The Financial and Economic Division of the Accra High Court has ordered "absconded" former Microfinance and Small Loans Centre (MASLOC) Chief Executive Officer Sedina Christine Tamakloe Attionu and former MASLOC Operations Manager Daniel Axim to open their defence and respond to 78 charges.
The court presided by Justice Afia Serwah Asare-Botwe, a Justice of the Court of Appeal, determined that a prima facie case has been established against the two defendants through the testimony of four prosecution witnesses.
The State charged the two with 78 counts, including conspiracy to Steal, stealing, Causing Financial Loss to the State, Causing Loss to Public Property, Improper Payment of Public Funds, Unauthorised Commitment leading to Financial Obligation for the Government, Money Laundering, and Violation of the Public Procurement Act.
Justice Asare-Botwe, a Justice of the Court of Appeal sitting as an additional High Court judge, ruled on a submission of no case on Monday, July 31, 2023, after the prosecution had called four witnesses to close its case. She stated that the prosecution has made a case against both accused persons to answer.
Justice Asare-Botwe has ordered the defendants to submit their disclosures and witness statements by October 12, 2023, and to appear in court for the Case Management Conference on October 19, 2023.
The Registrar of the Court has also been ordered to serve Sedinam Ationu, who was absent from court on August 11, with a hearing notice and other court orders.
According to EIB Network's Legal Affairs Correspondent Murtala Inusah, July 31 signals the end of the 2022/2023 legal year, and the judiciary will be on a two-month vacation from August 1 to September 30.
The new legal year is anticipated to begin in the first week of October 2023, but few courts will be in session during the vacation period.
Sedina Tamakloe Attionu, who is facing a trial in absentia after being proclaimed "absconded" by the court, was the Chief Executive Officer of the Microfinance and Small Loans Centre (MASLOC) from November 2013 until January 2017.
While Daniel Axim, the former chief operations officer of MASLOC, was always present in court, he never testified.
MASLOC is a government agency that provides low-interest loans to small and medium-sized enterprises.
One through thirty-five are counts of Theft and Conspiracy to Commit Crime, Theft, contrary to sections 23(1) and 124(1) of the Criminal Offences Act 1960 (Act 29).
Counts 36 to 68 pertain to Causing Financial Loss to the State, Wilfully Causing Financial Loss to the State, and Conspiracy to Commit a Crime, specifically Wilfully Causing Financial Loss to the State, which are all in violation of section 23(1) and 179A (3)(a) of the Criminal Offences Act 1960 (Act 29).
Counts 70 and 71 relate to Causing Loss to Public Property in Violation of Section 2 of the Public Property Protection Act of 1977 (SMCD 140).
In addition, counts 72 and 73 are charged with Improper Payment of Public Funds in violation of section 96(1)(c) of the Public Financial Management Act, 2016 (Act 921) in counts 72 and 73.
Count 74 charges the first defendant, Sedina Christine Tamakloe Attionu, with Unauthorised Commitment, Resulting in Financial Obligation for the Government, in violation of section 96(1)(a) of the Public Financial Management Act, 2016 (Act 921).
Counts 75) to 78 are preferred accusations of Money Laundering contrary to section 1(1)(c) of the Anti-Money Laundering Act, 2008 (Act 749) and Contravention of the Public Procurement Act contrary to sections 92(1) and 40(1)(a) of the Public Procurement Act, 2003 (Act 663).
According to the concise factual summary, in 2017 the Economic and Organised Crime Office (EOCO) investigated certain fraudulent disbursements of MASLOC funds involving the first and second defendants.
According to the State's investigations, MASLOC invested GH150,000 in Obaatanpa Micro-Finance Company Limited (Obaatanpa), a licenced Tier II microfinance company located in Ejura, Ashanti Region, in June 2014.
The first defendant then offered Obaatanpa an additional investment sum of GH500,000. Consequently, a MASLOC Agricultural Development Bank (ADB) cheque in the amount of GH500,000, dated July 24, 2014, was drawn in favour of Obaatanpa.
As soon as Obaatanpa received the MASLOC cheque, the first accused person informed the Board Chairman of Obaatanpa that the GH500,000 investment would accrue interest at a rate of 24%.
Obaatanpa decided to return the loan amount to MASLOC because the interest rate demanded by the defendant was too excessive and unprofitable for its business, and issued a cheque to that effect.
The facts further indicate that upon presentation of the cheque, the first defendant refused to accept it and demanded a cash refund.
$500,000 in Obaatampa cash
On the evening of August 28, 2014, the Board Chairman of Obaatanpa delivered GH500,000 in cash to the first defendant at the Baatsona Total Filling Station on the Spintex Road in Accra.
By letter dated August 28, 2014, the first defendant acknowledged receipt of the refund amount.
In 2015, MASLOC demanded from Obaatanpa the payment of interest on the initial investment amount of GH500,000, as evidenced by letters, some of which were signed by the accused.
Obaatanpa responded to the demands by writing a letter to MASLOC regarding the payment of the loan amount and bringing the 1st accused person's attention to the unjustified demands, which resulted in the cessation of the demands.
In 2017, upon the assumption of office by a new Chief Executive of MASLOC, a demand notice was sent to Obaatanpa for the payment of accrued interest on the same investment sum of GH500,000. Obaatanpa again informed MASLOC that the aforementioned funds had been returned since 2014.
Subsequent investigations revealed that MASLOC had no record of the amount being paid to it and that the first defendant had misappropriated GH500,000.
Funds for publicity
Investigations further revealed that in April 2016, the first accused person obtained sanction from the MASLOC Board to use GH1,706,000 of MASLOC funds for a nationwide sensitisation and monitoring programme for 85,300 MASLOC loan beneficiaries.
Each of the 85,300 intended recipients was to receive Twenty Ghana Cedis (GH20) for travel and refreshments.
Between April and December 2016, the 1st and 2nd accused persons received a total of GH1,816,000 withdrawn in tranches on the authority of the 1st accused person, despite sanction from the MASLOC Board for a sum of GH1,706,000.
Again, investigations revealed that out of a total of GH1,816,000, only GH1,300 was spent on refreshments for some beneficiaries in the Volta, Greater-Accra, and Brong-Ahafo Regions, whereas in the other seven regions, no programme whatsoever took place.
The State noted in her concise facts that investigations revealed that the first accused person also misappropriated GHC 246,280 intended for training, sensitization, and financial literacy prior to the Board's approval.
Cash is traded at Kantamanto.
According to the State, investigations revealed that in 2013, following a fire calamity at the Kantamanto Market, then-President John Mahama directed MASLOC to provide GH1,465,035 in assistance to fire victims.
However, the funds were to be distributed via Dwadifo Adamfo Savings and Loans Company Limited (Dwadifo Adamfo).
It is stated that state investigations revealed that the first defendant misappropriated GH579,800 out of a total of GH1,465,035.
In August 2016, the 1st accused person wrote to the Public Procurement Authority (PPA) on behalf of MASLOC, requesting approval to acquire vehicles from Mac Autos and Spare Parts Ltd (Mac Autos) for the GPRTU using the single source method under the Public Procurement Act.
In a letter dated October 2016, the PPA requested that MASLOC provide it with a financial arrangement approved by the Ministry of Finance.
On 5 December 2016, the then-Minister of Finance confirmed the establishment of financing arrangements for the acquisition of vehicles in a letter to the PPA.
No Approvals for PPA
On December 6, 2016, without sanction from PPA, the first defendant signed a contract with Mac Autos to supply MASLOC with 350 vehicles, including 150 Chevy Aveo Saloons, 100 Chevy Sparklites, and 33-seater Isuzu buses. MASLOC requested a tax exemption for all the vehicles.
Mac Autos quoted MASLOC a unit price of GH74,495 ($18,883.39) for the Chevrolet Aveo.
However, research revealed that Mac's actual retail price for the same model in the same year, excluding taxes, was GH47,346.93 ($12,009.91).
The unit pricing offered for the Chevrolet Sparklite was GH65,095.00 ($16,500.63), whereas the actual price offered by Mac Autos during the same time period, excluding duties, was GH35,918.37 ($9,104.77).
The unit pricing offered to MASLOC for the Isuzu 33-seater buses was GH445,560 ($112,942.96), but the actual retail price without duty was GH293,877.55 ($74,493.67).
Again, in November 2016, MASLOC acquired 200 Samsung B310 dual-sim mobile phones as part of the PINCO Project Market Survey.
Investigations revealed that although the phones' genuine price on the open market was GH24,400, the first defendant purchased them for GH93,412.
Additional checks revealed that in January 2017, the first defendant paid herself and her deputy, Mustapha Abubakar Batalima, ex gratia amounts of GH135,592.33 and GH82,218.76, respectively, without the required approval and authorization. Moreover, in the same month, the first defendant arranged for cash payments in the amounts of GH28,445.94 and GH27,486.66 to be made to herself and her deputy, purportedly in lieu of leave, in violation of the law.