Cassiel Ato Forson
Cassiel Ato Forson

Ato Forson ambulance trial: Judge cautions parties over political commentary

The judge hearing the case in which former Finance Minister and Minority Leader, Dr Cassiel Ato Forson, and one other person are standing trial for allegedly causing a financial loss of €2.37 million to the state over an ambulance deal, has urged parties to be responsible in their comments on the case. 

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Her advice follows the numerous public discourse on the case after the businessman in the case, Richard Jakpa, alleged that the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice had been calling him at odd hours during cross-examination last Thursday.

Justice Afia Serwah Asare-Botwe, who adjourned the matter to Tuesday, June 4 this year to rule on an application filed by lawyers of Dr Ato Forson, observed that there was too much public commentary on the matter.

“If anyone will make any commentary which looks like it will scandalise the court in any way, it will not be well,” she said, cautioning both parties from the defence and the prosecution sides.

The judge, who told the lawyers that she had so far not heard anything prejudicial about discourses on the matter, said it was important for persons making comments on the matter to be careful.

“We live in a country where a lot of us don’t understand the workings of the law and the most educated people may not understand the workings of the law and the court. “At the end of the day, the public does not have a decision to make, the only person who has a decision to make is yours truly (me) so please allow me to have peace of mind to be able to make a decision,” she said. 

She added that the legal profession depended heavily on reputation and that judges were people appointed based on sound moral character and proven integrity adding: “Nobody should go about casting a slur on the judiciary”.

“We are not interested in your politics, we’re not politicians and we don’t want to be. We are not politicians and we don’t want to be, stay in your arena and let us stay in ours”, the judge said. 

Comment

Meanwhile, the National Communications Officer of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) was cautioned over his comments on the trial. The judge drew attention to a comment to the effect that an accused person could call a judge.

Justice Asare-Botwe, who was not comfortable with the comment, cautioned the parties about the public commentary on the matter. However, Sammy Gyamfi, owned up to the exact statement the presiding judge was referring to.

According to him, he said; “If somebody can call an accused person without his lawyer then that person can call a judge”, emphasising that he was not referring to the judge in the matter.

The judge said the statement was of no relevance urging him never to forget that he is a lawyer. “Don’t ever forget that you are a lawyer, for convenience's sake, no lawyer ever does what you’re doing with the bench.

“Assuming there’s any change, will you suddenly wash away all four hundred of us (judges) and get another, it’s the same bench”, Justice Asare-Botwe told Mr Gyamfi after a back and forth between the bench and the bar.

“Nobody should go out to the press saying somebody has called the judge, let’s all be circumspect,” she added. The judge further invited Mr Gyamfi, lawyers from the defence side and the Deputy Attorney General, as well as Marietta Brew Appiah-Oppong, a former Attorney General and Minister of Justice. 

Background

The two have been accused of causing a financial loss of €2.37 million to the state in a deal to purchase 200 ambulances for the country between 2014 and 2016. They have pleaded not guilty to counts of wilfully causing financial loss to the state, abetment to wilfully causing financial loss to the state, contravention of the Public Procurement Act and intentionally misapplying public property.

Per the A-G’s facts accompanying the charge sheet, in 2009 while delivering the State of the Nation Address, the then President, Prof. John Evans Atta Mills, indicated that new ambulances would be purchased to expand the operations of the National Ambulance Service.

Jakpa, who is a local representative of Big Sea General Trading Limited, a company based in Dubai, subsequently approached the Ministry of Health with a proposal that he had arranged for finance from Stanbic Bank for the supply of 200 ambulances to the government.

Parliament approved the financing agreement between the government and Stanbic Bank. According to the facts, on November 19, 2012, a former Director of the Ministry of Health wrote to the Public Procurement Authority (PPA) seeking approval to engage Big Sea through single sourcing for the supply of the 200 ambulances.

They added that on August 7, 2014, Dr Forson wrote to the Bank of Ghana for letters of credit covering €3.95 million for the supply of 50 ambulances in favour of Big Sea. The letters of credit were accordingly released to Big Sea.

The facts said 30 ambulances were purchased at a sum of €2.37 million but all were found not to have met ambulance specifications and therefore “not fit for purpose.”

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