The Minority National Democratic Congress (NDC) Members of Parliament serving on the five-member Adhoc Committee set up by Parliament to probe the alleged cash for seat saga has indicted the Ministry of Trade and Industry for extortion.
In the view of the NDC MPs, Dr. Dominic Ayeni (MP for Bolgatanga East) and James Klutse Avedzi (MP for Ketu North), evidences adduced from the various respondents to the public inquiry suggest that there was some merit in the claims of the NDC MP for North Tongu, Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa that monies were extorted from the expatriate businesses that participated in the Ghana Expatriate Business Awards.
Mr. Ablakwa appearing before the Committee on January 11, 2018, told justified why he had earlier described the circumstances surrounding the whole gamut as extortion.
He told the Committee that he did not understand why an office will be set up or people directed to go to room 38 of the Ministry of Trade and Industry to deposit their cheque with one Martin Ayanga.
“It was a clear case of extortion. How can you direct people to go to the famous room 308 and deposit their cheques with Martin Ayanga? Big brother wanted to know those who are paying big to deserve big contracts”, he noted.
The MPs in their separate report which was released, Friday, February 2, 2018, corroborated with claims by the NDC MP for North Tongu.
“The evidence before the Committee tilts more in favour of a conclusion that the money was exacted in exchange for promised benefits such as being seated close to the President during the award ceremony and having an exclusive dinner for two with the President at a future date”, they noted.
Below is an extract from the report that corroborated the extortion claims by Okudzeto Ablakwa;
- Extortion by Ministry of Trade
The issue of extortion arose in the course of the evidence of CW2 who had issued a press statement on the entire event and described the receipt of funds from the expatriate business entities as extortion. In his evidence before the Committee, CW2 was asked directly by the Honourable Member for New Juaben South whether the organizers and the Ministry extorted money from the expatriates. In answer to the said question, CW2 stated that he considered the practice as extortion because the Ministry deviated from the standard practice whereby public institutions provided endorsement of events organized by private sector entities without official involvement such as was done in this case by the Ministry of Trade and Industry. He gave the example of the fact that the expatriates were directed in the sponsorship letter to make payments in Room 308 and to pay their cheques into a designated account of the Ministry. In his view, this was designed to let the expatriates know that the Ministry was watching to know who had made payment thus injecting a certain amount of compulsion into the process.
In our criminal legislation extortion is a crime. Therefore, the allegation that the Ministry had extorted money, if proven, would require further investigation by the law enforcement agencies to establish whether the elements of the crime of extortion exist in this case. For the purposes of the work of the Committee, we must state upfront that the Ministry is neither a natural person nor a corporate entity capable of committing a crime. So if a crime has been committed, it would be the individual officers of the Ministry involved directly in this matter who would bear criminal liability.
That said, there is some merit to the allegation by CW2 that some form of extortion took place. The Criminal and Other Offences Act, 1960 (Act 29) defines the crime of extortion by a public officer as follows:
“A public officer is guilty of extortion who, under colour of his office, demand or obtains from any person, whether for public purpose or for himself or for any other person, any money or valuable consideration which he knows that he is not lawfully authorized to demand or obtain…”
For this crime to be committed, one need not prove that the public officer making the demand or obtaining the money or other valuable consideration put a gun to the head of the person from whom he was making that demand or obtaining the money or other valuable consideration. A voluntary payment induced by a promise by a public officer either to perform or desist from performing an official act is sufficient. Sometimes the demand for money or valuable consideration is explicit but it may also take the form of what Justice Stevens of the United States Supreme Court described as “subtle extortion” in the case of McCormick v. United States, 500 U. S. 257 (1991).
The evidence before the Committee shows that the Ministry of Trade and Industry formed a partnership with MEF for the purposes of the organization of the GEBA. Pursuant to its legally enforceable role under the MOU, it wrote letters introducing MEF to the expatriates. Also in fulfilment of its obligations under the same MOU, MEF also designed a package of benefits which was delivered to the expatriates as a means of soliciting financial support for the organization of the GEBA. Was this a legitimate solicitation or the exaction of money in exchange for promised benefits? The evidence before the Committee tilts more in favour of a conclusion that the money was exacted in exchange for promised benefits such as being seated close to the President during the award ceremony and having an exclusive dinner for two with the President at a future date.