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21.05.2004 General News

Judicial Service Boss In ¢147 Million Fraud

By Chronicle
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Collects 119 mobile phones and issues two dud cheques JUSAG washes hands off transactions *SFO joins the fray Once again, the unthinkable has happened in the history of the Judicial Service, and the good name of the nation's adjudicating body has been indelibly smeared. Period.

But this one is unprecedented, for like the proverbial fish that rots from the head; it came from a well-known top official in the service. In short, a simple fraud carefully intertwined with multiple lies and packaged in cover-ups that would take only the adeptness of a modern day James Bond (007) to unravel is here.

Alhaji Idris Daud Kumi, general-secretary of the Judicial Service Staff Association of Ghana (JUSAG), is in the centre of a ¢147 million scam due to a deal he signed four months ago with a Ho-based business house for 119 mobile phones on behalf of the association, but which got more 'crooked' the more one dug into it.

According to dependable documentary evidence on The Chronicle desk, Kumi, on January 2, this year, walked into the showroom of Jokes Mobile Phones in Ho, and armed with a letter printed on a JUSAG letter-head, convinced the executive director of the company, John K. Obinnim, that the association was in dire need of cellular phones for members' use.

The letter, with reference number JSA/01/04-1 and signed by Kumi, stated that: “Members of the Judicial Service Staff Association have expressed interest in purchasing of mobile phone (handsets) from your company on high purchase (credit) basis.”

It continued in an assuring tone thus: “Our association is a recognized one and our salaries are paid by the Accountant-General's Department, which makes collection of debts owed by our members very easy.”

This sounded quite juicy, and after a bargain, succeeded in making away with 119 assorted phones a couple of weeks later. In an acknowledgment letter of receipt dated February 12, 2004, with reference number JUSAG/ HQ/ 001/ 04, the general-secretary gave a breakdown of the items collected as follows: Nokia 2100 (42), Nokia 3310 (32), Siemens (13), Panasonic GD 68 (2), Panasonic GD 55 (1), Motorola (6), Bird (3), Xelibri (3), Samsung R220 (2), Siemens A35 (2) Sony Ericsson (1), Samsung N500 (1) and Haire (Pen) (1).

It also gave a promissory opening, saying, “The association has so far taken delivery of the underlisted mobile phones from Jokes Mobile Phones (JMP), which has amounted to One Hundred and Forty-seven million, One Hundred Thousand Cedis (¢147,100,000.00).” But payday never came.

According to the verbal details of the deal in terms of the mode of payment and other related issues, there would be three payments in monthly installments of a little over ¢49million. But at the end of the first month, payment became a problem for the association that boasts of prompt payment. Then came the real 'kuluulu.'

When the pressure on him to pay up became unbearable, Kumi resorted to what can simply be dubbed 'the game.'

Introducing one Mary as his personal secretary (she later turned out to be his girlfriend), the two signed two National Investment Bank (NIB) cheques totalling ¢45 million.

The first, (cheque number 111527) directed the bank to pay JMP ¢20 million on March 12, 2004, while the second (number 111528), to mature on the 20th of the same month, was worth ¢25 million. Account number 4362, from which the said monies were to be drawn, was opened at the Ho branch of the bank.

Unsuspecting Obinnim, 'flew' to the bank on the said dates, only to be turned back by the cashiers for multiple reasons. First, there was little or nothing worth cashing from account number 4362 at the time. Secondly, it was detected at the banks that both cheques, issued by Kumi and his 'secretary' Mary, were faulty.

The first, which was open, 'nicodemously' failed to indicate the amount to be withdrawn in figures; while the vice versa was the case with the second cheque. The amounts were written in words and figures all right, but the general-secretary and his 'personal secretary' did not sign to open it.

What was rather worrying to all who saw the cheques was why the two signatories for the JUSAG account (a national association's money kept in a regional capital), who must have signed several of such cheques all these years, jointly made these blunders on both the two they issued to JMP.

Apart from that there was nothing to show that the account was for JUSAG, as it did not give any indication to that effect. A close scrutiny of the cheques indicated that the account numbers and other important information were altered with an indelible felt pen.

It is also worthy of mentioning, the fact that at the back of each of the dud cheques, the general-secretary wrote his name, signed his signature and boldly put down the title 'Executive Director' for himself.

At any rate, Kumi somehow managed to scrape off ¢40 million of the debt, through some petty payments, before getting out of contact. As at now ¢107.1 million is hanging on the neck of the association, nearly four months after it assured that deductions would be made from members' salaries through the Controller and Accountant-General's Department.

Based on that unfulfilled promise, the director of JMP wrote to the regional JUSAG branch here for intervention, but it was gathered that the regional secretary and administrative officer contended that they could do nothing about it since their superior and supervising High Court Judge, Justice P.K. Gyaesaayor, had been informed of the incident.

The letter, dated 20th April, reminded the regional branch of the dishonoured cheques and the need to persuade the national office in Accra to act on the matter.

Interestingly too, investigations conducted by The Chronicle indicate conclusively that the mobile phone deal entered into in the name of JUSAG was a scam.

To begin with, the 'crookedness' of the entire deal has been spotted in the concluding paragraph of the letter of introduction.

Even though it was written and signed by Kumi, the tone gave a different impression when it stated, “For the mode of payment and other related issues, the general-secretary, Alhaji Kumi Idris Daud, will get in touch with you to have a detailed discussion.”

This, an observer described as 'the left hand passing on a thing to the right hand.'

That aside, members of the association here in the Volta region, where Kumi was once the chairman, told the paper in its findings that Mary, who was said to have been introduced as a member, and was made to sign all the invoices in the transaction on behalf of the association, had never worked with the service and could therefore never had been a member, let alone becoming the secretary-general's personal secretary.

“I know that lady. She is Kumi's girlfriend, and had never been our staff,” said one source at the Ho office.

Another highly placed source also hinted that some of the phones collected in the name of JUSAG were later sold to officials of the Prisons Service in Accra.

This information sounds quite acceptable in the sense that officials at the headquarters, who were contacted by this reporter, said they never had any wind of cellular phones collected on their behalf.

“If the association needed mobile phones for a national cause it does not make sense, for whoever is doing the negotiation, to leave Accra to Ho for that transaction. This is funny and irrational,” says a member.

But another member hinted that some of the phones were actually sent to the Eastern regional branch of the association.

Meanwhile, all efforts to contact the two personalities at the centre of the controversy (Kumi and Mary) have proved futile. For the past weeks, their mobile phones (0244-847980 and 0244-293222 respectively) had perpetually remained 'dead.'

Even their own colleagues cannot get them on their known handsets anymore.

But when contacted, the national president of JUSAG, Mr. S.B. Issaka, admitted that Kumi did all he did without the knowledge of the association, and apologized for the behavior of the secretary-general.

Issaka said all efforts were being made to pay the debt, but was not happy that the good name of the association had been so seriously dragged into the mud.

“I am not aware of the letter he wrote. All he did was wrong. In fact it was improper, and I am sorry for what happened,” he confessed.

In a related development The Chronicle gathered that the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) had taken up the matter, and was leaving no stone unturned.

The paper has been reliably informed from inside sources that the association was doing all it can to come into a gentleman's agreement with JMP over how to settle the debt and end the matter once and for all.

And as part of the measures, Kumi has been made to produce a list of all those who allegedly ordered the phones and defaulted payment, so that the monies could be retrieved from them.

Now with SFO wading into the matter, it may not be long before the association is made to 'cough' up the outstanding debt of ¢107.1 million to 'atone for the sin' of one of its members.

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