By Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK
Ghanaians across the globe might have come across very serious and damaging corruption allegations against President Mahama and his wife on Wednesday October 24, 2012. The story which appeared on Ghanaweb with the headline: “Mahama’s Swiss Bank Cash – 170 million dollars” October 24, 2012 as per the link below. This article is to share with readers the outcome of DIY investigations I conducted into the story. http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/artikel.php?ID=254229&comment=8436474#com.
I was shocked when I read the story not because of the amount involved but because of the organisations that were mentioned as having knowledge of the corruption. Without wasting time, I suspected that the story could be a fabrication because the World Bank and IMF are both part of the global fight against corruption and would not have condoned such criminality by the then Vice-President. Even Swiss banks are now under pressure from some western governments to check corruption by politicians from developing countries who steal millions of dollars in the midst of hunger, diseases and lack of basic amenities for their people and hide them in secret Swiss accounts. However, I also knew that Association Press News (APN) would not have been the source if the allegations were not true, bearing in mind rumours in Ghana that the President might have benefitted from the purchase of aircraft for the military.
Facing this dilemma, I decided to do desktop research to establish the veracity of the report. Being lazy, I did a Google search on the name of the alleged author of the report, Mr Pierre Wimhoven and surprisingly, nothing came up except the Ghanaweb story. I asked myself this question, how come this person who is alleged to be “an investigative journalist affiliated with transparency international and has written books on corruption in Asia, Africa and is active in the setting up of transparent institutions around the world” does not appear to be on the web? If he is also “currently a Managing Partner for Associated Press News based in Zurich, Switzerland”, how come he does not exist on the web? My suspicion deepened and so I took my curiosity further.
I visited APN’s website and did another search but this time on corruption, Mahama, Ghana and Pierre Wimhoven. Again, nothing showed up. I repeated the same on Transparency International’s website and still nothing came up. Under the “Contact Us”, the contact details of the West African Coordinator (Marie-Ange Kalenga) who has responsibilities for Ghana and Nigeria appeared. Though it was after office hours at that time, I rang her office number and left a message for her to contact me on this report. I also e-mailed her and provided a link to the Ghanaweb report and asked if Transparency International could confirm or deny the report.
Next day October 25, 2012, having not received any response from her by 9.00am UK time, I rang her office in Germany. Luckily, she answered the phone. I introduced myself, the purpose of my call and asked if she had received my message and e-mail, to which she answered, yes. She told me she had looked at the report on Ghanaweb and assured me that the report is not from Transparency International. It had nothing to do with them and also confirmed that the name, Pierre Wimhoven is unknown to them. I asked her if she is absolutely sure of her responses and she said without doubt. Finally, I asked her if Transparency International will do something about it since their name is being (mis)used for libel and defamation. She responded that their communications department will issue a statement to deny their role in the story, which will be on their website. I suggested that a copy be sent to Ghanaweb but she was not keen. She offered to e-mail a copy of the statement to me, which I thanked her for.
I checked on Transparency International’s website on Friday October 26 but could not find any statement on this matter so I called Marie again at 12.15pm UK time and she confirmed that their Communication Team is still working on it and she will definitely e-mail a copy to me when ready. At 6.22pm, I received e-mail from Marie with a copy of Transparency International’s statement below which is available on their website:
TI will publish this statement on its website: “Transparency International, the anti-corruption organisation, clarified today that it was not the source for several online stories published this week concerning the Presidents of Zimbabwe, the Democratic republic of Congo and Ghana and allegations of bank accounts in Switzerland and Luxembourg. The stories are a complete fabrication and do not in any way represent the views of Transparency International, or its National Chapters and other affiliates”. Best wishes, Marie-Ange
I also contacted APN Office in London by phone on the morning of October 25 and I was transferred to the Europe Desk. The man who spoke to me also denied that the report is from APN. In fact, he told me that the last story on Ghana which appears in their system was on the seizure of the Argentinean military ship in Ghana. I read part of the report that I have quoted above with the name Pierre Wimhoven. I asked him if Pierra Wimhoven works for APN or has any connection with APN and after checking their records, he told me there is no such person working for or on behalf of APN. He asked me to spell the name for him and I did. He told me that lots of people claim to be either working for or representing APN but that is not necessarily true.
I then tried to contact APN office in Zurich but unfortunately, the advertised phone number on the APN’s website was wrong so after a number of abortive attempts, I gave up. Again, I was running late for a meeting. It is surprising to me that APN were not interested in finding out who used their name for such diabolical act and got the impression from the guy I spoke to that it would be a waste of time and resources to follow up such a report. It was not worth it.
Let me point out that my DIY investigative work was not meant to prove whether the President is corrupt or not. It was purely to establish the truth and credibility in the story that appeared on Ghanaweb.
I have read and heard about numerous allegations against Ghanaian leaders and politicians, even including the Asantehene. Though those who fabricate these stories try their best to make their tales look credible by attributing the sources to and mentioning credible organisations, they are very amateurish. For example, there was the case of a story of the former Education Minister allegedly purchasing three houses in the UK. The newspaper and reporter they claimed as their source never existed. A simple Google search betrayed their 419 scam.
But why do Ghanaians go to that extent of fabricating very damaging allegations against their leaders? Are these also part of the new found democracy and freedom of speech? Do they know the damage such baseless allegations cause to Ghana’s international image and economy? They may be doing it for short term political gains but foreign investors could be scared off from investing in Ghana when they come across such negative stories. In their parochial interests, they may destroy the personalities they target but the long term impact could be irreparable damage to the goodwill of Ghana. They also weaken democracy and freedom of speech and make mockery of Ghanaian’s reputation as a leader in democratic governance in Africa.
But who are behind these scams? The answer is not farfetched. They are perpetrated by politicians against politicians, though not exclusively. It is done especially by NDC, NPP and the new kid on the political landscape, NDP. Sometimes, it is even from within. For example, it was rumoured that the unsubstantiated drugs allegations against Nana Akufo Addo started as a text message from within the NPP during the 2008 campaign and also very clear that, the various corruption allegations against the late President Mills came from within the NDC and or FONKAR now NDP.
Is this the best and most effective way of exposing and fighting corruption in Ghana? In my view, the answer is no. In fact, these scams belittle the seriousness of corruption in Ghana, depict Ghanaians as jokers when it comes to the global war against corruption and would not be taken serious by international partners. It can also damage Ghana’s relations with the international organisations that are mentioned in such hoaxes as having knowledge of corruption in Ghana but appear to do nothing or even give tacit approval, such as the World Band and IMF. They are disrespect to such bodies and insult to their representatives in Ghana.
Who are behind this scam on Ghanaweb? Though I have no evidence as to who is or are behind it, I am sure NDC, its supporters and sympathisers will be pointing accusing figures at NPP and NDP. Are they right to do so? What about the possibility of an inside job from aggrieved NDC parliamentary candidates who were prevented from winning the primaries by the strong hand of the party leadership or under the influence of money by ministers?
Since NPP, their supporters and sympathisers have accused the President of being corrupt, especially, the allegation that he ensured the sale of a national bank so that his brother’s loans could be written off, is it possible they manufactured this hoax? In my view, NPP would have been clever and more professional not to leave so many question marks that easily discredited the story as a hoax.
What about NDP, its supporters and sympathisers? Well, they have an axe to grind with Mahama because they believe the President is behind the rejection of Nana Konadu’s uncompleted nomination forms and her subsequent disqualification by the Electoral Commission. Do you remember their Deputy Communications Director was once arrested for claiming that the former First Lady received $5 million from the Woyome Judgement Debt? Since they appear to be very careless and incompetent to make elementary mistakes as this hoax was, could they be the brainchild behind the story?
I leave readers to make up their own minds on who planted this 419 story. What I am certain about, is that, those behind the hoax cannot fool all Ghanaians. Some of us have discerning minds and would ask questions and search for the answers, thanks to power of the almighty internet. Anyone could have done my DIY investigations if you have access to the internet and a phone. Those behind this story only exhibited their stupidity because the story did not add up. Anyone can verify my DIY investigations by contacting APN Europe Desk in London and Transparency International office in Germany.
Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK