Businessman Alfred Agbesi Woyome Thursrday walked out of the High Court a free man after the court had held that the state had failed to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
“And in the instant case, I am of the considered opinion that the prosecution has failed woefully to prove beyond all reasonable doubt the guilt of the accused person,” the trial judge, Mr Justice John Ajet-Nasam, emphasised.
“I, therefore, acquit and discharge Alfred Agbesi Woyome on all charges brought against him,” the court stated, and noted that it was both “sad and sweeping” for the state to hold that Woyome deliberately made false representations to the government.
“The state failed to defend the action. It rather went into settlement of the case which led to the entry of judgement. I do not see any misrepresentation made to the court,” the judge said in reference to Woyome getting a default judgement from the Commercial Court in May 2010.
Decision to free Woyome
Defending its decision to free Woyome, the court conceded that the case had earned a notoriety to the extent that songs had been composed out of it.
“In fact, a lot of comments were made and it seems judgement had been passed on it before the trial even went onto the marks. Judges are called upon to hold the scale of justice between parties without regard to colour, religious background or any such.
“I will not be a timorous judge in reaching my considered opinion upon the evidence adduced before me,” Mr Justice Ajet-Nasam stressed.
There was wild applause and cheers from Woyome’s friends and sympathisers immediately after the court declined to convict him on criminal charges.
Woyome, however, did not comment on the judgement and was whisked away by his teeming supporters.
Woyome took legal action at the Commercial Court on April 19, 2010 after he claimed he had rendered financial engineering services to raise 1.1 billion euros from Bank Austria to build sports stadia and facilities, hospitals, wellness centres, a radiation plant and tissue culture facilities at the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission (GAEC).
The government was to write to accept the 1.1 billion euros offer on or before September 30, 2005, but that did not happen, resulting in the expiration of the offer.
Woyome wrote a petition to the then Attorney-General, Mrs Betty Mould-Iddrisu, asking to be compensated because he had spent millions in setting up offices in four countries, hiring consultants, on air travels and other costs and for that reason he was entitled to four per cent of the 1.1 billion euros.
Mrs Mould-Iddrisu negotiated the amount to two per cent and advised that Woyome be paid, after conferring with government consultants and lawyers from the Attorney-General’s Department and the Ministry of Finance.
But Woyome was picked up on February 3, 2012 and later charged with two counts of defrauding by false pretence and causing financial loss to the state after an interim report from the Economic and Organised Crime Office (EOCO) had implicated him for wrongdoing.
He was first arraigned on February 6, 2012, together with three others — a Chief State Attorney, Mr Samuel Nerquaye-Tetteh; his wife, Mrs Gifty Nerquaye-Tetteh, and the Director of the Legal Department of the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, Mr Paul Asimenu.
Woyome was initially charged with conspiracy, defrauding by false pretence and corrupting a public officer, while Mr Nerquaye-Tetteh was charged with conspiracy and corrupting a public officer. Asimenu and Mrs Nerquaye-Tetteh were charged with abetment of crime.
He was alleged to have paid GH¢400,000 to the couple, but they and Mr Asimenu were, on June 5, 2012, freed, following the filing of a nolle prosequi by the state to discontinue trying them.
Woyome was, however, re-arraigned and charged with two counts of causing financial loss to the state and defrauding by false pretence.
In its hour-long judgement, the court indicted state prosecutors for prosecuting Woyome when their colleagues and other public officials had, in 2010, recommended that he be paid the said amount.
According to it, the mass documentary evidence put forward by the state and the defence team rather exonerated Woyome.
“From the above, where lies the wilfulness of the accused person? The mass documentary evidence tendered by both the prosecution and the defence go a long way to exonerate the accused person. There had not been any proof of the intention of the accused,” the court pointed out.
It said there was evidence on record that the claim from Woyome was distinct from the dealings he had with Waterville Holdings leading to that company paying him off.
Onus of proof
The court reiterated that the onus was on the prosecution to prove Woyome’s guilt, not on Woyome to prove his innocence.
It said the burden was on the prosecution to produce witnesses to prove Woyome’s guilt and wondered why the state did not call Mrs Mould-Iddrisu, Mr Rex Magnus Danquah of the Local Organising Committee of CAN 2008, a former Deputy Attorney-General, Mr Ebo Barton-Odro; Mr Asimenu, Mr Nerquaye-Tetteh and others who had all given written opinions that Woyome was entitled to the claim.
According to the court, the evidence from those individuals would have been “good and credible witnesses than those who have testified in this case”.
It also said there had been inconsistencies in the evidence led by the prosecution witnesses, adding that “in cases involving serious offences such as the instant case …, prosecution must scrutinise with greater perspicacity the evidential strength of the case before invoking the criminal process”.
“The courts will not derogate from established legal norms in order to facilitate the sloppy pursuit of cases,” it averred.
It further held that the state had also failed to put up defence when Woyome went to the Commercial Court and, therefore, the court found it absurd for the state to turn around and accuse Woyome of causing financial loss.
“Where lies the charge of causing financial loss when the state failed to fight the case on its merit at the Commercial Court?
“It became a judgement debt on the shoulders of the state. In his letter to the then President, Honourable Barton-Odro stated, on page 5, thus: ‘It is not, therefore, the case that the Attorney-General entered into a hurriedly arranged settlement with Woyome’,” it said.
The court went on to read from its records and said, “Honourable Barton-Odro wrote to the late President Atta Mills to justify the payment of two per cent to Woyome.”
Based on the foregoing, it said there was no legal basis for Woyome to be convicted.
Responding to the state’s contention that Mrs Mould-Iddrisu had been new in office at the time and, therefore, lacked the institutional history of events that had already taken place, the court said the state’s position was not borne out of the evidence on record because Mrs Mould-Iddrisu had acted based on advice given her by officials assigned to the case.
“In her quest for expert opinion on the financial engineering claim by the accused, Honourable Mould-Iddrisu wrote to those involved, including Building and Industry Consultants (BIC) and government consultants on CAN 2008,” it held, and stated that, indeed, Mr Nerquaye-Tetteh and Mr Asimenu also advised Mrs Mould-Iddrisu before she approved Woyome’s claim.
“It, therefore, lies foul in the mouth of the prosecution to submit that Mrs Mould-Iddrisu was deceived into believing or relying on the accused’s claims at the Commercial Court,” it held.
The court also took on state prosecutors for having the temerity to state that they could not defend the matter in court.
According to the court, Woyome’s role in project financial engineering was further evidenced by the letter from the Ministry of Education and Sports dated July 5, 2005 and an earlier letter from the then Minister of Environment and Science, Prof. Kasim Kassanga, dated October 28, 2004.
It also took into account the fact that Woyome, together with Waterville, had set up offices in Vienna, Austria; Washington DC, Italy and Switzerland as part of the project financial engineering work for the projects in Ghana.
It further held that all the documents tendered lent credence to the fact that Woyome did not obtain the money through fraud and that he was “justified to receive what was paid him”.
The court, therefore, agreed with Mrs Mould-Iddrisu’s legal opinion which stated, among other things, that “the financial arrangements were made in respect of the concurrent approval given by the Central Tender Review Board for the award of contract to Vamed Engineering, which transferred its rights on the project to Waterville Holdings.”
“It was in these circumstances that the then government terminated the entire process… It is my opinion that this letter dated August 5, 2005 formed the basis of a binding agreement between Vamed and the government of Ghana, and the process having been terminated wrongfully by the government, the claimants were entitled to compensation for services rendered,” it added.
Citing authorities to buttress its decision, the court said: “From the above, it is, therefore, wrong, incorrect and twisting of facts when the prosecution submitted that there was a misrepresentation that led to the payment. The truth is that the state failed to defend.”
The court further held that the state had failed to convince it on how Woyome was able to misrepresent facts, either by way of written or oral, to all those involved in the scandal.
It said it was abundantly clear that Woyome was not paid based on his petition but upon seeking legal redress in court, adding, “From the foregoing, where lies the false pretence played on these officers who even had independent advice? I am of the considered opinion that Woyome cannot be charged with the offence of defrauding by false pretences.
“That charge, to me, falls flat in the face of the documentary and oral evidence before me.”
According to the court, the default judgement was never set aside and further argued that “not a single suggestion was made to the accused to dispute the said claim”.
One more hurdle
Although he has been cleared on the criminal charges of defrauding by false pretence and causing financial loss to the state, Woyome still has one more legal hurdle to clear at the Supreme Court, which last year ordered him to refund the money back to the state.