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Ex Ghana Minister, banker acquitted by court on India rice importation case

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The Appeal Court on Thursday acquitted and discharged Akwasi Osei-Adjei, former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration on a ruling by the Financial Court.

Charles Daniel Gyimah, former Managing Director of National Investment Bank (NIB) was also acquitted and discharged.

The Financial Court asked the two to open their defence on charges of conspiracy and contravening the Public Procurement Act on the importation of rice from India.

The Appeal Court in an unanimous decision said the Financial Court erred in asking the two accused persons to open their defence when no prima facie case has been established against them in relation to the charges.

The Financial Court had on February 25, 2011 acquitted and discharged Osei-Adjei and Gyimah on six counts of conspiracy, willfully causing financial loss to the State, use of public office for profit and stealing.

They were however, asked to open their defence on the two counts.

The Appeal Court’s panel presided over by Mrs Justice Mariama Owusu, Mr Justice Yaw Apau and Mr Justice Senyo Dzamefe in their judgement said there was no evidence that importation of the rice from Amira Foods of India was a public procurement but purely a commercial transaction.

It said there no evidence that public funds were used in the importation of the rice since it was not the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which procured the rice.

The court said the prosecution could not lead evidence to show that the rice which was imported was a grant from the Indian Government to Ghana which could have qualified for public procurement under the Public Procurement Act.

It said claim by the prosecution that the former Foreign Minister facilitated importation of the rice from India could not be supported since his role was to contact his counterpart the Indian Minister for External Affairs to allow the Indian Government lift the ban on the importation of rice from that country as result of the world food crisis.

The court said repeal of Act 163 and the subsequent passage of Act 461 made the NIB a private bank which government did not have any central control.

It said NIB like any other private bank was a limited liability company with shareholders.

The court said Mrs Don Chebe, who was the Secretary to the Board and prosecution witness testified at the trial that the Board approved of the transaction for the Bank to import the rice from India contrary to the claims by the prosecution that the Board did not approve the transaction.

It said in all the facts available to them they thought the Financial Court erred in asking the two accused persons to open their defence and thus set aside the ruling of  February  25, and acquitted and discharged them.

Osei-Adjei on March 18, 2011 filed on a notice of appeal praying the Court of Appeal to stay proceedings and set aside ruling of the lower court and give consequential orders acquitting and discharging him on the two counts.

The grounds of appeal were that the trial judge placed weight on irrelevant evidence, as well as disregarding the overwhelming evidence of all the prosecution witnesses that there was no use of public funds as defined by the Public Procurement Act.

In addition, the trial judge disregarded evidence of the prosecution that the NIB was not a procurement entity, which was required to apply the Public Procurement Act.

In its ruling on “submission of no case” filed on behalf of the accused persons, the lower court was of the view that the prosecution had failed to lead evidence to prove that they willfully caused financial loss to the State by allegedly acting together to steal 2,997 bags of rice valued at $1,408,590.

It upheld the defence team’s argument that the prosecution failed to prove that the accused persons used public office for profit, as well as conspiring to steal, but directed the two to open their defence on two counts of conspiracy and contravening the Public Procurement Act.

They had pleaded not guilty to the charges and admitted to GH¢200,000 bail with two sureties each to be justified.

The prosecution called 17 witnesses and closed its case on November 30, 2010.

The trial began in October, 2009.

Source: GNA

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