Capital Bank case: I’m a nation builder - Ato Essien

BY: Emmanuel Ebo Hawkson & Justice Agbernosi

The Founder of the defunct Capital Bank, William Ato Essien, who has been accused of collapsing the bank, has described himself as a nation builder and one of the reasons behind the growth of the economy.

Essien, who is standing trial with two others for allegedly collapsing Capital Bank by dissipating a GH¢620-million liquidity support given to the bank by the Bank of Ghana (BoG), was speaking at the Accra High Court yesterday when he opened his defence.

His description of himself as a nation builder was in response to a question by his lawyer, Mr Baffour Gyawu Bonsu, for him (Essien) to tell the court what he did for a living.

Job description, reaction

Essien used about 12 minutes to describe his job in a colourful manner, to the amusement of the people in the courtroom.

“I’m the talk of the drive of the Finance Minister; a true entrepreneur who creates something out of nothing; a businessman with the capacity to assume risk in other jurisdictions.

“What I do is called a risk taker, and in other places they refer to what I do as the engine of growth for economies. And so, My Lord, I could have easily said an entrepreneur, but what I do is bigger than that,” he said.

Just when people in the courtroom were catching their breath and reflecting on what he had said, Essien went into another gear with more job descriptions:

“I could have said I am a businessman, but what I do is more than that. I am a vowed, determined Ghanaian who believes that the true test of nation-building cannot happen without a businessman, the risk taker and destiny maker,” he added.

The long job description threw the courtroom into laughter, with the presiding judge, Justice Eric Kyei Baffour, a Justice of the Court of Appeal sitting as a High Court judge, chipping in with: “I’m beginning to enjoy it.”

Essien will continue his evidence-in-chief on November 11, this year.

No grace period

He mounted the witness box to open his defence after Justice Kyei Baffour had ruled and insisted that he was not going to extend the grace period for him to do so.

Lawyer Bonsu had told the court that his client was in negotiations with the Attorney-General (A-G) to refund GH¢27.5 million of the liquidity support.

The said GH¢27.5 million was what the prosecution claimed Essien carried in jute bags and distributed to some people as business promotion.

Essien first made the proposal to refund the money in June 2020, but that was flatly rejected by the prosecution.

His decision to refund GH¢27.5 million to the state is a legal move, under Section 35 of the Courts Act, Act 459, meant to escape a prison sentence.

The prosecutor, Ms Marina Appiah Opare, a Chief State Attorney, yesterday told the court that after her outfit had rejected the first proposal, Essien and his team presented another proposal, which was also not acceptable.

“Only yesterday, we received another proposal from them on WhatsApp. We are yet to formally receive a letter to that effect,” she said.

Ms Opare, however, said the court had already ruled that irrespective of the stage at which the negotiations had reached, Essien must open his defence.

Adjourn trial

In response, Mr Bonsu pleaded with the court to adjourn the trial, so that his client would conclude negotiations with the A-G on the new proposal.

Justice Kyei Baffour, however, refused to adjourn the case again and directed Essien to open his defence.

According to him, the negotiations between Essien and the A-G should not draw the court back on its mandate to discharge justice.

Essien, he said, had a constitutional right to be tried within a reasonable time, which the court was bound to uphold.

He said if the negotiations were not completed by the time the trial ended, he would hold his judgment until the negotiations were done.

He reminded counsel that whatever agreement was reached would be subjected to the approval of the court, for which reason the negotiations should not prevent the court from discharging its function.

“I, therefore, invite the first accused (Essien) to open his defence,” Justice Kyei Baffour had ruled.

Not guilty

Essien is standing trial with the Managing Director (MD) of the defunct bank, Fitzgerald Odonkor, and the MD of MC Management Services, Tettey Nettey.

MC Management Services is said to be owned by Essien.

The accused persons have pleaded not guilty to all the charges of stealing, abetment to stealing, conspiracy to steal and money laundering.

The prosecution has accused the three people of engaging in various illegal acts that led to the dissipation of the GH¢620-million liquidity support given to Capital Bank by the BoG between June 2015 and November 2016.

It is the case of the A-G that Essien, with Odonkor’s aid, transferred the liquidity support to certain companies either controlled by him or in which he had interest.