By Frederick Asiamah
Ms Carolyne Lamptey, a specialist in corruption asset recovery, says prosecutors should have identified the assets of Abuga Pele and Philip Akpeena Assibit during the trial and prior to the sentencing of the two to assure the recovery of the GH¢4.1million stolen from the state.
According to her, the prosecutors could have said to the judge that “we’ve identified their assets, we know how much they own and so this is what we expect them to pay to the state.” But the prosecutors did not
Speaking on the Corruption Watch Radio Programme on Joy FM’s Super Morning Show on Wednesday morning, Ms Lamptey stated that “I was at the sentencing… and my concern was, unfortunately, that the prosecution hadn’t done enough to secure the assets, to begin with.
“The main thing about these sorts of cases is that right from the beginning when the cases are investigated at EOCO [Economic and Organised Crime Office] or the police, the prosecutors should be involved from day one.”
Ms Lamptey stated: “That was, for me, a missed opportunity by the prosecution.”
She posited that EOCO’s powers had been taken advantage of. “I mean under the legislation, hear in Ghana, EOCO has powers in which they can freeze assets. They’ve got freezing powers where you can identify the asset the individual owns and you can freeze it.”
So, prosecutors could have been proactive and frozen the assets. It would have been better than having the judge ask the convicts what they were prepared to pay, she reasoned.
The Pele and Assibit trial
Justice Afia Serwaa Asare-Botwe presided over the four-year trial, which commenced on 11th February, 2014 and terminated on 23rd February, 2018 when the pair was sentenced to various jail terms.
Pele was given two terms of four years and six years on different counts. But since he will have his sentence running concurrently, he will serve six years in jail.
Assibit, on the other hand, received one twelve-year sentence and one four-year term, which he will serve concurrently. His conviction was for two different counts.
But an order from the court for the recovery of assets appears to have generated keen interest, prompting producers of the Corruption Watch Radio Programme to focus the Wednesday, March 7, 2018 edition on the court order.
In the 53-page judgement document, Justice Asare-Botwe stated that: “…the state is ordered to recover the value of any property or asset” belonging to Assibit to the tune of US $1,948,626.28.
Gap in asset recovery
Ms Lamptey, who has served as a UK Crown Prosecutor and Specialist Prosecutor in Cairo, Egypt, believes Ghana does not have a norm of freezing assets as part of the trial process.
“Unfortunately, what I’ve learnt so far during my time here in Ghana and working with the prosecutors and the DPPs’ [Director of Public Prosecutions] office is that there is still not enough awareness by the prosecutors about directing investigators to go after assets.”
She says prosecutors in Ghana should be educated on advising investigators to look for the assets of suspects of crime.
“Sometimes, you can’t get it at the beginning but certainly as the case is progressing, you can identify where the asset might be. That’s something that is yet to filter through the prosecutors,” she observed.
She emphasised that: “First thing to understand is that the idea of asset recovery is that you are going after the criminal asset. It’s not instead of; it’s part of the criminal process. So what you want to do is to get the prosecutors and the investigators to work together.
She further pointed out that “People commit crime… to get money; yes, that’s why they do it. …So, asset recovery is quite a key and important process to fighting all crime.”
The good news is that the Office of the Special Prosecutor Act has strengthened the legal regime for the freezing of assets. The OSP Act, according to Ms Lamptey, can freeze the assets of the suspects as well as, manage and preserve such assets. So, by the time the entire process of the case is over, if “You’ve got a house, it’s increased in value because it’s been kept in place; the business has gone up and then when it comes to the confiscation, you’ve got money with which to take from the individuals.”
Essentially, the asset serves as a guarantee to what has been stolen from the state.
Another panelist on the program, Mrs Beauty Emefa Narteh, Executive Secretary of the Ghana Anti-Corruption Coalition, added that the OSP Act is stronger; it is not as the EOCO Act has been. The management of the asset is catered for.
She also drew attention to other aspects of combating corruption, saying that when you talk about the fight against corruption, it needs to be done holistically.
“So we need to put in preventive measures plus education, which is also very important. Citizens need to understand and know what the law says in terms of what they do,” she stated.
In this sense, when it comes to asset tracing, citizens play an important role because it is citizens who know that this person has this property or that asset.
“Corruption Watch” is an intervention that seeks to investigate, expose public sector corruption, and pursue cases from investigation, exposure, to closure and engender demand for institutional reform. It is funded by STAAC and it is being implemented by the Ghana Center for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana) in collaboration with Joy FM, Ghana Integrity Initiative (GII), Ghana Anti-Corruption Coalition (GACC), and Africa Center for International Law and Accountability (ACILA).
Source: Corruption Watch