The government has been called upon to make the Economic and Organised Crime Office (EOCO) independent of control to give it clout to become effective in investigating crimes including those suspected of sitting appointees.
Prof. Atsu Ayee, a political scientist made the call today July 10, 2019 in Accra at a stakeholders meeting organized by the EOCO to share information about its operations to the public. The EOCO, hitherto, has been mystified. Indeed, some of the participants used the word ‘monster’ to describe the organization established to fight economic and financial crimes. This meeting is the first ever in the history of the organization’s existence.
Prof. Ayee said to make EOCO effective, it must be removed from the Attorney-General’s Department, made into a Commission, like its counterpart in Nigeria, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
“There is a mismatch between the expectations of internal stakeholders and external stakeholders,” he said and urged the Office to work to move away from the negative perception that it is being used for political witch-hunting.
Clara Beeri Kasser-Tee, a legal practitioner in her contributions, noted that giving appointees of the Office security of tenure is important in making EOCO independent.
Mr. William Nyarko, the Executive Director of ACILA, said that independence for EOCO must be provided by law and practice. “We need to change the law that says EOCO must submit its reports to the Minister. That must change,” he added.
He called on the Public Affairs unit to be visible, interact with journalists and editors and build the capacity of journalists about its work.
Justice Sir Dennis Adjei, an Appeals Court judge, adding his voice to the calls to make EOCO independent, called for the amendment of the law to make the Office independent, noting that “the power to appoint and the power to dismiss,” makes it difficult for officials of the office to do their job because they are afraid they would lose their jobs.
EOCO recovers over GH¢99m
The Office announced at the meeting that it has retrieved GH¢99,165,362.29 being proceeds of crime from 2014 to March 2019.
According to its director, COP Frank Adu-Poku (Rtd), EOCO has investigated 1,855 cases within the same period, and they include cases of tax fraud, personation, defrauding by false pretences, money laundering, prohibited cyber activities including romance scams, bank fraud, payroll fraud and human trafficking.
In his address, he pointed out that with the passage of time and challenges with the emergence and speed of technology, gaps within the initial law setting up the Office, the Serious Fraud Office Act, 1993 (Act 466) began to emerge. He indicated that the Act 466 restricted the Office to dealing with matters only involving the State and where it had an interest.
“Secondly, it lacked the mandate to deal with organized crime and so lacked the power to recover proceeds of crime. The time for confirmation of freezing directive by the Court was restricted to be within seven days as compared to the current status of 14 days,” he said.
He stated that the calls by the Centre for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana) yielded positive results leading to the enactment of the Economic and Organised Crime Office Act, 2010 (Act 804) with broader mandate to deal with economic and financial crimes in its expanded form and also organized crimes and money laundering and prosecute these crimes on the authority of the Attorney-General.
He said while some issues raised by the CDD-Ghana have been addressed, the need to create a separate source of funding for the Office and grant it the right to retain a percentage of the monies recovered has not been addressed; neither has the right to retain a percentage of monies recovered by the Office been adequately addressed.
“Although section 66 of Act 804 provides some relief as the Courts are empowered to direct some payments out of the proceeds of realizable property to defray the expenses of the Office, it is not enough,” he said.
Prosecutions and convictions
During the period-under-review, 102 cases investigated by EOCO have been prosecuted. Four persons were discharged and 12 convictions were obtained.
EOCO secured convictions in the Maurice Asola-Fadola case. The convicted fraudster represented himself variously as a US Army General serving in Iraq or a businessman and succeeded in defrauding several people online, mostly women. Following his conviction, his landed property valued at GH¢456,000 has been confiscated to the state.
The Office also secured conviction against Eric Afoakwa, who misrepresented himself and took monies from remitters. An amount of £67,000 has been confiscated in this case.
Others are Christopher Nimako, jailed for five years in hard labour, Mandy Afari Gyan, imprisoned for four years in hard labour and Mathias Appiah, alias Delali Vettel who was jailed for 2 years in hard labour and a four-wheel drive Ford vehicle confiscated to the state.
EOCO investigated the case involving Philip Assibit and Abuga Pele and they have been jailed 12 years and six years in hard labour respectively.
Mr. Adu-Poku noted that the Office is doing everything it can to deal with deviant behavior of its officers.
“I concede that the perception that some of its officers are corrupt will continue to remain so far as our officers do not live above reproach,” he said.
He indicated that between 2017 and 2019, seven officers have been dismissed on charges of extortion and conflict of interest after going through disciplinary proceedings.
“Currently, three officers are on interdiction for various offences and are facing disciplinary proceedings,” he said.
The EOCO is mandated by law to prevent and detect organized crime and generally to facilitate the confiscation of the proceeds of crime and on authority of the Attorney-General, prosecute these offences to recover proceeds of crimes and other related matters.
By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi
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