF sheets, the data was cleaned isolating for inaccuracies and duplications before being cross-checked with out itemised sources such as individual cheques and directives. Unlike other journalism projects, a formal Commission of Inquiry had invested over $1 million into investigating the same over a period of 18 months with a team of accountants, and there was no room for error.

Project members

Khadija Sharife, Mark Anderson, Daniela Lepiz

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