Is Ato Essien the first to take advantage of plea bargain law in Ghana?

Ato Essien

On Tuesday December 12, 2022 there was news from the courts that was received with mixed feelings across the country, considering the magnitude of the offence, but more importantly, because of who was involved. William Ato Essien, Chief Executive Officer of the defunct Capital Bank.

An Accra High Court had on Tuesday found him guilty after re-taking his plea to make effective a plea bargain agreement.

Essien pleaded guilty to various counts of conspiracy to steal, stealing, and money laundering. The court convicted him on his own plea.

The court then accepted an agreement Essien reached with the State to refund GH¢90 million in three installments. He has reportedly paid GH¢30 million already. The Court also banned Essien from holding a key position in any financial institution.

However, two others standing trial with Essien, Tetteh Nettey and the Rev Dr Fitzgerald Odonkor were acquitted and discharged by the Court.

The two were the former managing director of the Bank, and Managing Director of MC Management Service, also owned by Essien.  

The three were accused of misappropriating the GH¢620 million liquid fund extended to the Bank by the Central Bank in 2015 and 2016.

The plea bargain law

In July this year Ghana introduced plea bargaining in its laws. The introduction is backed by the Criminal and Other Offences (Procedure) (Amendment) Act, 2022 (Act 1079).

Plea bargaining is a process in criminal justice where an accused person relinquishes the right to go to full trial in exchange for some other benefits.

According to the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Godfred Yeboah Dame the benefits of plea bargaining to the State included a reduction in the caseload of the courts and of prosecutors.

He said it would also decongest the prisons due to reduced sentencing aiding in the reform of accused persons and the satisfaction of victims of offences through compensation and restitution, in addition to the punishment of the accused.

Other benefits include saving the State resources through the reduction of protracted trials.

He said in a statement that for an accused person, benefits may include a reduction of the offence charged to a lesser offence, a reduction in punishment for an offence charged or a withdrawal of some of the charges against the accused person.

He further noted that the Act 1079 created exceptions to plea negotiations for offences such as high treason, high crime, rape, defilement, genocide, robbery, kidnapping, murder, attempted murder, abduction, piracy, hijacking, and an offence related to public elections.

 Is Essien the first to benefit from plea bargaining?

Since plea bargaining became part of Ghana’s criminal justice system in July, it is not known if it has ever been applied in any other case, but Essien is likely the first high profile accused person to benefit from the law on plea bargaining.

According to news reports, he shed tears on Tuesday, when the court reached its decision. But the public didn’t react to the news well. Considering the fact that the collapse of the Capital Bank, one of the banks that came down in the financial crisis has contributed to job losses and the overall current economic crisis facing the country.

By Emmanuel K Dogbevi

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