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22.04.2004 General News

Investor Swindles Gov’t Of ¢380bn And Bolts

By chronicle
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Hamester Inc., a German conglomerate and joint owners of West African Mills Company Limited (WAMCO), a Takoradi-based cocoa processing firm, is reported to have swindled the government of Ghana to the tune of 38 million euros (about ¢380 billion) and “smuggled” its local representative, Mr. Michael Holzapfel who was managing WAMCO out of the country in March last year.

The Chronicle's investigations revealed that 23 million euros of the amount represented credit the company should have advanced to the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD) for cocoa beans sold to WAMCO. Ten million euros also represented interest on the sale of cocoa products produced by WAMCO which Hamester had the sole responsibility of marketing in Germany and other European countries.

The remaining 5 million euros was allegedly borrowed from the Barclays Bank, Ghana by Mr. Holzapfel in his capacity as managing director of WAMCO with the backing of Hamester without the knowledge and approval of WAMCO board of directors.

Holzapfel was again alleged to have taken an overdraft to the tune of $450,000 from the same bank in the name of WAMCO but failed to pay back before he unceremoniously left the country on March 8th 2003 for Germany.

Hamester entered into the joint venture agreement with the government under the auspices of COCOBOD to run WAMCO in 1992. Under the agreement Hamester acquired 60% shares with the remaining 40% going to the government of Ghana with the German company exercising management control.

COCOBOD was to supply raw cocoa beans on a day 60-day credit basis to WAMCO for processing and export and though WAMCO processed and exported all the final products, it refused to pay back the price of the processed cocoa to the government.

Instead the company kept the money amounting to 23million euros plus the interest for the sale of the products, totalling 10 million euros in German banks. The money should have been transferred to WAMCO accounts in Ghana, The Chronicle learnt. It also turned out that all along COCOBOD had been selling the cocoa beans below the world market price to WAMCO but it decided to stop the offer and instead insisted that WAMCO and other local cocoa processing firms buy the beans at the world market price. This decision by COCOBOD led to misunderstanding between it and Hamester who insisted that they could not buy the beans in Ghana at the world market price.

Hamester reportedly argued that even in Europe cocoa-processing companies usually bought inferior beans from other cocoa producing countries to mix with quality beans from Ghana.

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