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Gambia's former first lady Zineb Jammeh hit with US sanctions

Former Gambian President Yahya Jammeh arrives at a polling station with his wife Zineb during the presidential election in Banjul, Gambia, December 1, 2016. REUTERS/Thierry Gouegnon/File Photo

DAKAR (Reuters) - Zineb Jammeh, the wife of Gambia’s former president, Yahya Jammeh, has been hit with U.S. sanctions for her role in the economic plunder of the tiny West African county during her husband’s 22-year rule, the U.S. Treasury said on Tuesday.

Yahya Jammeh stole at least $50 million of state funds during a despotic tenure that ended in 2017 when he was forced into exile after losing an election, the Gambian Justice Ministry says.

Much of his remaining assets are controlled by Zineb, the U.S. Treasury said.

Yahya Jammeh was not reachable from his residence in Equatorial Guinea on Tuesday, but his lawyers have denied wrongdoing in the past. Zineb could not be reached for comment.

“Zineb has reportedly been instrumental in aiding and abetting Jammeh’s economic crimes against the country, and despite numerous calls for Zineb to intervene, has turned a blind eye to Jammeh’s human rights abuses,” the statement said.

The money, often delivered to Jammeh through massive cash withdrawals from bank accounts not in his name, afforded the Jammehs a lavish lifestyle that included the purchase of a $3.5 million mansion in the eastern U.S. state of Maryland, acquired through a trust set up by Zineb.

Zineb is in charge of most of Jammeh’s assets around the world, the U.S. Treasury said. She ran a charity that Reuters revealed here was used to send millions of dollars to Jammeh instead of to charitable projects.

Yahya Jammeh, who took power in 1994 after a peaceful coup, ran the tropical tourist destination with a mix of generosity and fear here. He claimed to have a herbal cure for AIDS, risking the lives of countless people who were sent to him for treatment. Under his rule, opponents were jailed, tortured or killed here, rights groups say. Jammeh has denied such charges.

The U.S. also placed sanctions on Nabah Ltd, a U.K.-registered company run by Ashraf Seed Ahmed Al-Cardinal which the Treasury says holds funds for senior-level South Sudanese officials in an attempt to avoid sanctions.

Editing by Bernadette Baum