Yahya Jammeh, the authoritarian former ruler of the Gambia who went into exile at the weekend, stole millions of dollars in his final weeks in power, plundering the state coffers and shipping out luxury vehicles by cargo plane, a special adviser for the new president has claimed.
Jammeh, who took power in the former British colony in 1994, initially accepted his defeat at an election in December but then reversed his decision and clung to power until forced out by a regional military force and international pressure.
President Adama Barrow, the opposition politician who conclusively won the polls and was sworn in last week in neighbouring Senegal, is expected to return shortly.
Barrow took refuge in Senegal because of concerns for his safety when it became clear Jammeh was unwilling to give up power.
At a press conference in Senegal, Barrow’s special adviser, Mai Ahmad Fatty, told journalists the president “will return home as soon as possible”.
Fatty claimed Jammeh made off with more than $11.4m (£9.18m) during a two-week period.
“The Gambia is in financial distress. The coffers are virtually empty. That is a state of fact,” Fatty said. “It has been confirmed by technicians in the ministry of finance and the Central Bank of the Gambia.”
Fatty also said a cargo plane from Chad had transported luxury goods out of the country on Jammeh’s behalf in his final hours in power, including an unknown number of vehicles. Fatty said officials at the Gambia’s airport had been ordered not to allow any of Jammeh’s belongings to leave.
Separately, it appeared that some of the former president’s assets remained in the west African state of Guinea, where Jammeh and his closest allies stopped on their flight into exile.
Fatty said officials “regret the situation”, but it appeared that the major damage had been done, leaving the new government with little chance of recouping the funds.
The exile of Jammeh and his family is being hailed as a victory for democracy in Africa, amid fears of a new wave of authoritarianism across the continent.
“The news out of Gambia is a boost for African democracy. It reinforces important principles about leaders standing down after losing power,” said Prof Nic Cheeseman, an expert in African politics at the International Development Department of Birmingham University.