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High Court refuses to confirm OSP's application to 'freeze' Sir John's assets

BY: Enoch Darfah Frimpong
High Court dismisses application to 'freeze' Sir John's assets
High Court dismisses OSP's application to 'freeze' Sir John's assets

The High Court in Accra has refused an application by the Special Prosecutor for an order to freeze assets of the late Chief Executive of the Forestry Commission, Kwadwo Owusu Afriyie, popularly known as Sir John.

The Special Prosecutor is currently investigating suspected corruption and corruption-related offences in respect of an alleged improper and unlawful acquisition of state property at the Achimota Forest enclave and the Ramsar catchment at Sakumono in Accra, as stated in the late Sir John’s will.

To the Special Prosecutor, if he does not freeze those assets, by the time the investigation is concluded, the properties he may be investigating may not be there.

The office indicated that other assets, such as foreign accounts outside the jurisdiction, were also under investigation, and that the OSP was seeking assistance from its foreign counterparts to freeze them.

Hence on May 20, 2022, the Office of the Special Prosecutor directed the freezing of the Estate of the late Sir John.

On June 9, 2022, the Special Prosecutor applied to the High Court for a confirmation of the freezing order.

The court, presided over by Justice Afia Serwaa Asare Botwe on Tuesday morning (July 12, 2022) dismissed the application.

The Special Prosecutor has, however, disagreed with the court, arguing that the judge "totally misapprehended the application for confirmation of the freezing order and misdirected herself by characterizing the application as that of a confiscation order, which regimes are governed by different considerations."

The Special Prosecutor in a press statement has indicated that the investigation into the estate of Sir John will continue and has also directed an appeal against the ruling of the High Court

Petition

The investigation by the OSP follows a petition by Corruption Watch, a coalition of anti-corruption civil society organisations, including the Ghana Integrity Initiative (GII), the Ghana Anti-Corruption Coalition (GACC) and the Africa Centre for International Law and Accountability (ACILA) requesting the Special Prosecutor to investigate the acquisition of state lands in the Achimota Forest and the Ramsar area in Sakumono by three companies and two individuals contained in the Last Will and Testament of Sir John.

Read also: Sir John's assets frozen - Office of Special Prosecutor moves to freeze those overseas

Below is a copy of a statement the OSP issued after the court ruling Tuesday.

ESTATE OF KWADWO OWUSU-AFRIYIE ALIAS SIR JOHN

On 30 May 2022 the Special Prosecutor directed the freezing of the Estate of Kwadwo Owusu Afrivie alias Sir John (deceased), the former Chief Executive of the Forestry Commission.

On 9 June 2022 the Special Prosecutor applied to the High Court for a confirmation of the freezing order.

On 12 July 2022 the High Court, presided over by Her Ladyship Justice Afia Serwaa Asare Botwe, inexplicably dismissed the application.

The judge, with respect, totally misapprehended the application for confirmation of the freezing order and misdirected herself by characterizing the application as that of a confiscation order, which regimes are governed by different considerations.

The regime for an application for confirmation of a freezing order is designed to facilitate an investigation or a prosecution to avoid dissipation of the property in question.

While a confiscation order is designed to permanently deprive the owner of the property.

The Special Prosecutor asked for the freezing order to be confirmed to facilitate the investigation into the circumstances of the purported acquisition by the deceased of protected lands in the Achimota Forest enclave and the Sakumono Ramsar site.

The Special Prosecutor did not apply for confiscation of the estate of the deceased.

On this reckoning, the Special Prosecutor has directed the filing of an appeal against the ruling of Her Ladyship Justice Afia Serwaa Asare Botwe.

The net effect of the ruling of the High Court is that a person may, in his lifetime, gleefully acquire property through corruption and then upon his demise happily pass on the corruptly acquired property to his beneficiaries for their benefit and by so doing, extinguish all scrutiny as to the propriety or otherwise of the acquisition of the property because his corrupt activities were not discovered during his lifetime.

If this decision is left to stand, the Republic will lose the fight against corruption in unimaginable ways.

The investigations into the estate of Kwadwo Owusu Afriyie alias Sir John will still proceed.

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