Feature Article of Tuesday, 14 February 2012
NPP-USA Legal Committee
The story of how top members of the government conspired with Alfred Agbesi (aka Woyome) to defraud the Republic has been told repeatedly, as it should. Indeed, “Woyome” should become a required case study for all students in law, investigation, ethics, business and public administration. While the public discourse has properly focused on the enabling and conspiratorial roles of the then Attorney General (AG) (and her still at post Deputy Barton Oduro), the Minister of Finance and other civil servants, there has been limited effort to systematically explore the role that the President played in this sordid saga.
Yet, the saga raises significant questions about the President’s credibility, competence and corruption credentials. It also raises questions about whether the President has engaged in criminal activity (as a coconspirator, compounder or an accessory after the fact). Finally, the untenable and unprofessional conduct of the Auditor General and Chairman of EOCO trigger the possibility that they have been compromised or coerced into whitewashing the President’s role in the saga. It is these matters that the Legal Committee of NPP-USA intends to address in this press release.
The Woyome saga raises questions about the President’s Credibility
In his much-publicized Radio Gold interview on 12/23/2011, the President announced that he had no problem with the payment of the judgment debt to Woyome. His interest was in pursuing those whose actions or inactions may have resulted in the judgment debt. In his words, “we have to find out who incurred the liability because if the court awarded the judgment or awarded the cost, whatever it is, it’s a way of saying that the beneficiary is entitled to it. ” (for a transcript see, http://www.thestatesmanonline.com/pages/news_detail.php?newsid=10869§ion=1.)
In this interview, the President sought to portray himself as a firm believer in the rule of law who saw nothing wrong with the Republic being held accountable for violating her contractual commitments. Indeed, the President portrayed himself as knowing very little about the case and the payments as (“When this case first broke, I was in the US and I ordered the two ministries involved, at the Attorney General’s Department and the Finance Ministry, to give me a report”), and not interested in going after the beneficiaries.
However, subsequent events, particularly the EOCO report, show that at the time of making those statements on Radio Gold, the President was aware that there were very grave problems with the Woyome payments, and had twice directed that actions be taken to reverse the judgment or the payment.
Beyond this patent contradiction, the President’s actions and inactions raise serious concerns about his credibility. First, the President took no action against those who violated his so-called directive. Indeed, we are yet to know the identity of these recalcitrant persons. This alleged directive, if given, must have been in or before June 2010. But the likely recipients of the directives remained at post till January 2012 (when Betty Mould resigned as a minister) or are still in office (in the case of Barton Oduro, Martey Newman and Kwabena Duffuor). By way of contrast, the President hurriedly fired Martin Amidu, whose only offence was to point out that his colleague ministers had engaged in a gargantuan fraud against the Republic. What is the justification for chasing out a truthful minister while retaining those who had violated a directive not to pay over GH¢50M?
Even more devastating for the President’s credibility, he was a direct beneficiary of the funds when Woyome financed the live-broadcast of the President’s ostentatious multi-hour parade to pick up his nomination forms from the NDC party headquarters on May 6, 2011. It has since been revealed that a substantial portion of the Woyome funds went to the NDC to finance the construction of its new headquarters. Finally, at the time that Woyome financed the trip of “party supporters” to South Africa for the World Cup (June 2010), the President was aware that Woyome was the recipient of judgment debt that the President had directed not be paid. The June 2010 date is significant because it coincides with a significant tranche of the judgment debt being credited to Woyome’s account, at the bank owned by the Minister of Finance.
Lastly, as we write the President retains Barton Oduro as a deputy AG, who is on record as saying, “Woyome had a strong case and the Republic had a bad case. I saved Ghana millions of dollars by reaching a settlement with Woyome." This Deputy AG is, we are to believe, able to partake in the prosecution of Woyome. But the Deputy AG is not alone. Alex Segbefia, Akyena Brentuo, etc. are just but a few examples of Castle Staff who justified the payments to Woyome, with full knowledge of the President’s non-payment directive.
The Woyome saga raises questions about the President’s Competence
The Woyome saga would be sufficient to cause the CEO of most organizations to lose their jobs and face multiple lawsuits from shareholders. For how can a CEO justify staying in office after allowing over GH¢50M of the organization’s funds to be paid to a “financial engineer” who alleges that he has suffered damages from raising an unused credit line of over $1B? Such a loss not only represents a complete collapse of internal controls in the organization but also can occur only when the management of the organization is utterly incompetent.
The level of incompetence needed for this loss to occur in the case of a country has to be gargantuan indeed. A simple demand for proof of the existence of the escrow account of the $1B will be enough to dispense of the frivolous claim. It is, therefore, difficult and painful to contemplate and fathom how a judgment payment of this magnitude can be made without some form of due diligence, cabinet approval, or some similar checks, especially since the payments were fast-tracked, ahead of payments to salaried teachers.
The President has attempted, unsuccessfully, to proffer two lines of mutually exclusive defense: an initial plea of ignorance and a subsequent plea, via EOCO, of helplessness (I did my best but they won’t follow my directive). Both pleas are incredible on the facts, as we have come to know them, but point to a President who has lost his cabinet, is unfit to lead the country and who is desperately trying to hide something more sinister. For how could the President retain Barton Oduro and force out Martin Amidu? How can the legal officer at the Finance Ministry (Mr. Paul Asimenu), whose opinion neither the Finance Minister nor the AG is bound by, be charged for abetment of crime, and the Finance Minister, who made the payment, and the Attorney General, who took the decision and insisted that Woyome must be paid, be both walking free? How does this President expect anyone to take seriously the proposition that the new AG and Barton Oduro (the deputy AG) will successfully prosecute this criminal cause?
The Woyome saga raises questions about whether the President has engaged in Criminal Activity (Coconspirator and Compounding)
The EOCO report indicates that the President was aware of the Woyome saga and he had reason to believe that the settlement and subsequent payment was improper. The President was also aware that his directives to stop the settlement and payments had been violated as far back as June 2010, although he took no further actions until January 2012. The President has also benefitted directly from the payments. These facts raise two important questions. First, was the President a coconspirator in this scheme to defraud the Republic? Second, did the President compound this fraud when he failed to take steps to report the fraud to the law enforcement agencies and accepted benefits from Woyome?
The evidence that the President could be a coconspirator is overwhelming. It is abundantly clear that this conspiracy was hatched at the highest level of government. No less a person than the former AG (Amidu) has accused his colleague ministers of committing a gargantuan fraud against the Republic. Moreover, the fast track resolution of the case, including the possible use of fraudulent documents, and settlement of the debt could not have occurred without the complicity of the then AG Betty Mould, lawyers for Woyome (who incidentally are NDC leading members), Minister of Finance and the Castle. The President’s multiple conflicting statements on this matter are evidence that he is trying to conceal something sinister and should attract the attention of any serious investigator or prosecutor.
An investigator or a prosecutor will be derelict if they failed to address one question: Why is the Finance Minister, who authorized the payments of the funds to Mr. Woyome, in violation of the President’s directive, still at post? Why are Betty Mould and Kwabena Duffuor, who in the President’s words, were "so criminal-minded, so irresponsible to give GH¢58 million to one person," not facing prosecution?
There is only one plausible answer to this question. These ministers acted on the instructions of the President.
But if there are doubts that the President is a coconspirator, there should be no doubts at all that the President’s silence and failure to act since June 2010 has compounded this crime. In most jurisdictions, the President will be treated as an accessory after the fact.
Whether as a coconspirator, a compounder or an accessory after the fact, it is apparent that the President has a criminal case to answer in this sordid affair.
The Woyome saga raises questions about the President’s ability and commitment to fight corruption
Without prejudice to the nature of his involvement in this saga, the President’s mere involvement in the Woyome saga has rendered him impotent in the fight against corruption. He has surrounded himself with corrupt ministers and financial engineers, whom he is unable to get rid off even when the evidence of their wrongdoing is overwhelming and notwithstanding the public outcry and outrage. Notwithstanding his supposed directive, Woyome remained a chief financier of the NDC and only recently resigned (not fired) his position as Board Chairman of the National Board for Small Scale Industries.
The poisonous effect that the retention of people, like Barton Oduro and Alex Segbefia, has on the moral of public servants cannot be overstated. How can the President perform his functions as the Chief Law Enforcement officer when he is neck deep in the most gargantuan crime ever committed against the Republic?
The President’s involvement in the Woyome saga is Corrupting our Institutions
In the most dangerous after shock of the Woyome saga, there appears to be a systematic effort and enterprise to coerce and compromise other institutions into whitewashing the President’s role in the crisis. For instance, the Auditor General inexplicably attempted to retract his report by devaluing the payments actually made to Woyome. The EOCO, chaired by a leading member of the NDC, prepared a shoddy, incomplete and unprofessional report with gaping holes, unsupported conclusions and ignored clues. For instance, while EOCO highlighted a GH¢400,000 payment to the wife of one the civil servants involved in the conspiracy, the report was silent on other payments made from Woyome’s account, including the funding of supporters to South Africa, which is public knowledge. Predictably, the ministers of information support these glaring absurdities and proclaim that the Woyome case has enhanced the integrity of the President. How many of our institutions are going to be contaminated by the President’s involvement in Woyome?
The Woyome saga has exposed the President as a corrupt chief law enforcement officer who lacks credibility and competence; who overtly or covertly may be coercing, compromising and corrupting our anti-corruption agencies to whitewash his role in Woyome; and who may have engaged in criminal activity.
Alas, there appears to be a well-orchestrated scheme to use the judicial process to siphon funds from the Republic to so called financiers of the NDC. In the three years that this President has been in office, over GH¢640M judgment debts have been paid. Included in these payments, is €38m (over GH¢80M) paid to Ernesto Tarraconi (aka Waterville Inc.) who, by his own admission (through his lawyers and through his legal inaction from 2006-09) and official records, were owed no money by the Republic and, like Woyome, deserved not a pesewa from the state. Curiously, EOCO seemed to have missed this glaring fraud! Similarly, there is a €94m payment to Construction Pioneers, through another "negotiated settlement," for a claim that the NPP had contested for eight years.
Our national resources are not safe under this President, either because of his complicity, in a sophisticated criminal scheme that abuses the judicial process to transfer funds to party financiers, or his incompetence.