Court orders OSP to return Cecilia Dapaah’s assets
The High Court in Accra has ordered the Office of the Special Prosecutor (OSP) to return the confiscated assets of the former Minister of Sanitation and Water Resources, Cecilia Dapaah, to her within seven days.
This was after the court had dismissed the Special Prosecutor’s application seeking to continue freezing the bank accounts and assets of Ms Dapaah.
In a ruling yesterday, the court, presided over by Justice Edward Twum, held that the OSP breached the Special Prosecutor Act 2017, Act 959, when he filed the application out of time (after seven days’ suspicion).
Aside from that, it was the considered view of the court that the OSP was in doubt of the true ownership of the alleged tainted property found in Ms Dapaah’s house and also failed to convince the court that the alleged tainted property were used in connection with a crime.
“If he (OSP) is unsure as to ownership, how did he reach the conclusion that the property is tainted?” the presiding judge queried.
“Ownership and possession are not the same,” Justice Twum added, saying the application was premature as the OSP failed to establish the reasonableness of the suspicion.
It added that there was no justifiable basis for the OSP to exercise the power of seizure under Act 959.
“The application is based on public sentiments and not based on any justifiable legal basis,” Justice Twum said.
The OSP commenced investigations on Ms Dapaah for corruption and corruption-related offences following the revelation that she was keeping more than $1 million in her house.
That was after police prosecutors had arraigned two househelps working for Ms Dapaah and her husband, Daniel Osei Kuffour, at an Accra Circuit Court for allegedly stealing money and items worth millions of Ghana cedis from the couple's residence at Abelemkpe in Accra.
Subsequently, the OSP searched the residence of the former minister and found $590,000 and GH¢ 2,730,000 cash.
The Special Prosecutor seized the cash and froze the former minister’s cedi and dollar bank accounts, pending further investigations.
The OSP then applied to the High Court to continue the seizure and freezing of the bank accounts of the former minister.
Officials of the OSP argued that the cash was seized on grounds that they were suspected to be tainted property, hence the need to prevent the former minister’s bank accounts from concealment or loss.
However, lawyer for Ms Dapaah, Victoria Barth, said the application for confirmation contravened the procedure outlined in the Special Prosecutor Act, 2017 (Act 959).
Counsel contended that Section 32(2) of Act 959 mandated the office to bring the application for confirmation within seven days after the seizure.
She argued that the application was filed after the seven days had elapsed.
Ms Barth further argued that the fact that substantial amounts were found in the home of her clients did not justify the seizure of the property.
Counsel maintained that the mere fact that their client was being investigated for corruption was not enough grounds for her accounts to be frozen.
According to her, the Special Prosecutor Act requires the applicant to demonstrate reasonable grounds for believing that the property is tainted and not just a mere assertion of the fact.
In her view, the OSP had not shown any grounds to prove that the monies found were tainted.
The court upheld the arguments of Ms Dapaah’s lawyers and subsequently dismissed the OSP’s application.
Meanwhile, the Office of the Special Prosecutor (OSP) has challenged the ruling of the High Court, insisting that it did not file its application out of time.
In a statement issued yesterday, the OSP believed the court’s computation of the time limitation was erroneous, stressing that it filed its application within the statutory window.
“While the OSP respects the Court's decision, it disagrees with the decision of the Court. First, the OSP believes that the Court's computation of the time limitation is, with respect, erroneous.
“The OSP searched three private residences associated with Ms Dapaah over the course of two weeks.
The searches and discovery were ongoing during that period.
There is little doubt that the OSP filed its application within the statutory window once the search and discovery window is considered,” it said.
The statement argued that “the seizure by the OSP and the Special Prosecutor's freezing order were effectuated on the very firm basis of reasonable suspicion that the amounts and bank balances were tainted property as Ms Dapaah prevaricated as to the source(s) of the amounts she reported stolen from her residence, the amounts discovered by the OSP in her residence, and the volume of transactions in her bank accounts and investments.”
“Third, the freezing order was not based on public sentiments.
Rather, it was based on court processes filed in a criminal matter before the Circuit Court, Accra, involving Ms Dapaah as the complainant.
“Further, the freezing order was effected to aid the investigation, as required by law, not on the basis of the investigation, as indicated by the Court.
Therefore, it cannot be said that the OSP did not carry out proper investigations to warrant the freezing order.
The investigation has only commenced, and it is ongoing,” it further explained.
The OSP, however, assured the public that it will take all necessary legal steps to ensure that the seized amounts and the balances in Ms Dapaah's bank accounts and investments were neither concealed, lost, or otherwise dissipated.