POTOMAC, Md. — Vehemently anti-LGBT Gambian President Yahya Jammeh owns a $3.5 million mansion in a wealthy Montgomery County suburb.
Property records the Washington Blade obtained indicate that Calbert Cheaney, a retired professional basketball player who was once a member of the Washington Bullets, and his wife, Yvette Cheaney, sold the mansion on Bentcross Drive in Potomac to “Trustees of the MYJ Family Trust” on Sept. 29, 2010, in an “arms-length improved” transaction.
The 8,818-square-foot home in the Falconhurst subdivision was built in 1991.
Property records indicate the mansion — which is roughly a mile east of downtown Potomac off of River Road — has nine full bathrooms, two half bathrooms and an attached garage. It also has a 2,500-square-foot finished basement.
A fence encloses Jammeh’s home that sits on 2.3 acres of land. A security camera is mounted above the gate to the mansion’s driveway.
Property records note the mansion’s value as of Jan. 1, 2014, was $3,416,300.
Gambian president ‘unsympathetic’ and ‘selfish’
Jammeh took power in his small West African country in a 1994 coup.
He said during a 2013 speech at the U.N. General Assembly that homosexuality is among the three “biggest threats to human existence.” The Gambian president in February 2014 described gay men as “vermin” during a speech that commemorated his predominantly Muslim country’s independence from the U.K.
Those convicted of “aggravated homosexuality” in Gambia face life in prison under a law that Jammeh signed last fall.
Reports from human rights advocates and other observers indicate Gambian authorities have arrested more than a dozen people they accused of being gay since the statute took effect. These include the three “suspected homosexuals” the Gambian High Court last month ordered released on bail, according to a local newspaper.
The World Bank notes the average per capita income among Gambians in 2013 was $500. The organization’s statistics further indicate that 48.4 percent of the country’s population were living in poverty in 2010.
Fatou Camara, a journalist who was Jammeh’s former press secretary before she fled to the U.S. in 2013 after authorities charged her with treason, pointed out during a roundtable late last year at Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights’ Washington office that some gay Gambians have fled to neighboring Senegal and Guinea.
She said during the same event that many others are afraid to leave their homes because they fear authorities will arrest them under the law that Jammeh signed.
“Owning a $3.5 million mansion in Potomac when the average Gambian cannot afford their three daily meals shows how unsympathetic and selfish Jammeh is,” Camara told the Washington Blade on Tuesday. “Nobody is safe in Gambia, including LGBT people, many of whom fled the country and are living in exile. Jammeh’s priority should be safeguarding his people, promoting human rights and improving livelihoods instead of looting from us.”
Jeffrey Smith of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights agreed.
“The fact that one of the world’s most brutal and unaccountable dictators owns a multi-million dollar mansion, little more than 20 miles from the White House, is unacceptable,” he told the Blade.
The European Union in 2014 delayed a 150 million Euro aid package to Gambia after Jammeh failed to repeal his country’s death penalty and implement other reforms.
President Obama faced criticism last August after Jammeh visited the White House while attending a summit that drew dozens of African heads of state to the nation’s capital. The White House a few months later announced Gambia is no longer eligible to take part in a duty-free trade program that allows sub-Saharan African countries to access U.S. markets.
Jammeh in January appeared to sharply criticize the U.S. and other countries that have attacked his government’s LGBT rights record.
His comments — which he made during a speech to Gambian troops in Banjul, the country’s capital — came shortly after two U.S. citizens allegedly tried to overthrow his government in an attempted coup.
“Let me make it very clear that if they think that they can be homosexuals and want to impose homosexuality on the globe, they are doomed,” said Jammeh.
The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, the Council for Global Equality and several other LGBT advocacy groups in January called upon the White House to ban Jammeh from entering the U.S. and freeze his assets in this country.
The Human Rights Campaign last month ran a half-page advertisement in the Gazette newspapers that featured a picture of Jammeh and described him as a “human rights violator.” The ad also noted the Gambian president “has a home right here in Potomac.”
“In November, he began rounding up people suspected of being lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, throwing them in prison,” reads the ad. “Three of these people are still being held without access to lawyers, facing torture and fearing for their lives.”
HRC Director of Global Engagement Ty Cobb on Tuesday again highlighted Gambia’s LGBT rights record in a statement to the Blade.
“President Jammeh and his family enjoy a multi-million dollar home just outside of Washington, D.C., while citizens of Gambia face arrest, imprisonment and torture simply for being LGBT,” he said. “His presence in the D.C. area — a city which hosts the highest percentage of LGBT people in the nation — is unwelcome.”
The Gambian government did not return the Blade’s request for comment.
Residents ‘shocked’ Jammeh owns Potomac mansion
Those with whom the Blade spoke outside the Potomac Village Shopping Center on Tuesday were surprised to learn that Jammeh owns a mansion in Potomac.
“I didn’t even know he was living here,” said one man.
Aly, who did not give her last name, told the Blade she was “shocked” to hear about Jammeh’s anti-LGBT rhetoric.
“People are free to live wherever they want,” she said. “That doesn’t bother me, but knowing that people aren’t open to everyone is kind of appalling.”
Meryl, a Potomac resident who also did not give her last name, agreed.
“Obviously it hurts your heart to hear people speak that way of other people,” she told the Blade as Aly listened. “[Jammeh]’s obviously not someone I would want for my next door neighbor.”