Bishop Samuel Vagalas Kanco, General Overseer of Vineyard Chapel, had the rudest shock of his life as handcuffs were put on his hands to make a journey to Nsawam to begin an 18-month prison sentence for defrauding a British woman of £120,000.
This was after the Circuit Court judge who presided over the case, D.E.K. Daketsey, found him guilty of defrauding the British national and lawyer, Clova Sutherland, of the said amount under the guise of praying over the £120,000 cheque meant for her boyfriend who the Bishop described as 'evil'.
The complainant, who was unemployed at that time, told the court that the pastor told her that the cheque, which bore her boyfriend's name, had to be prayed over because if she gave the cheque to him, he would use it as a point of contact to kill her.
The trial judge, who said he wanted to sentence the Bishop to five years, later softened his stance and gave him 18 months after persistent pleas from the accused person's lawyer, William Kissi Agyabeng, a criminal law lecturer at the University of Ghana.
The law lecturer argued that if it was the money that the complainant wanted, his client was ready to refund it.
The General Overseer, apart from the jail term, has been ordered to pay the money.
Giving reasons for his verdict, the judge noted that the action of the pastor was to deprive the complainant of her cheques by pretending that there was something spiritually evil surrounding the one it was meant for.
He wondered why the accused person did not just tell the lady to give the cheque which bore the name of her lover to give him to just pray over it but rather insisted that the name on it be changed to his name to enable him to pray over it.
The judge said if Bishop Kanco was 'indeed genuine about praying on the cheques for Ms. Sutherland, there would have been no need for him to tell her to direct her solicitors to re-issue the cheque in his name' which he eventually used in withdrawing money in Ghana.
According to him, the pastor defrauded the lady after realizing that she was emotionally vulnerable and said the lady who was not employed at that time would not have doled out such a huge amount of money to the pastor.
He noted that even when solicitors of her boyfriend were pursuing her for £32,000 she owed him, 'she could not even raise that amount' and noted that letters written to her asking her for the balance were before the court.
In addition, he said, the lady made efforts to get in touch with the Kanco, through her pastor, Salifu Amoako, after it became obvious she did not know when he (Kanco) would return to the United Kingdom (UK).
Mr. Amoako tried to get his friend (Kanco) to return the cheques but to no avail.
The judge said he found the excuse by the pastor that he did not get in touch with the complainant because he lost her number after arriving in Ghana as untenable because he could have done so through Pastor Amoako but decided to go incommunicado as far as the lady was concerned.
Mr. Daketsey stated that it was 'against the way of things' for the complainant, an unemployed lady who could not even raise £32,000, to dole out such an amount of money meant to pay her then boyfriend to the pastor.
He said Ms. Sutherland later had to get the assistance of the church pastor, Charles Mensah, to come to Ghana to ask the complainant to return the cheque.
He stated that after meeting Mr. Mensah, the accused did an undertaking before his lawyer, Yoni Kulendi, but later rescinded his decision to pay the money.
The trial judge said he found the accused person guilty of the offence of defrauding by false pretences and asked if he had anything to say before his conviction.
Mr. Agyabeng told the court to defer the sentence for now because they took the money as a gift and if the complainant said it was not so, then they were ready to refund it.
He said he was sure that the aim of the complainant was to get her money back but not to have the accused person incarcerated. He therefore prayed the court to temper justice with mercy.
He said it was not unknown for men of God to be given houses, cars as well as money in the course of their work, so they sometimes stood a high risk if things did not go the way the people who give these gifts wanted.
However, Rexford Wiredu, a principal state attorney, who arrived at the court saying he was sent to monitor the case, stated that deferring a sentence meant that the judge was arresting his own sentence, which should not be so.
Mr. Wiredu therefore cited authorities to buttress his point.
He prayed the court to give a sentence that would serve as a deterrent to those persons who defraud persons, especially expatriates, saying Ghana now ranks first in West Africa when it comes to cases of defrauding expatriates and cyber crime.
The judge retired to his chambers for five minutes to decide the fate of the bishop, who is one of the pioneers of Penteco-Charismatic evangelism in Ghana.
The General Overseer of Vineyard Chapel stood in the dock waiting for the judge, and not even an invitation by the court clerk to sit down could make him leave the dock.
He told the clerk that 'Let me stand here small' but as he stood there, one could clearly see a man who was shocked but forced a smile as he tried to explain something to a lawyer close to him.
Bishop Kanco stood in the dock, fidgeting as his huge frame rested on the edge of the dock with one palm on his chin while he kept looking around till the judge returned.
As the judge finished reading the sentence, the accused person was quickly grabbed by the police and handcuffed to a mini prison at the 28th February Road, popularly called Cocoa Affairs Court, waiting to be taken to Nsawam.
Mr. Wiredu expressed his dissatisfaction with the sentence and vowed to appeal, saying the sentence did not match the offence while counsel for Kanco also said they would appeal.
By Fidelia Achama