15 June 2012

Ghana: Government Abandons EOCO Report

When the Economic and Organised Crime Office (EOCO) investigative report on the Woyome judgment debt scandal was first made public, the general expectation was that it was going to form the basis of future court actions to retrieve the GHC51.2 million from the beneficiary and to seek justice for Ghanaians. The Hollywood-styled arrest of Mr Alfred Agbesi Woyome and other suspected accomplices, which followed the release of the EOCO report, bolstered this faith.

Several weeks on, Public Agenda's suspicion of official complicity in this monumental fraud visited on Ghanaians under the watch of a President J. E. A. Mills, is beginning to find a firmer basis. Recent actions and inactions of the Attorney General, which can be interpreted as an abandonment of the EOCO report, have also come to confirm attempts to cover-up the Mills government's role in the scandal.

After a lackadaisical start to the prosecutorial process, characterised by rather long delay over investigations and corresponding adjournments at the request of State prosecution, the trial of Mr Alfred Agbesi Woyome, businessman and bank roller of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) who is said to have defrauded the State of a staggering amount of a little over GH51 million in judgment debt, finally began in full swing at the Accra Fast Track High Court this week.

This had been preceded last week by a dramatic move in which the Attorney-General (A-G) entered a nolle prosequi in respect of the initial charges brought against Mr Woyome, and within moments causing his re-arrest at the court following which fresh charges were preferred against him. The new charges against Woyome are defrauding by false pretences and causing financial loss to the state. The latter part of the charge has however been described by several lawyers as inconsistent with the provisions of the criminal code of Ghana, and would therefore require an amendment to read: '...willfully, and maliciously causing financial loss to the state'.

A nolle prosequi is a formal notice of abandonment by a prosecutor of all or part of a criminal proceeding.

Mr Woyome was not the only person, who enjoyed the nolle prosequi, albeit in his case short-lived, but other three accused persons indicted by the EOCO report were discharged. The now freed persons are the Chief State Attorney, Mr Samuel Nerquaye Tetteh, his wife, Mrs Gifty Nerquaye-Tetteh, and the Director of the Legal Department of Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, Paul Asimenu. The three were discharged of the previous charges of conspiracy, defrauding by false pretence, corruption of a public officer, and abetment.

Legal experts say whatever fresh charges are brought against Mr Woyome must be supported by a body of evidence which can be best provided, under the circumstances, by the findings of the EOCO investigations into the scandal. Without such supporting evidence the charges are not likely to stand.

A summary of the key findings of the EOCO's report revealed the following: Mr Osei Bonsu Amoah, Deputy Minister for Education Youth and Sports, was the one who gave Waterville the green light to proceed to site and start work at the time the contract had not been approved by Parliament.

Mrs Betty Mould-Iddrisu, the former A-G, cleared documents submitted by Alfred Agbesi Woyome, negotiated with him the terms of payment and finally secured the payments to him although EOCO found that he had no legal basis for the claims.

Mr Samuel Nerquaye-Tetteh, wrote all the letters sent to the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning by Mrs. Betty Mould Iddrisu for the transactions with the exception of one letter dated 9th December 2010. According to the report, her negligent actions led to the seeming legitimisation of Woyome's claim.

Mr Paul Asimenu wrote the opinion which eventually led to the decision that Mr Woyome was entitled to his claim. During interrogation, the report revealed that Mr Asimenu admitted that the figures he quoted in his advice as the basis of the evaluation by the Finance Committee Central Tender Review Board on which he served was wrong and that he misled the Attorney-General.

A Public Agenda report of February 6, 2012, titled: "Woyomegate - Rot, Collusion & Cover-up at A-G's Department" cited an official communication between former A-G, Martin Amidu, Solicitor General, Amma A. Gaisie, and Chief State Attorney, Samuel Nerquaye Tettey in January 2012 which reveals attempts at frustrating Martin Amidu's efforts at unraveling the Woyome sleaze.

In a letter dated January 13, 2012 with Ref No. D45/SF.173/10, Mr Amidu expressed his frustration at the refusal of Mrs Gaisie to offer her opinion on issues he had raised in an earlier letter (D45SF/173/10 of 4th January 2012) in respect of the Woyome judgment debt payment. The letter was copied to the Secretary to the President, the President's Chief of Staff and the National Security Co-ordinator.

Apparently seething with anger, Mr Amidu would not accept the excuse of Mrs Gaisie that she was not involved in the consent judgment settlement agreement and so could not offer an opinion. He wrote: "You would realize that my letter was addressed to you as the Solicitor-General requesting for your answers that will clarify the issues I raised so I can give a fair and balanced reporting on the issues entailed in the case to the Presidency."

Mr Amidu told Mrs Gaisie in the said letter that "As the Solicitor-General you definitely will agree or disagree with the legal positions taken by Mr Nerquaye-Tetteh, Chief State Attorney, and you must state so."

Stating that Mr Nerquaye-Tetteh addressed his memorandum to Mrs Gaisie for her to add her views either agreeing or disagreeing with his comments, Mr Amidu noted: "The Chief State Attorney has side stepped the case of Attorney-General v Faroe Atlantic Co. Ltd and you must read the case and answer the question on it." He has quoted the Public Procurement Act, 2003 (Act 663) but has side-stepped the question whether the procurement process for which the Central Tender Review Board gave concurrent approval was in the name of Alfred Agbesi Woyome as an individual or Vamed and latter Vamed/Waterville Holding Ltd after 1st July 2005, when Vamed assigned it [sic] rights to Waterville."

The former A-G exposed Mrs Gaisie's knowledge of the tendering processes and procedures."I am told you were a member of the Central Tender Review Board at the time," he stated.

In her letter to Mr Amidu, Mrs Gaisie said: "As I already informed you, I was not party to the settlement discussions. I attended the first two meetings on the Waterville and Woyome discussion during which several documents were furnished by Mr Woyome and Mr Nerquaye-Tetteh, Chief State Attorney (CSA) was asked to review. I was not called to any of the subsequent meetings which culminated in the settlement of the two matters."

In his memorandum, Mr Nerquaye-Tetteh summarised the issues as follows: request for annexes of documents referred to in Mr Woyome's letter 18th February 2010; copy of Power of Attorney between Astro-Invest and Alfred Woyome upon which basis he was paid their portion; and difference between the procurement process which was abrogated and the signed contract of 26th April 2006.

The other issues are legal justification for differentiating between the procurement process that was abrogated and the contract signed on 26th April 2006; why money was paid to Austro-Invest through Mr Woyome and not through Waterville; contract between Government of Ghana and Alfred Woyome; disappearance of a signed copy of the agreement of 26th April 2006 and constitutional basis for payment without parliamentary approval of the agreement of 26th April 2006.

The functions of the A-G as provided for under article 88 of the 1992 Fourth Republican Constitution has not been lost on Public Agenda's Legal Desk. However, as has been argued by others, it is mind boggling why Woyome has become the scapegoat, hence singled out for prosecution. The matter at issue defies imagination, especially against the fact of the abundance of evidence most of which are contained in the EOCO report and which is the basis of the ongoing prosecution.

Some seasoned lawyers and well-meaning Ghanaians have also expressed misgivings about the seriousness of the A-G's Department in pursuing the matter to its logical conclusion.

The Member of Parliament for Nsuta Kwamang Beposo, Honourable Kwame Osei-Prempeh, believes the State will eventually lose the case.

According to the former Deputy Attorney General and Minister of Justice, the State has been unwilling to win the case and the latest charges levelled against the businessman is a clear indication that the State is playing to lose the matter.

"I'm not sure the State wants to win this case. I am not sure at all," Hon. Osei-Prempeh told etvghana.com.

"They know that the money is gone and they want the money to go and they won't make any effort to collect it," he stressed.

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