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Political asylum Gambian ex-minister seeking Swiss haven

Senegalese soldiers do a security check at Gambia's State House amid preparations for the new president

(Keystone)

A former top loyalist to the dictator who ruled the West African country of Gambia for 22 years has requested asylum in Switzerland, authorities said.

Gambia’s former interior minister, Ousman Sonko, has applied for asylum in Switzerland where he has been been living in an asylum center in canton Bern since last November, Hans-Jürg Käser, head of the canton’s police and military department, confirmed to Swiss public television, SRF.

Sonko, who commanded an elite squad that activists say was notorious for its brutality, fled Gambia after Gambia's then-strongman president Yahya Jammeh sacked him last fall. The ex-interior minister reportedly sought residency in Sweden before landing in Switzerland.

As a former top lieutenant to Jammeh, Sonko also could offer a wealth of intelligence on former Gambian president Jammeh’s reported connections to money launderers, drug traffickers and others with ties to organized crime or terror-linked organizations.

Troubling record

Jammeh, whom rights groups say led a government that routinely detained, beat and killed its opponents, was defeated in December elections that the ruling party challenged. He finally left the country this month under international pressure backed by a West African regional military force. Hundreds of Gambians disappeared during Jammeh’s rule.

Gambia's new president, Adama Barrow, is set to arrive from neighboring Senegal where he was safely ensconced while waiting for things to settle. Barrow has promised to undo many of Jammeh’s repressive actions. Gambia's lawmakers lifted the country's state of emergency.

Sonko also may have left with a lot of cash. According to Gambian officials, his one-time boss, Jammeh, stole millions of dollars from government accounts and loaded a cargo plane full of luxury cars that he sent abroad. A special adviser to Barrow has told journalists that Jammeh stole $11.4 million in one two-week period alone.

Sonko, who presented a diplomatic passport to Swiss authorities, was assigned to Bernese cantonal authorities in mid-November after undergoing interrogation protocols, Käser told the Swiss News Agency. The State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) is following the case. It regulates the conditions under which people can enter Switzerland to live and work and decides who will receive protection from persecution.

swissinfo.ch and agencies/jmh

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