The Bureau of National Investigations (BNI) has retrieved $1 million out of the $4 million allegedly embezzled by top officials of the National Communications Authority (NCA) and National Security under the guise of procuring a listening device to counter terrorism in Ghana.
Three officials of the NCA — Mr Eugene Baffoe-Bonnie, the former Board Chairman; Mr William Tevie, the former Chief Executive Officer of the authority, and Nana Owusu-Ensaw, a former board member — as well as a former Deputy National Security Coordinator, Alhaji Osman, and Mr George Oppong, the local agent of the Israeli company that is said to have supplied the device, have been named as conspirators.
The Minister of Information, Mr Mustapha Abdul-Hamid, told the Daily Graphic that after paying $ 1million to the supplier of the device, those officials shared part of the money, with Nana Owusu-Ensaw receiving $500,000; Mr Baffoe-Bonnie, $200,000; Mr Oppong, $100,000; Mr Tevie, $150,000; Alhaji Osman, $70,000, with the rest left in Mr Oppong’s account.
Going into the details of the scandal, he said last year, National Security decided to procure listening devices, ostensibly to listen to the conversation of suspected terrorists.
A Ghanaian company, Infra Locks Development Ltd, was contracted and it charged $2 million to procure the equipment from an Israeli company at $6 million.
The arrangement was for National Security to pay $4 million upfront for the supply of the equipment. Upon installation, another 35 per cent would be paid, with the remaining amount paid after the device was up and running.
But with National Security without funds to pay for the equipment, the NCA was asked to procure the equipment.
National Security, therefore, did not sign an agreement with the suppliers and the agent; it was rather the NCA that signed the agreement.
“There was no agreement between National Security and the Israeli company or even National Security and Infra Lock. National Security was shielded and the NCA used as a front,” he said.
The minister said the board chairman, with the approval of the Chief Executive of the NCA, withdrew $4 million from the NCA’s account and deposited it in Mr Oppong’s account.
They then transferred only $1 million to the Israeli company’s account and then proceeded to share the remaining $3 million among themselves.
“Unfortunately, Ghanaians put an end to that scheme. This year, the Israeli company came forward to ask for what it thought was due it, because per the documents what was due it was $4 million as 50 per cent payment. So it had come to collect $3 million.
“National Security said ‘we don’t know you, we have no agreement with you. We are not purporting to buy listening devices. We are not interested in buying listening devices’.
“They responded: ‘It’s your former National Security operatives who bought it.’ That was when National Security began to probe the matter and Alhaji Osman admitted that they had entered into the transaction and led National Security to someone’s private house where he showed them an equipment he claimed was a listening device.
“National Security, as we speak, is unable to confirm that the equipment is a listening device. It looks like there were no listening devices but a grand scheme to create, loot and share,” he said.
Asked if the BNI had been able to establish the cost of the device on the market, the minister said “at this stage they cannot even tell what device it is. They are still investigating whether it is even fit for any purpose at all”.
Asked about proof, he said: “The people have confessed. Right now, we are not talking rumour. They have been invited, except for Alhaji Osman who the BNI say they cannot find. They are still looking for him. The rest have appeared before the BNI and confessed their roles in the scheme and have proceeded to pay back $1 million into the NCA’s account”.
“There are still a few questions which the BNI is seeking answers to to build a case for court. At this stage, investigations are still ongoing, but at a point, the BNI is certain to have a watertight case that will stand in court, which will be the logical move,” he said.
Efforts to reach the former NCA Chief Executive did not yield fruits, as he did not respond to phone calls and a text message.
Corruption and terrorism
According to experts, the embezzlement of funds meant for fighting crime and terrorism has often been costly.
In Iraq, for instance, from 2007 to 2010 the supply of fake bomb detectors cost the war-ravaged country £53 million and resulted in the sentencing of a British businessman, James McCormick, to a 10-year jail term for fraud.
But that was after thousands of people had lost their lives in suicide bombs and other sectarian violence.
The vast majority of the bombs that have killed and maimed thousands of people since 2007 have been reported to have been driven straight past police or soldiers using McCormick’s devices at checkpoints.
The BBC, in October 2014, reported that the sentencing of a British couple, Samuel and Joan Tree, for making fake bomb detectors marked the end of a series of trials after a global scam which saw the devices end up in conflict zones and used by governments around the world.
From the battle against suicide bombers in Baghdad to drug wars in Mexico and the campaign against poachers in Africa, the ‘magic wand’ detectors were used to search for explosives, cocaine and smuggled ivory.
In southern Thailand, with its longstanding insurgency, the detectors were deployed by the armed forces in security sweeps.
In Pakistan, they were used to guard the Karachi Airport, and around the Middle East they were bought to protect hotels.