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A retrospective analysis of Mahama and Armajaro’s idiosyncratic affair

John Mahama New Nice President John Mahama

Wed, 5 Oct 2016 Source: Badu, K

By K. Badu

It would be recalled that somewhere in 2010, the United Kingdom media carried chilling reports about how the then Vice President John Dramani Mahama, was lobbied by a British Cabinet Minister to get a postponement for the ban imposed on Armajaro Holdings, one of the cocoa buying companies who were found culpable for smuggling the commodity out of Ghana.

In retrospect, Armajaro Company was banned together with a few other companies, when the award winning investigative journalist, Anas Aremeyaw Anas exposed the smuggling of uncountable bags of cocoa into neighbouring Cote d’Ivoire.

Shockingly, however, the United Kingdom media disclosed that subsequent to the meeting between the then Vice President John Dramani Mahama and the inexorable British Cabinet Minister, Armajaro Company was given a reprieve and started its operations.

To be quite honest, the bizarre lifting of the ban imposed on the Armajaro Company raised a lot of eye brows among the good people of Ghana.

Subsequently, a lot of forward thinking civil society groups converged and demanded explanations from the then Vice President, John Dramani Mahama, the architect of the whole idiosyncratic reprieve.

One of such discerning civil society groups was the Alliance For Responsible Office Holders (AFROH), who produced prolixity, though a finest press release on the disgusting issue. Below is the ‘untampered ‘AFROH’s press release:

“AT A PRESS CONFERENCE AT THE INTERNATIONAL PRESS CENTRE, ACCRA- WEDNESDAY 10TH NOVEMBER, 2010

H.E. VICE PRESIDENT JOHN MAHAMA AND THE ARMAJARO AFFAIR

“Ladies and Gentlemen of the media, this maiden news conference has become more compelling with the alleged involvement of the Vice-President of the Republic of Ghana, His Excellency John Dramani Mahama, in the recent embarrassing lifting of the ban imposed on Armajaro Ghana Ltd in the Western Region of Ghana. We are therefore using this maiden opportunity to focus on the conduct of the Second Man of the Republic.

“It appears, in our fight against corruption, like the Scancem and M&J allegations, we are sometimes left to rely on an investigation in another country for us to even have any hint of what took place against our sovereign interest. And, even when these facts of alleged corruption are made known to us the Government is afraid to act for fear of hurting their own.

“The latest in this disturbing trend is, ladies and gentlemen, the purpose for this news conference.

“In its Sunday, 31st October, 2010, edition, The Sunday Times of the United Kingdom revealed that the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, acting on the request of the Secretary of International Development, Andrew Mitchell, got the British High Commissioner in Accra to lobby the Castle, the seat of Ghana's Presidency, to overturn a ban imposed against a British company for breaking the laws of the Republic of Ghana.

“A few days later, the British High Commissioner, Nicholas Westcott, accompanied Vice President John Mahama, to dine with Henry Bellingham, a Minister for Africa at the UK Foreign office in London and that our Vice President promised to look into the matter when he returned to Ghana. A few weeks after that, the ban was overturned.

“In short, it seems Ghana's Vice President allowed his arm to be twisted by officials of another country, for the benefit of a company from that foreign country whose employees had broken our laws on smuggling Ghana's main export earner and were being made to pay the price.

“More worryingly, the owner of that foreign company is on record as having paid more than $150,000 to the UK Minister, Andrew Mitchell, personally, and to the Conservative Party.

“According to the Sunday Times report, Armajaro problems can be traced back to April when an undercover reporter expose a smuggling epidemic from Ghana to Ivory Coast involving security officials and cocoa companies.

The Vice President has been on record to deny any involvement or wrong doing but the following events leading to how the official ban on Armajaro Ghana Ltd was overturned shows the Vice President to be deeply involved.

*APRIL 7th 2010* In April, President Mills, during his walk-about, criticised CEPS for allowing businesses to evade custom duties, therefore causing Government not to meet its revenue targets.

“In that same week, on April 7, dangerous undercover investigations undertaken by Ghanaâ ace investigative journalist, Anas Aremeyaw Anas of the New Crusading Guide, identifies Armajaro (one of the world largest cocoa commodity traders owned by British multi-millionaire Anthony Ward) as well as Diabe and Transroyal as being involved in the multi-million dollar smuggling of cocoa to La Cote dIvoire. The three companies were all banned from trading in cocoa in the Western Region.

*JULY 1st 2010* Anthony Ward, Chief Executive of Armajaro Holdings and a Conservative party donor, writes to UK cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell, the man to whom Mr Ward had donated$63,000, to bring his weight to bear on the Ghana Government. The letter reads:

We therefore would like to ask you to intervene on our behalf at Presidential level [in Ghana] to request the ban be lifted with immediate effect. As someone put, the letter read as if Ghana was still a British colony. With immediate effect indeed!

“Even the letter from Mr Ward provided the road map to lobbying the Ghanaian Presidency. The timing of the letter was such that it will prompt the British Government to lobby the Vice President in person. The letter suggested that one potential lobbying opportunity would be a UK-Ghana investment forum in London, whichthe Ghanaian Vice President, Mr John Mahama, was due to attend.

In fact, the Vice President was leading the Ghanaian delegation. Sunday Times report said, Just days after Mitchell read the letter, the Ghanaian Vice President was INDEED LOBBIED on behalf of Wards company by a Foreign Office Minister at a dinner on the eve of the trade forum.

*JULY 6th 2010* Department for International Development (DFID) officials, who work under Mr Mitchell, emailed Wards letter to the Foreign Office. The leaked letter reads:

It will be in your best interest to give this request your urgent attention.Five days after the letter was dispatched from Ward to Mitchell, the Minister, Mitchell, phoned Nicholas Westcott, the U.K High Commissioner in Ghana, for a briefing on Armajaro.

“Ambassador Westcott then confirmed to the Minister the details in Wards letter about a forthcoming UK-Ghana trade forum in London. He then began the process of arranging for the Vice President to meet Mr Henry Bellingham, the Foreign Office Minister for Africa.

“According to our sources, Mr John Mahama was aware of this meeting and the matters to be discussed even before he left Accra for London.

“As an indication of how improper this whole lobbying was, British Civil Servants raised concerns about the propriety in lobbying the Ghanaian Vice- President at the London trade forum, as suggested by Ward letter.

“Around this time, Mr Ward, known as Chocfinger for being a ruthless speculator on cocoa prices, made news across the business world for buying 240,100 tons of cocoa beans for more than $1billion to hoard. This jerked the price up for him to quickly offload his hoarded stock onto the market to make a huge profit, which sent the prices down again.

“This is the kind of character that they say our Vice President was helping to get a ban on his company lifted.

“The concerned Foreign Office email reads: Is this something we should lobby on? Or should the UK Company realise that they've broken the rules and have to pay the price?

*JULY 7th 2010* Henry Bellingham, the Foreign Office Minister, in fact dined with John Dramani Mahama and Ambassador Westcott, and the matter on discussion was importantly Armajaro. The Junior Minister of Britain met our Vice- President to tell him to remove the ban on a British company that had broken the laws of Ghana.

“Leaked UK Foreign Office memo reporting on the meeting said: The vice president (John Mahama) has undertaken to look into it immediately on his return.

*JULY 12th 2010*The Sunday Times reported,The campaign paid dividends. On July 12, Westcott reported in an internal memo [obtained by the Sunday Times under the Freedom of Information Act] that the Ghanaian Vice President was going to look into the ban immediately.

“It is this statement that categorically and unambiguously contradicts the statement from the lips of Vice President John Mahama on Thursday, November 4, with Radio Ghana that he did not intervene on behalf of the company.

“This documentary evidence makes it clear that the Vice President has lied to the people of Ghana. The Vice President says he asked Henry Bellingham and, presumably, Nicholas Westcott, who was also at the meeting, to tell Armajaro to petition the appropriate authorities in Ghana directly and that he would not do anything about it. So, was Mr Westcotts recorded account on the meeting, as contained in the leaked internal memo, a figment of the British diplomat's imagination?

*JULY 14th 2010* But so pleased were British civil servants about the progress made that on July 14, UK Foreign Office officials proposed contacting Armajaro. Leaked memo reads:

“They might like to know what we've done on their behalf. *AUGUST 2010* If John Mahama's meeting played no role in the subsequent lifting of the ban, then the sequence of events suggest otherwise.

“Westcott sent an email to Mitchella DFID in August, knowing the Ministerâinterest in the matter, disclosing that a draft decision made by the Cocoa Board lifting the ban†had been drawn and I hope this will sort the matter.

*SEPTEMBER 8th 2010* Trade ban on Armajaro in Ghana was lifted in all but one district. *SEPTEMBER 28th, 2010* The Chief Executive Officer of Cocobod, Anthony Fofie, with the Finance Minister next to him, told journalists at a news conference to announce new producer price for cocoa that the ban imposed on three licensed buying companies from operating in some parts of the country is still in force. The companies he mentioned then were these same three companies, Armajaro, Diabe and Transroyal.

“Mr Fofie went on to say that “the board is yet to review its decision on the case of the firms involved.†So how does the Cocobod explain the email from Ambassador Westcott in August, a month earlier, that a draft decision had already been taken by the Cocobod to lift the ban? On what was that draft decision based?

This is important because more than a month later on September 28, the Chief Executive of Cocobod told journalists that “the Board has been monitoring the activities of the companies and will make a determination after a thorough assessment whether there is a commitment on the part of the three to put mechanisms in place to stop smuggling.

†According to Cocobod then, it was yet to see any such commitment. Yet, according to official documents, by September 8 the ban on Armajaro, at least had been lifted. This was 20 days before the Chief Executive of Cocobod announced to the whole country that the ban was still in place.

“We would also like to know, ifthe three bans were lifted at the same time then is Cocobod telling Ghanaians that the three companies on the same day managed to convince the Board their commitment to stopping smuggling?

“If so, why would the CEO of Cocobod lie to Ghanaians? We are absolutely convinced Cocobod is not telling the truth because; the ban was imposed on April 6; In August Nicholas Westcott emailed DFID for the attention of Mitchell that a draft Statement lifting the ban had been made by Cocobod; September 8, Armajaro is informed by Cocobod that the ban has been lifted; Tuesday September 28 Cocobod, with Finance Minister present holds a Press Conference to announce new producer price, adding that the ban was still in force.

“Fofie said board; “is still monitoring activities of the companies and will make a final determination after thorough assessment whether there was a commitment on the part of the three to put mechanisms in place to stop the smugglingâ€

Yet on November 8, Cocobod in a Press Statement said “At the Board of Directors meeting held on Tuesday, 28th September, 2010, the Board of Directors directed that the ban placed on the three companies from operating in the Western Corridor of Ghana be lifted in all the areas except the districts where the video footage captured the involvement of their agentsâ€.

We believe that the boss of Cocobod, Anthony Fofie, has shown himself to lack integrity and does not deserve to be in charge of a multi-billion dollar trade that has, for nearly hundred years been the main export earner for our country. HE MUST THEREFORE RESIGN with immediate effect.

“We know that Cocobod is seeking to cover up the role that the Vice President played. But, unfortunately for them, the documentary evidence released by the British government, through the work of the British Journalist, Marie Woolf, leaves the players totally uncovered. This is a cover up that should not be allowed to stand in the interest of Ghana.

“We are no longer under colonial rule where our public officials, especially elected officials, feel that they can work in the interest of a British company through the lobbying of British officials, against the interest of the people of Ghana. It was to remove us from that bondage that our forefathers fought for Ghana's independence.

“Kwame Nkrumah will be turning in his grave for now. This is certainly not Kwame Nkrumah's Ghana. We cannot celebrate his Centenary and at the same time denigrate his achievements by selling our national soul to a foreign interest.

“The Vice- President has so far been on record to deny any involvement or wrong doing but the above events leading to how the official ban on Armajaro Ghana Ltd was overturned shows the Vice President may be distorting facts.

“If found to be true then the Vice-President is working against the sovereign interest of Ghana by subverting and sabotaging the economic interest of the country on behalf of a company from another sovereign state.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, we are also demanding answers to the following:

“1. How much money, if any, did John Mahama receive from Anthony Ward to lobby for him, if the UK Minister who made the phone call to set up the meeting received £40,000?

“2. When was the ban on Armajaro lifted?

“3. When was the ban on Diabe and Transroyal lifted?

“4. Why were the three companies banned?

“5. Why was the ban lifted?

“6. We heard John Jinapor, the Spokesperson to the Vice President saying on Metro TV on Monday, November 8, 2010, that Armajaro and the other companies were banned for only one season. We know that a cocoa season begins on 1st October of one year and ends on 30th September of the following year.

This ban took place effectively during half season but ended before the end of the season. What accounts for this unusual situation? Or should we say, what accounts for this blatant twist of facts?

“7. How much money John Mahama received from Andrew Mitchell, International Development Secretary who lobbied him on behalf of British Cocoa magnate Andrew Ward to facilitate the lifting of the ban? As we speak, the British International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell has been referred to the United Kingdom Parliamentary Standards Watch Dog Committee.

“8. Did John Mahama and Alhaji Dramani Egala, Deputy Chief Executive in charge of operations hold a meeting on the day the ban on the companies were lifted and what message did he convey to the Board?

“Finally we are also serving notice that we have almost completed the process; and will soon send this matter to the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) for a thorough investigation based on the facts in our possession.

“We thank you for your audience and invite your questions.” Signed: .................................... (Mahama Haruna) Chairman

In a nutshell, President John Dramani Mahama must not sweep this bizarre issue under the carpet forever. He must come clean and provide further and better particulars on the weird lifting of the ban imposed on Armajaro Company.

References

www.ghanaweb.com

www.dailyguideafrica.com

www.thestatesmanonline.com

www.myjoyonline.com

Columnist: Badu, K