25 June 2012

Ghana: Why We Must Get the Prosecution of Woyome Right

After jettisoning the Economic and Organised Crime Office (EOCO) report which recommended the prosecution of Mr Alfred Agbesi Woyome and several others, made up of mainly politicians and public officials, the stage seems to be set for the state to undertake a wishy-washy prosecution of a sacrificial lamb in the person of Mr Woyome.

With Woyome alone now standing trial at the Financial Division of the Accra Fast Track High Court after three accused persons were discharged by the Attorney General's (A-G) Department's nolle prosequi prerogative on June 5, questions are being raised as to whether the prosecution of Woyome can be taken serious.

Some legal experts however, say it is important for the government to get the prosecution of Woyome right. They claim it is necessary to restore confidence in both the political establishment and in the A-G's Department. Indeed, the A-G's own credibility could be badly damaged, as it is already suspected that he is being used by linchpins in government to cover-up the scam. Failure to properly prosecute the case will also establish a bad precedent that could lead to further perpetration of this kind of fraud on the state.

Though the main opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) has not hidden its intention of re-opening Woyome's case if the accused was discharged and acquitted, and the NPP assumes political office in 2013, dominant legal opinion suggest that it might be difficult to re-open the case unless new and compelling evidence were uncovered. This is especially because criminal jurisprudence frowns on trying a suspect twice for the same offence. In an interview with Public Agenda, NPP deputy communications director Samuel Awuku reiterated the position of the party's presidential candidate, Nana Akufo Addo, that an NPP government would retrieve the GHC51.2 million for the public kitty if Woyome was freed of the charges against him. In his view, "there is ample evidence" to prosecute Woyome. He claims the man himself has admitted that he had no contract with the government of Ghana, and that his case is one of stealing. But the trouble is, if the evidence available is not deployed effectively to secure a conviction, same evidence cannot be used in a fresh trial, lawyers say.

Some lawyers are convinced that the prosecutorial farce started when after charging Woyome with three counts of conspiracy, defrauding by false pretences and corrupting a public officer; Mr Samuel Nerquaye-Tetteh, Chief State Attorney with two counts of conspiracy and corruption of a public officer; Mr Paul Asimenu, Director of Legal Services at Ministry of Finance, and Mr Nerquaye-Tetteh's wife, Gifty, with one count of abetment of crime each, all the accused persons were discharged.

But Woyome was immediately re-arrested and charged with defrauding by false pretences and causing financial loss to the state, to which he pleaded not guilty. The prosecution stated that in February 2010 Woyome made false representations to the government that it owed him two per cent of 1,106,487 Euros for his services in financial engineering for the rehabilitation of the Accra and El-Wak stadia. He was also charged of "wilfully and fraudulently causing huge financial losses" of GHC51,283,480.59 to the state between September 2010 and September 2011

Woyome's leaked caution statement dated March 14, 2012 to the police however, appears to implicate some NDC wheelers and dealers, supporting the widespread claims that the party's big shots condoned and connived with some public officers to dole out the huge judgement debt to the self-acclaimed NDC financier. A local newspaper, New Crusading Guide, reported that it has intercepted the caution statements given by Woyome to the Police Criminal Investigation Departent (CID) detectives after his first arrest and subsequent charge. According to the paper, CID sources have further revealed that Woyome has maintained his previous statements to investigators in respect of his current charge before the High Court.

In his caution statement, Woyome revealed that before he went to court in April 2010, he instructed his lawyer, Mr Christoph Koka, to write a letter to the Minister of Finance with copies to high-ranking officials at the Presidency, the Castle , Osu, which he himself personally delivered. Woyome tendered a copy of the letter under reference dated April 14, 2010. He further intimated that when he filed his writ of summons issued on April 19, 2010, the then A-G, Mrs Betty Mould-Iddrisu invited him and "demanded that I write to her to clarify my capacity. I did so and per my clarification to her, that clarification did not compromise my writ of summons."

"Two days thereafter, I was summoned to the Castle to meet Mr. Alex Segbefia. I met him with my counsel, Chris Koka and the capacity document was discussed. In the conversation, he indicated he was going through the documents with Valerie Sawyerr (Dr). Upon the basis of the clarification document, GoG did not contest the default judgement but chose to negotiate it from over 105,000,000 Ghana Cedis to 51,000,000 Ghana Cedis; which negotiation was conducted by the Minister of Finance and his Committee," Woyome wrote.

According to Woyome, his lawyers then put the decision arrived at on paper for the A-G to sign. He said after Mrs Mould-Iddrissu had signed her portion of the Settlement Agreement, she called Mr Nerquarye-Tetteh to bear witness for her in his and his counsel's presence. He added that it was the Settlement Agreement signed by Mrs Mould-Iddrisu which was filed in court "to form the consent judgement," a consent judgeent which the government had subsequently applied to set aside but failed. Woyome contended that it was not true that the government did not know about his writ which was later amended before the default judgement was obtained.

In addition to this, the evidence adduced by the first prosecution witness, Mangowa Ghunney, a lawyer at the Ministry of Finance, seems to buttress Woyome's claim that Mrs Mould-Iddrisu okayed the payment of the judgement debt. Ghunney told the High Court that she received a letter from the former A-G directing the Finance Ministry to pay 22 million Euros to Woyome, admitting that the directive for payment came without a contract.

The lead counsel for Woyome, however, produced evidence in court to debunk the claims of Ghunney that the former A-G's directive to the Finance Ministry to pay his client was not supported by any contract. The counsel produced six different exhibits in court as evidence to prove their client did not fraudulently claim the judgement debt payment.

The above revelations, coupled with the EOCO report's findings appear to suggest that Mrs Mould-Iddrisu, Finance Minister Dr Duffuor, and other public officers played a significant role in the payment of the GHC51.2 million to Woyome, and must therefore be brought to book.

Main opposition New Patriotic Party, other parties and Civil Society Organisations have called for the prosecution of these officials to no avail. Recently, a pressure group, Alliannce for Accountable Governance (AFAG) gave President John Atta Mills a five-day ultimatum to arrest three top Ministers of State named in the Woyome scandal or face a series of legal actions.

According to AFAG, Dr Duffour, Mrs Mould-Iddrisu and Mr Barton Oduro, the Deputy Attorney General, played different roles in Woyomegate and should be arrested and prosecuted. "AFAG can state without any shroud of doubt that President John Mills is involved in this judgment debt saga; this is simply so because Betty Mould Iddrisu, Barton Oduro and Kwabena Duffour were appointed by and to act on behalf of the President while Samuel Nerquaye-Tetteh and Paul Asimenu provided technical advice and acted on behalf of their Ministers."

Meanwhile, in an interview with Joy FM, lawyer and Ghanaian Observer editor, Mr Egbert Faibille, has described the new charges of defrauding by false pretences and causing financial loss to the state brought against Woyome as absurd. He was uncomfortable that the case was being heard at the same High Court that handed a consent judgement to Woyome. Faibille matter-of-factly conceded that though the High Court has jurisdiction over the case, until the consent judgement awarded to Woyome is set aside, the same court would be in a quandary in giving a verdict on the same matter. In such an uneasy situation, Faibille feared the court will end up protecting Woyome because of its own earlier judgement it awarded in Woyome's favour.

Another lawyer, Mr Abraham Amaliba, a member of the NDC legal team, however, contended that the trial processes of Woyome was proper. Mr Amaliba argued that the Woyome case is running on two legs, civil and criminal aspects, both of which can go on concurrently. "The High Court jurisdiction on criminal matters is different from the High Court jurisdiction on civil matters. And so that is a bit curious coming from him [Faibille]."

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