23.09.2008 Feature Article

Ghana must avoid the 'Oman Ghana' scam

Finance Minister Kwadwo Baah Wiredu, said to have met with the groupFinance Minister Kwadwo Baah Wiredu, said to have met with the group
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Americans have a saying that there is a sucker born everyday. The statement speaks to the gullibility of some people to fall for schemes that are patently fraudulent, and should be avoided the same way one would avoid the plague.

There is an ongoing attempt to scam the government and people of Ghana unless sensible people rise up to say no to con-men peddling falsehoods and lies. The damage will be done not only in terms of huge monetary loss, but our national prestige and international credibility will forever be tarnished, if Ghana were to fall for a scam currently being sold by remnants of John Ackah Blay Miezah's hustlers.

Of late, a group calling itself Friends of Oman Ghana Trust Fund (FOGTF) has embarked on a media blitz aimed at gaining the support of the government and people of Ghana to what is essentially a scam akin to what the villain in our folkore, Kwaku Ananse would endeavour to visit on his family.

One cannot begin to understand this fraudulent scheme without reference to the name and questionable practices of the 'master con-man' Blay-Miezah. Indeed, FOGTF claims to be continuing the efforts 'made' by Blay-Miezah to gain access to some so-called money. The mere mention of Blay-Miezah should have rung bells, and alerted officials and the public to the scam, but so far, like Blay-Miezah, the perpetrators are doing their job in a fashion that sounds credible to the gullible.

According to Blay-Miezah, Ghana's first President Dr. Kwame Nkrumah named him the sole beneficiary of millions of dollars that Nkrumah had stashed in banks in Switzerland under a scheme described by Blay-Miezah as the Oman Ghana Trust Fund (OGTF). After Nkrumah's death in 1972, Blay-Miezah managed to sell his OGTF story to investors in the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. Blay-Miezah had lived in the city, and had spent time in a state prison for writing bad cheques, and failing to settle a huge bill at the Bellevue Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia.

After the con game was brought to the attention of authorities, Time Magazine (April 21, 1986 edition), did a story on investors who had contributed at least $18 million (and possibly $100 million) to the scheme, and quotes Robert Ellis extensively on the modalities of the criminal enterprise. Robert Ellis had posted bond for Blay-Miezah in a previous criminal case in Philadelphia, and in return Blay-Miezah appointed Ellis, his American 'agent'. The main role for Ellis was to solicit American investors whose money would then be used to facilitate retrieval of alleged millions of dollars bequeathed to Blay-Miezah under the OGTF by the late President Nkrumah of Ghana.

Blay-Miezah insisted that he needed cash in hand (which he personally didn't have!), in order to cut deals with some local Chiefs and government officials, all of whom had some stake in OGTF, and whose palms must be greased in order to enable him to secure the funds. The story being peddled in Ghana today by FOGTF, is rather similar to the tale woven by Blay-Miezah to successfully ensnare gullible investors in the 1970's.

As Time Magazine pointed out, those who fell prey to Blay-Miezah were not some wacky illiterate individuals, but highly intelligent and educated professionals. There is a general belief among westerners that Africa's leaders especially in the immediate post-independence era were corrupt. Therefore no matter how zany Blay-Miezah's story sounded, people found it hard to discount. A corrupt African ruler had stolen millions from his country's treasury and stashed the money in Swiss banks. The story had/has a familiar ring to it. And con-men adopted the story to rake in millions from the gullible and the greedy.

By the mid-1980's when the gullible investors had not received a penny on their contributions, and local law enforcement authorities in Philadelphia had been alerted to Blay-Miezah's con-game, Blay-Miezah was happily ensconced in a posh mansion in London where he was safely protected under diplomatic immunity.

When Blay Miezah arrived in Ghana during General Acheampong's military regime (about 1975), he conned the government into believing his story. Mr. Ebenezer M. Debrah who had served as Ghana's ambassador to the United States, and was quite aware of Blay-Miezah's machinations, was the secretary to the military government of the National Redemption Council. Reports at the time indicated that Mr. Debrah provided a dossier on the criminal activities of Blay-Miezah and strongly warned the government to stay clear of the man.

However, Blay-Miezah's story had made such an imprint on the Ghanaian psyche, and the man laundered money so much so that, Debrah was seen as an impediment to Ghana receiving a windfall. Mr. Debrah was sacked as Secretary to the government. Blay Miezah's public relations machine was quite effective, and it included stalwarts in the Nkrumah regime such as the impressive Krobo Edusei and Kwasi Amoako-Attah, a former Minister of Finance.

With his main antagonist out of the way, Blay-Miezah successfully sold his story to the government and then claimed that he could only retrieve the money if a diplomatic passport was issued to him. In reality, his acquisition of the diplomatic passport provided immunity and cover from outside prosecution. Consequently, when a criminal case pertaining to the fraud was brought against him in the United States of America in the 1980's, Blay-Miezah could not be extradited to Philadelphia to face charges relating to financial extortion and other crimes. Blay-Miezah's diplomatic passport would be renewed by the PNDC military government which ruled Ghana from 1981-1992.

Thus, the late Ed Bradley had to go to London to interview Blay-Miezah for the American CBS TV station's 60 Minutes investigative report. I will never forget Ed Bradley's interview of Blay-Miezah. The day after the interview, our American classmates who had seen the program looked at me and the other African students in awe. The Americans wondered how the African could come up with such a well-crafted story to outwit these highly educated, professional white Americans?

The master stroke however, was Blay-Miezah's insistence that the interview with 60 Minutes could not commence unless Bradley provided the best gin for Blay-Miezah to invoke the spirit of his ancestors, by purifying his Stool, the symbol of his traditional authority, and the embodiment of the souls of his ancestors! Bradley looked on rather bemused as Blay-Miezah gargled a mouthful of the liqour and then released powerful sprays 3-times onto the ancestral Stool!

As one elderly Jewish woman who had invested his lifetime savings in the OGTF, and who appeared on the program wondered: How could Blay-Miezah not be rich, and be the beneficiary of such huge largesse when he accommodated the investors in posh most exclusive hotels in London, Geneva, and Paris. Of course, Blay-Miezah could afford exquisite entertainment for his investors because he was using their money!! Blay-Miezah himself did not have a dime to his name by himself. No wonder, Ed Bradley said that of all the conmen he had been involved with, Blay-Miezah was "clearly head and shoulders above the rest . . . the best conman I've ever seen in my life."

The preceding provides more than a cautionary tale to the government and people of Ghana as a latter-day Blay-Miezah seeks to resurrect a discredited scam that has spawned copy-cat scams all over the world.

When Blay-Miezah concocted his scheme and defrauded the gullible and greedy investors of their hard-earned money, the scheme was largely anonymous. Today, thanks to the Internet and massive participation by Nigerian fraudsters, the scheme is called 419, so-called after the section of Nigeria's legal code dealing with financial scam. What the FOGTF is claiming is quite similar to a 419. It is a sad commentary on the state of affairs of the body politic when government officials and the media cannot see through the ruse being currently peddled by the so-called FOGTF.

Like Blay-Miezah before him, Gregg Frazier who is currently presented as the 'sole trustee' of the Oman Ghana Trust Fund, is reportedly demanding a Ghana diplomatic passport to facilitate retrieval of the money. Like Blay-Miezah before him, Frazier passes himself off as having been anointed sole trustee of OGTF after the death of Blay-Miezah; and Frazier similarly claims to be the only living soul with knowledge of a 'special security code and password' needed to redeem the money. Just as Blay Miezah had his American 'agent' to do his bidding in the U.S.A.; Frazier has his Ghanaian local front man in the person of one Kobla Asamani who is sometimes addressed as “His Awardship Kobla Asamani” to smoothen his way among the Ghana labyrinth! And like Blay-Miezah, Frazier seeks government assistance in the scheme.

Kobla Asamani who signs press releases of the Friends of Oman Ghana Trust Fund, warns that Frazier is advancing in age, and the government of Ghana should therefore act with alacrity to help Frazier secure the funds else Frazier takes knowledge of the security code and password to the grave! Blay-Miezah's minions used to give similar ominous warnings!

These two men and their so-called Friends of Oman Ghana Trust Fund have embarked on a media show to press their questionable case. They have managed to get Ghana's Finance Minister Baah Wiredu to signal interest and support for the scheme, according to reports in the Ghana news media currently saturated with news about FOGTF and OGTF. Frazier and his group have managed to meet with the Finance Minister in the latter's office. We must stop this nonsense before it is too late!!

Blay-Miezah similarly used the media to get his way. He was feted by some of Ghana's most accomplished businessmen and industrialists, some of whom were too eager to carry his luggage publicly; and offered him sumptuous accommodations. The FOGTF is adopting similar tactics to wine and dine some journalists to do FOGTF's bidding. I am sure there may be some gullible people in positions of power and influence who may fall prey to the machinations of FOGTF. After all, Gregg Frazier who is an American, understands that there is a sucker born everyday.

According to Gregg Frazier and FOGTF, Oman Ghana Trust Fund now has money nearing THREE TRILLION DOLLARS! That would be enough to rescue AIG and Lehman Brothers in the ongoing banking crisis in the U.S.A.!! There is no Oman Ghana Trust Fund. And there is no money anywhere in spite of promises being made by Frazier. Blay Miezah made similar promises, including one that if he did not bring the money he could be shot. This promise came after he was arrested and jailed by the PNDC government of ex-president Rawlings.

Blay-Miezah conned people including Gregg Frazier (who claims to have given millions to Blay-Miezah). Sadly, FOGTF is now too late to a game where the most gullible continue to be conned. If Frazier believes otherwise, I am sure he would wish to buy my parcel of virgin forest in the Louisiana swamps in the USA! As an American he would understand the nature of my offer!!!

Rather than holding meetings to aid and abet this forgery, I urge the government of Ghana to treat the claims being made by the so-called FOGTF with utmost contempt. The group must be warned in no uncertain terms that continuing this calumny, and using Ghana's name in such fraudulent and despicable manner could invite serious legal problems for the group and its members.

By Dr. Kofi Ellison [[email protected]]
Washington, D.C.

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