Mr. Ben Owusu Mensah, Director General of the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority (GPHA), says he is at a loss in understanding the allegations of conflict of interest levelled against him by the former Director of Kf94 Limited, local agent for the China-based ZPMC, which won the contract to supply almost $17 million cranes for the Tema Harbour in 2003.
“Regarding the allegation of conflict of interest, I am at a loss. In the first place, I do not have any business relationship with the Agent, neither did l ever discuss anything on the whole project with and as such do not know how l could have told “KF94 to go ad lobby the three members of the GPHA Board...”.
Mr Ben Owusu Mensah also told the Commission that he never knew who Mr Lagbo was during the period the cranes were acquired and had not met him before.
The GPHA DG stated these in his response to the CHRAJ following the Commission's request for his comments on the petition sent to it by Mr. Fred Lagbo late last year in which the petitioner asked the Commission to investigate allegations of corruption, insider dealing and conflict of interest on the part of Ben Owusu Mensah and Kf94 Limited/ZPMC in the award and execution of the $16.8 million crane contract for the Tema Harbour.
Mr. Lagbo is represented before the Commission by the Managing Editor of the Gye Nyame Concord newspaper, Mr Alfred Ogbamey, and lawyer Egbert Isaac Faibille Jnr., who also doubles as the Managing Editor of The Ghanaian Observer newspaper.
In his response, the GPHA DG said his only contact with the former Kf94 Director was in June 2006, when Lagbo started sending him blackmailing text messages.
“I never came across the person Mr. Fred Kofi Lagbo during the period the cranes were being acquired, neither have l up to-date seen his face before. My only contact with him was in June 2006 when he started sending some text messages to me similar to the allegations being made to you, which l passed on to the Tema Regional Police, with an official report that he was trying to blackmail me...”
But in a sharp rebuttal in his response to the GPHA DG's response filed with the Commission last month, Mr Lagbo said the claim by Mr. Owusu Mensah that he has not seen him in person before is a diversionary issue raised to stump the issues.
“...The petitioner wishes the Commission to note that nowhere in his petition before the Commission did he claim to have met, dined, wined, or been seen in the company of the GPHA DG, so the least said about the diversionary answer, the better.”
He then told the Commission why they had not met physically met and stated that the GPHA DG lied when he stated that his only contact with him was in June 2006 when he (Lagbo) sent him blackmailing text messages.
“In any case, the unwritten principle which guards corrupt contracts and kickback schemes is that the least people knew of the details of such deals, the better. Mr. Lagbo says it is, therefore, understandable if Mr. Owusu Mensah never saw him in person or was never told by Mr. Kweku Eshun, the other Director of Kf94 Limited at the time and who dealt with him directly, of the role played by Mr. Lagbo, the other only other Director of Kf94. This was the only way Mr. Owusu Mensah could be assured of secrecy on the kickback scheme and made to feel secure to go ahead with the corruption deal,” noted Mr Lagbo in the response filed by Alfred Ogbamey through his lawyer Egbert Faibille Jnr.
The response continued:
“Mr. Lagbo, however, wishes the Commission to note that he has never hidden his identity from Mr. Owusu Mensah, nor has he hidden his quest to obtain his promised share of US$100,000 from the major partners in the kickback scheme. This can be verified from his petition to the Commission in which he states that this was what led him to put pressure on Messrs. Ben Owusu Mensah and Kweku Eshun, which resulted in the former setting his friend ACP Odai of the Ghana Police Service on him, resulting in the Police declaring him a wanted man, for which reason he has had to flee the jurisdiction.”
The response said: “The claim by Mr. Owusu Mensah that “my ONLY contact with him was in June 2006 when he started sending some text messages to me similar to the allegations being made to you…” is palpably false. It is a deliberate falsehood told for effect and Mr. Lagbo wishes to point out the purpose of this lie to the Commission, because it is told by the GPHA DG to give credit to his suggestion that because he had nothing to hide he immediately, after receiving the alleged threatening text messages, reported the matter to the police, which begun its investigations into the issue. It is also to support his claims of innocence.
“To reveal the falsehood contained in his response and the above claim, here is evidence of prior correspondence between the petitioner and Mr. Ben Owusu Mensah in the following SMS sent to the petitioner by the GPHA Director General on May 5, 2006 after he had spoken to the petitioner on phone and on his return from a trip outside the country. Please note that this SMS (below) was sent long before Mr. Ben Owusu Mensah's self-acclaimed “ONLY contact” with Mr. Fred Kofi Lagbo in “June 2006”.
“Good evening, I just arrived and trying to play back the tape but after a long time its only some noises I hear. Will continue listening, but can u let me know who and who were there when the recording was made” – Ben Owusu Mensah (Sent May 5, 2006 on his Areeba, now MTN, phone line).
The following SMS, which also shows the familiarity between the two men, was sent by Mr. Lagbo to Mr. Owusu Mensah in the same month of May 2006
“Have you asked Mr. Eshun why he told us, Gabby, Maison and I, Fred Lagbo that you were demanding $0.5 million as kickback or enabling fee for the award of the ZPMC contract? He's ur problem not me. The real mole in ur camp is Eshun. As part of the deal $6000 was paid to Dr E. B. Laryea of May Day Clinic for travel arrangements 4 ur nephew Bismark. After the rho-rho tractors from MAFI were delivered 2 GPHA, Kweku and I were heading towards Kweku' office when he received a call on his cell phone. Just after that he told me it was Flash who called and that u had asked him to transfer part of ur Mafi kickback money into Robertson Aryee of APS account for u. He was actually making a point to me which was that u were using Eshark ur friend on the ZPMC $2m kickback issue n the APS guy for the Mafi and that he would have wished u dealt with only one person because of 2moro. He also said that he felt u did not [want] 2 appear rich 2 1 person.”
It is the contention of Mr. Lagbo that the above text messages between the two men indeed occurred before the dateline falsely given by Owusu Mensah and that any content analysis of these SMS do not portray a sense of someone who felt or believed he was being blackmailed. It is also evident from the test messages that Owusu Mensah was well aware of the identity of Mr. Lagbo even if he had not personally met him and knew who he was long before the June dateline he has given to the Commission and long before he reported his case of blackmail to the police. (Please refer to the attached statement, marked Exhibit 1A, which was read at a press conference held by the GPHA and its Director General in its office at Tema, attended by selected media houses and paid for and published in the Daily Graphic (marked as Exhibit 1b), Daily Guide and Crusading Guide newspapers and note that Mr. Owusu Mensah claim of his only contact with Lagbo being in June 2006 does not add up.) Please also note that Mr. Owusu Mensah failed to either provide evidence to support his suggestions of blackmail against Mr. Ogbamey or support that claim when the Daily Graphic, the leading newspaper he used in publishing the allegations of blackmail against Mr. Ogbamey, was hauled to the National Media Commission (NMC) by the Editor of the Gye Nyame Concord through his lawyer, Mr. Egbert Isaac Faibille. Consequently, the NMC in a historic ruling directed that the national daily and its Editor apologise to fellow journalist and Editor of the Gye Nyame Concord, Mr. Alfred Ogbamey, over the malicious and defamatory publication on him. (See attached Daily Graphic marked as Exhibit 1c, Statesman (Exhibit 1d) and Daily Searchlight (Exhibit 1e).”
Continuing, Mr Lagbo said “that Mr. Ogbamey first contacted Mr. Owusu Mensah somewhere in February and that it was after this initial contact and subsequent interview in April 2006 that Mr. Owusu Mensah decided to use his friend, ACP Odai and the Police Service, to silence Lagbo, and that on realising that Mr. Ogbamey was going ahead with investigations on the issues, Mr. Owusu Mensah filed his report with the police. The report to the police was thus filed when Mr. Owusu Mensah realized the interest shown by Mr. Ogbamey in the $2 million corruption scheme and Mr. Ogbamey's unwillingness to help locate and frame up the petitioner on charges of blackmail and attempting to murder a government official.
“Mr. Lagbo, therefore, submits that the report to the police was made as an after-thought and was made with the idea of having a case on which to hang him if the GYE NYAME CONCORD newspaper were to go to press. Mr. Lagbo also maintains that even after Owusu Mensah made his report to the Police, he continued to engage Lagbo via text messages and through intermediaries to bully him into withdrawing the allegations of kickback over the contract, with a strong focus on finding out what tapes were available to Mr. Alfred Ogbamey and whether his voice was on any of the said tapes.
It is important for the Commission to also note that prior to Owusu Mensah's stated month of interview with Mr. Ogbamey (May 2006) and date of reporting allegations of blackmail to the Police (June 2006), the GPHA DG had made no complaint to the Police despite the fact that he had been communicating with Mr. Lagbo and was aware of allegations of kickback on at least two contracts in which he was involved in – the ZPMC and rho-rho MAFI deals (refer to the text messages cited above). On the other hand, Mr. Owusu Mensah sought to use intermediaries and common friends of himself and Mr. Lagbo to mediate the issue.”