Hotel Kufuor: Former Owner Speaks Out
Saoud clears Kufuor ... but Chief Kufuor may still have questions to answer Chronicle -- The original owner of the yet-to-be completed controversial “Hotel De Kufuor” Mr. Anthony Saoud, a business tycoon, broke his silence two days after returning from London on a medical and business trip and has stated categorically that President John Agyekum Kufuor had not purchased any property from him. “My yet-to-be completed hotel situated at the Airport Residential Area behind President Kufuor's private residence was bought by Chief Kufuor, the son of the president at the cost of $3.5 million, paid in two installments by Prudential Bank Limited,” Mr. Saoud disclosed. Speaking to some journalists in his office last Saturday, Mr. Saoud stressed that as the original owner of the controversial property, he had decided to disclose to the public every issue about the property, to end the talk that had dominated media discussions. Mr. Saoud debunked categorically Ms. Gizelle Yazji's assertion that the president instructed her to negotiate for the purchase of the hotel on his behalf. He however admitted that Ms.Yazji, accompanied by Chief Kufuor, came to his house to negotiate for the purchase of the hotel, in the presence of his son-in-law, Hon. Hennric David Yeboah. According to Mr. Saoud, Ms. Yazji never introduced herself that the president had instructed her to negotiate for the purchase of the hotel on his behalf, but that she was an investor who had come from Spain to invest in the country. He added that, during the negotiation, Ms. Yazji was very aggressive, and wanted to take the property at a very cheap price. Mr. Saoud disclosed further that Ms. Yazji had alleged that the Spanish government had provided some $ 2 million grant for charity purposes, so she could access that fund to purchase the property for that purpose. The timber merchant who is now into plastic business, maintained that during the negotiation, he observed that Ms. Yazji was not the prospective buyer, so he informed his son in-law Hon. Yeboah Member of Parliament for Afigya Sekyere West that he would no longer continue the negotiation with her. Hon. Yeboah however disclosed that Ms. Yazji had called him two days after their first meeting to the La Palm Royal Beach Hotel, where she increased her purchase price to $2.5 million, but he had rejected that offer as well, having been granted a Power of Attorney by his father-in-law to sell the property. Mr. Saoud stated further that President Kufuor had not, at any given time, requested to purchase his property, nor had he requested to purchase the President's private residence when he decided to convert his residence into a hotel. Mr. Saoud, one of the pioneer timber merchants in Kumasi, who used to employ over 1000 workers, admitted that he had known Mr. Kufuor in Kumasi for a very long time, but since the latter became president of Ghana, he had distanced himself from him. The Ghanaian-born Lebanese Saoud explained that he started the project in 1996 after he disposed his timber business in Kumasi, Saoud Timber Company Limited, as its fortunes had started dwindling. He explained further that the Airport residential area, at which the uncompleted hotel was situated, was originally zoned as a residential area but later zoned as both commercial and residential areas. He added that, he had met all the requirements of the city authorities except those of the Environmental Protection Agency EPA, which refused to grant him a permit and later dragged him to court. However, the EPA, Mr. Saoud said, later withdrew the charges against him in 2001 and subsequently granted the permit to continue with the project. Mr. Saoud disclosed that his decision to dispose of the property after he had obtained the necessary documents, was basically due to financial difficulties. According to him, he had borrowed money from abroad to finance the project. However, after he had completed about 70% of the structure, his funds got depleted and because of old age, he decided not to borrow additional money to create a burden for his children in the future. Mr. Saoud therefore denied the assertion by a section of the media that he was coerced to sell the property to the President's son because Mr. Kufuor had become president and with his private residence adjacent to the project, the place had become a security zone. He however admitted that after Mr. Kufuor became president, security personnel were always seen within the hotel premises but they had explained that they were guarding the president, which gave protection to his wares as well. He said his plan was to build a Three-Star Hotel, looking at the medium cost and having completed about 70% of the structure, he needed about $3 million to complete the hotel to ready it for operation. According to the Business tycoon his decision to sell the property was taken in 1999 but it was in 2001 that prospective investors showed serious interest in purchasing the property. He said the first bidder was an estate developer who signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) but by its expiry date, could not raise the needed capital, hence the abrogation of the MOU. Mr. Sauod disclosed that after the abrogation, he granted the Power-of-Attorney to Hon.Yeboah, to preside over the sale of the property. He added that his son-in-law had informed him sometime in 2003 that he had been able to clinch a deal with Chief Kufuor, son of the president, who had agreed to offer $3.5 million for the property. Mr. Saoud disclosed further that Chief Kufuor, through his Bankers, the Prudential Bank Limited, paid the amount in two installments of $ 2 million and $1.5 million in early and late 2004 respectively. He categorically denied the assertion that the National Investment Bank (NIB) ever paid any money to him, as reported in sections of the media. Mr. Saoud however refused to directly answer a question posed by a journalist, as to whether he supported calls by the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and other civil society groups such as the Centre for Democratic Development (CDD), for a public enquiry into the circumstances surrounding the acquisition of the hotel building to clear the presidency of any wrong doing. According to Mr. Saoud, as a businessman, he would not want to meddle in politics, therefore the disclosure he had made should be sufficient.