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Australia visa scandal: Presidential clearance negates corruption fight, raises more questions

Pius Hadzedi

The fight against corruption in Ghana is getting tainted by the day. In the forefront of the perfidious campaign to invalidate the country’s democratic process with inactions against corrupt appointed officials is the government itself.

The Executive arm of government, which is increasingly acting more like an extension of the political party in power than a government entrusted with the responsibility to run a state is making a mockery of the country’s laws by being itself lawless and staying shy of effectively dealing with corruption.

The actions of the government in matters of alleged or reported corruption further confirm the assertion by the CDD-Ghana that the Akufo-Addo government is pampering ruling party law-breakers.

The announcement this afternoon that the President has cleared two public officials connected with the disgraceful misrepresentation of Ghana at the 21st Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia is a slap in the face of Ghanaians who are sacrificing everything to fight corruption.

The two, Deputy Minister of Youth and Sports, Pius Enam Hadzide and the Board Chairman of the National Sports Authority, Kwadwo Baah Agyeman have been cleared and reinstated according to a statement from the Presidency referencing a report from the CID. But the statement itself says very little.

Until the full report of the CID is made available for public scrutiny, ghanabusinessnews.com is of the view that the decision to clear the two in the face of the very serious allegations of visa racketeering is more political than anything else.

Information gathered by ghanabusinessnews.com shows that efforts to cover up the offences of the individuals accused of being responsible for the visa deals that brought the name of the country into disrepute in Australia started from day one. The situation however, appeared to have been overshadowed by the investigation by Anas Aremeyaw Anas documenting match fixing and visa racketeering by officials of the country’s sports governing organisations. In the Anas investigation, even the Director-General of the Sports Authority, Mr. Sarfo Mensah was caught on camera taking GH¢5000 to influence the selection of a player into the national under-17 team – this in the view of ghanabusinessnews.com, could be the reason why Mr. Mensah has not been cleared yet, as it would have been too glaring to do so.

It is also curious that the statement from the Presidency is silent on the names of the President of the Ghana Olympic Committee (GOC), Mr. Ben Nunoo-Mensah and the Chef de Mission, Mr. Mohammed Sahnoon who were recalled during the Commonwealth Games to come and assist with investigations into the matter.

In a document obtained by ghanabusinessnews.com, the Deputy Minister of Youth and Sports, Hadzide is accused of adding 12 names to Ghana’s list for the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coas, Australia.

The document, is the minutes of the Ghana Olympic Committee’s Emergency Board meeting held on April 23, 2018 called to discuss the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia and the matters arising, especially as regards visa racketeering allegations in the media.

At the explosive meeting that lasted over three hours, the GOC President, the Chef de Mission for the Games and other officers revealed some high profile names and the processes that led to the acquisition of the visas for the about 60 Ghanaians who were deported by the Australian authorities.

The minutes show investigations by the GOC in Gold Coast established that 12 names had also been added to the list as guests through the Deputy Minister with the consent of the Chef de Mission.

The minutes further reveal that officials made some admissions, including the fact that some badminton players had been added to the list through the intervention of the Director General of the NSA and the President of the Badminton Federation. That the President of Swimming and Secretary General of Para Sports Mr. Ignatius Elletey had also added 14 and 25 names respectively.

Following the media reports, the President, Nana Akufo-Addo on Thursday, April 12, 2018 suspended from office, the Deputy Minister of Youth and Sports, Pius Enam Hadzide, the acting Director General of the National Sports Authority (NSA), Robert Sarfo Mensah.

The NSA Board Chairman Kwadwo Baah Agyeman, was subsequently also suspended, while the GOC President Ben Nunoo Mensah and the Chef de Mission for the Games Mohammed Sahnoon were recalled to assist in investigations being carried out by the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) of the Ghana Police Service. The decisions followed preliminary investigations conducted into the circumstances that led to the arrest of some 60 Ghanaians, who had allegedly attempted to enter Australia by false pretenses at the Games.

Following the arrest and deportation of the Ghanaians, the Australian High Commission in Ghana said in a statement, “The Australian Border Force (ABF) has cancelled the visas of several dozen travelers from a variety of countries, including Ghana, who attempted to travel to Australia posing illegitimately as journalists, athletes or officials.”

GOC Deputy Treasurer admits adding 14 names to list

The minutes reveal what some of the officials admitted to:

For instance the Deputy Treasurer of the GOC, Theophilus Edzie, who also doubles as the President of the Ghana Swimming Association, admitted adding 14 names to the list, including his relative, allegedly with the permission of the Chef de Mission.

Edzie was suspended by his mother organisation the Ghana Swimming Association on April 24, 2018 for his role in the visa scam – that is a day after the GOC Board meeting.

“The President of Swimming admitted that he had submitted 14 names to ALO (Accreditation Liaison Officer- the person responsible for an entries for Ghana) to enter in the accreditation system. He stated further that these names were given him by Kamal Sulley the Vice President of Rowing and Canoeing and Saka Acquaye of the NSA. Mr. Edzie also informed the board that he added a relative’s name but with the consent of the CDM (Chef de Mission). Mr. Edzie denied receiving any money from these persons in order to obtain visas,” Edzie is quoted as having provided the above explanation at the board meeting.

But there were yet more allegations against Theo Edzie as the GOC President added, “That the President of Swimming also approached CDM to allow some people to enter Australia but CDM declined to assist.”

In the minutes the board was captured admitting for the first time that its officials were “involved and somehow validated the process” leading to the acquisition of media accreditation by some “60 fake journalists” who were deported from the Games.

After a briefing by the GOC Media Officer, Ken Odeng Adade and further deliberations on the issue, the board held; “That it was not in the interest of the GOC to deny knowledge of the media accreditation since our media personnel were involved and somehow validated the process.”

Despite several denials by the GOC’s President, Nunoo Mensah and the Chef de Mission, Sahnoon in interviews granted to the media about the GOC’s complicity in the media accreditation process leading to the visa racketeering, the GOC’s Media Officer Ken Odeng Adade said that the GOC was involved in the registration and validation process for the journalists including the fake ones deported from the Games.

“The media accreditation was through an online link and the final list was sent to the GOC. That registration was either individually or through an accreditation liaison officer who entered the names of journalists in the media house. That the final list was sent to the GOC and the accreditation cards were distributed through the GOC as well. That media personnel who missed the deadline for accreditation were also allowed to apply online to be registered and some of these people were given introduction letters by the GOC to apply for visas through the Australian High Commission in Accra,” Adade said in the minutes.

Meanwhile, as recently as June 5, 2018, the GOC President, Nunoo Mensah again blamed the media for the visa scandal in Australia in an interview with Kasapa FM’s Alex Anyankwah.

In the interview, he said; “There has also been a lot of misinformation about this whole accreditation process and people are pointing fingers at the GOC but to set the record straight, GOC never had hands with the accreditation processes because the Commonwealth Games organizers dealt directly with the individual media houses (Media Liaison Officers) to facilitate their travel to Australia.”

Interestingly, the Chef de Mission is quoted as having corroborated the GOC President’s briefing at the meeting, coupled with some revelations about impersonation.

This was captured in the minutes: “The CDM corroborated the facts presented by the President and made the following addition. That CDM was informed about a boxer who was attempting to enter Australia and upon questioning the President of boxing, CDM found out that the boxer was impersonated and the Secretary General and Vice President of Boxing were those alleged to be involved.”

According to the minutes, the CDM was aware of the visa scandal in Ghana before it broke in Australia.

“Whilst preparing for the games in Ghana I got reports that entries were being made without my consent so I questioned the ALO who denied it,” the CDM said.

But in his briefing earlier at the meeting, the GOC President had said that they commenced investigations into the visa scandal only after he arrived at the Games on March 30, 2018.

“That on the arrival of the President and Secretary General in Gold Coast on March 30, 2018 investigations started with those who had entered Australia as beach volleyball players.

That Hussein Addy the accreditation liaison officer (ALO) and Christy Ashley (CDM administration staff) who accompanied the beach volleyball players to enter Australia were confronted and they made some admissions,” the minutes say.

The minutes even show contradictions in the sequence of events as narrated athe meeting.

The CDM, according to the minutes, said the first case of the visa scandal occurred shortly after Ghana’s first contingent left Accra to Australia on March 12, 2018.

“The first contingent left Ghana on March 12, after conclusion of the final list of athletes and officials for Team Ghana. As soon as the team left Ghana CDM received an email that a beach volleyball team had entered Australia. This was strange because as far back as January 2018 beach volleyball was supposed to have been deleted from the system because Ghana did not qualify. Although the ALO (Hussein Addy) was questioned on this matter he never gave a satisfactory reply,” he was quoted to have said in the minutes.

Again the sequence of events as narrated by officials at the emergency meeting raises more questions and would require an independent body to investigate. Because it is surprising that it took the GOC until March 30, 2018 to commence investigations into the matter especially after the ALO had allegedly failed to give “a satisfactory reply” to the query.

It is also important to give the proper context of the job profiles of the two personalities mentioned as the key masterminds of the scandal. Hussein Addy, the ALO, is also the Secretary General of the Ghana Weightlifting Association whose President is Ben Nunoo Mensah. Christy Ashley is the Secretary General of the Ghana Volleyball Association and a personal secretary of the GOC/GWA President Ben Nunoo Mensah.

The Beach Volleyball registration fraud!!

As has been stated earlier, the first reported case of visa fraud occurred on or about March 12, when the second Ghanaian contingent left for the Games onboard a South African Airways flight. That team was led by Christy Ashley.

The CDM said in his interim report on the Games said: “On March 16, he received an email from Gabe Behr, on entry into Australia of some athletes for Beach Volleyball on the March 14, as part of the first batch of delegates. They were as follows:

  1. Amadu Abdul Razak
  2. Adu-Manu Bismark
  3. Amakye Emmanuel
  4. Nti Emmanuel Aninakwaah
  5. Taylor Abdul Salim

The interim report further stated that Gabe Behr, the CGA Relations Manager for Africa wanted to know if CGA Ghana was aware the individuals had travelled to Australia or were helping with the pre-games. ALO Hussein Addy upon query via email failed to respond to an email query.

The CDM’s interim report suggests under the heading: pre-games departure that the Ministry of Youth and Sports, and the National Sports Authority were responsible for travel arrangements for Ghana’s team and not the GOC, and that could mean these two institutions were responsible for the Beach Volleyball team that went to Australia.

As Chef de Mission, Mohammed Sahnoon was supposed to “provide leadership and direction before, during and after the Games.” He attended the Delegates Register Meeting (DRM) on behalf of Ghana where the initial long list and finalist list were officially entered.

As CDM, he was the final authority on Ghana’s list for the Games. Curiously, Mr. Sahnoon said he first received reports about illegal entries by the ALO before he left for the Games.

This means he long knew about the illegal entries but did nothing about it until the scandal went out of control. The buck stops with him ultimately but there is no denying the various roles played by the Ministry of Youth and Sports, National Sports Authority and the Ghana Olympic Committee in this shameful scandal.

With all the facts in the minutes of the GOC as captured in this editorial, ghanabusinessnews.com is calling all sports loving Ghanaians and anti-corruption campaigners to demand for the setting up of an independent body to thoroughly investigate this scandal which has left Ghana with eggs on the face, as part of the efforts to root out corruption, which obviously threatens our democracy and the stability of the state.

A ghanabusinessnews.com editorial

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