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General News | Apr 27, 2004

Fallout of ¢380bn swindle: Gov't To Swallow ¢20bn Debt ...

Chronicle

Further investigations conducted by The Chronicle have revealed that not only did Hamester Inc, a German conglomerate and joint owners of West Africa Mills Company (WAMCO) swindle the government of Ghana to the tune of ¢380 billion but it also left a debt totaling over ¢20 billion on the neck of the poor company before its local representative left the country.

The Chronicle learnt that the debt emanated from accumulated salaries, utility bills and unnecessary overdrafts Hamester resorted to, to run the company after refusing to transfer the 33 million Euros being the sales of the products produced by WAMCO where they control 60% shares. Twenty-three million Euros out of this amount should have been paid to the COCOBOD.

Investigation established that by 31st March 2003, the company was handed a bill of ¢3.3 billion being unpaid salaries and utility bills.

Within the same period Mr. Michael Holzapfel, the “run-away” managing director (MD) also caused the withdrawal of ¢4.9 billion and 530,000 Euros as an overdraft from both the company's cedi and euro accounts lodged with the Barclays Bank to run the company but failed to pay back before he unceremoniously left the country.

In April last year after Holzapfel had left the country, WAMCO was again saddled with a debt of ¢3.3 billion being the cost of utility bills and staff salaries. The MD had earlier ordered the purchase of items on credit to the tune of 348,000 Euros. The first debt of 170,000 Euros emanating from his credit purchases reflected on the company's accounts in March 2003 whilst the remaining 178,000 Euros reflected the following month.

Sources within the Barclays Bank in Takoradi told The Chronicle that the unnecessary overdrafts Hamester Inc. resorted to through its accredited representative, Michael Holzapfel especially on its Euro accounts nearly put the bank in a distress position as a series of meetings were held by top bank officials from Europe on how to deal with the situation.

The “former” MD as reported earlier had also taken a loan of 5 million Euros in his capacity as MD of WAMCO from the same bank.

The present management is still servicing this 5 million Euro debt in addition to the numerous overdrafts plus interest charged on them by the bank.

Interestingly this unnecessary overdraft where the company was currently paying interest on top could have been avoided if Hamester had not withheld the 33 million Euros being the proceeds from the sale of products produced by WAMCO in the German banks.

Hamester has still refused to transfer the money back to Ghana though the greater part did not belong to them.

The Chronicle also gathered that as a result of this overdraft and also buying items on credit basis which put the company in a serious financial position, Michael Holzapfel called a meeting somewhere in February last and told the workers that he could only pay half of their salaries for that particular month but could not guarantee that of the following month, which was March. March did not come to an end before he left the country.

Investigations established that though the present interim management team of the company that is operating in the free zone had worked hard to clear almost two thirds of all debts left behind by Hamester, which saw the company on the verge of collapse, the former was still not satisfied.

Holzapfel is reported to have written a threatening letter from his German base to the present management team warning them to stop exporting all products they had produced which Hamester itself did not know how it was financed and also ceased further production, failure of which they must be prepared to bear the consequences.

A source told The Chronicle that under the present arrangement, COCOBOD supplied the raw cocoa beans to the present management team who are all Ghanaians for the company to process to enable them pay the over 200 strong staff.

After processing COCOBOD would market the end product and then deduct part of the sale price of the raw cocoa beans and then give the remaining to the present management to pay their salaries and also service the huge debt left behind by Hamester.

When The Chronicle spoke to the interim management committee headed by Mr. Anthony K.M. Clement prior to the publication of the first story, he confirmed that their off-duty MD, Mr. Holzapfel wrote a letter to him warning his team to stop production and also the export of products they had produced.

Clement who was flanked by his two deputies - Messrs Tony Moses and E.K.B. Quaye - refused to make further comment until the reporter had disclosed his source of the information to him. The Chronicle had demanded to know the action he had taken on the threatening letter he had received from Hamester through Mr. Holzapfel. Stay tuned for the final part three.

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