Tsatsu Tsikata to appear in court today
Fast Track Court Swings into action
After getting the green light from the Supreme Court, the Fast Track High Courts (FTHC) are swinging into action again after the legal holidays, which ended last week. Tsatsu Tsikata, former Chief Executive of the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation (GNPC), who challenged the constitutionality of the FTHC leading to the suspension of cases there for months, was yesterday put before an Accra Fast Track Court (FTHC). He stands accused for wilfully causing a loss of 6,919,123.22 French Francs and 20 million cedis to the state. Mr Osafo Sampong, Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), said Tsikata committed GNPC to Valley Farms, a private limited liability company, without authority, thus causing the corporation, and for that matter, the state, to incur a loss of the French francs. By deciding to commit GNPC's funds to the initial investment in Valley Farms, he also intentionally misapplied 20 million cedis belonging to the corporation, contrary to its authorised objectives. Mr. Tsikata often referred to in the Ghanaian media as the "Financial Wizard" pleaded not guilty to both charges. The trial judge, Mrs Henrietta Abban, an Appeal Court Judge sitting as an additional High Court Judge, granted him bail in the sum of 700 million cedis in his own recognisance. Mr Sampong told the court that contrary to GNPC's clear objects and functions under the law, it strayed into several areas outside its core business and undertook investment activities in banking, telecommunications, financial hedging and derivatives, cocoa production and marketing. He said in 1991 Tsikata used Merban Investment Holdings Limited, a subsidiary of Merchant Bank (Ghana) Limited, to acquire and hold shares on behalf of GNPC in Valley Farms. The DPP told the court that without any indemnity or counter guarantee, GNPC through Tsikata, provided a guarantee for Valley Farms and secured for it a two-window loan facility from Caisse Francaise de Developpement (CFD), a French financial institution. He said the total loan guaranteed by GNPC for Valley Farms was 5.5 million French Francs and repayment was to begin on October 31, 1996. Mr Sampong told the court that on the basis of the guarantee provided by GNPC, its shareholding in Valley Farms was increased from 17.39 per cent to 25 per cent. He said a forensic audit into the activities of GNPC during Mr Tsikata's tenure of office as Chief Executive showed that he circumvented laid down corporate objectives, and on his own accord illegally committed it to invest in Valley Farms and to guarantee the loan granted by CFD. The DPP stated that Valley Farms could not generate sufficient inflow to repay the loan according to the terms granted by CFD and as a result of this default, CFD fell on the guarantor, GNPC to repay. Mr Sampong told the court that on the orders of Tsikata, GNPC paid a total of 6,919,123.22 French Francs, representing the principal loan, the interest and other charges to CDF in three instalments. Major R. S. Agbenoto (rtd), counsel for Tsikata, submitted that in its ruling on March 15 this year, an Accra High Court upheld objection raised on behalf of the accused person and acquitted and discharged him. Major Agbenoto told the court that before the judgment, the DPP filed new charges in that same court against his client and those same charges were now before the FTC. Counsel submitted further that the facts on which the charges have been brought before the FTC were the same as those presented previously at the three courts before which Tsikata was arraigned, namely, the Circuit Tribunal, the Fast Track Court and the High Court. He said to date no "Nolle Prosequi" had been filed by the Attorney-General's Department in respect of the charges they filed before the normal High Court just before it gave its ruling on March 15 and freed his client. Counsel submitted that the only "Nolle Prosequi" served on his client was in respect of the previous FTC sitting. Major Agbenoto stated that it would, therefore, be for the court to determine whether the judgment delivered by the High Court on March 15 could be circumvented. He, however, submitted that his client "stands ready to face trial before the court, and to answer the charges preferred against him". Led in evidence by the DPP later, Mr Jim William Wilson, an American businessman and the main promoter of Valley Farms, told the Court that his company engaged in the rehabilitation of cocoa farms and the export of cocoa beans. Mr Wilson, the first and star prosecution witness, who described himself as a cocoa farmer, said he first came to Ghana in 1960, left for Togo in 1981 and returned in the latter part of that same year. Witness told the court that he was first involved in Resigha, a private company that purchased waste cocoa beans until March 1987, when he set up VF. He said his company entered into an agreement with GNPC, which guaranteed a loan on its behalf from CDF. Witness told the court that he signed the loan agreement with Tsikata, secured a copy of the agreement and CDF granted the loan in February 1992. The case has been adjourned to Tuesday, October 29, for Mr Wilson to continue with his evidence-in-chief.