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09.09.2005 Crime & Punishment

Police Pursue Union Executives

Statesman
Police Pursue Union Executives

With labour union leaders calling on the government and public officials at annual congresses to eschew sleaze, many a Ghanaian might be given to think the leaders should be in-corruptible, or above-board. Those expectations, have, however, been dashed. The Statesman can authoritatively report that the police are hunting for two former union executives involved in the fraudulent withdrawal of over ¢68 million belonging to a National Union.

Our two-month investigation shows that Wilson Agana, former Chairman of the Tema Branch of the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union, and Bruce Ghartey, former First Trustee of the branch, were milking the union until the fraud was exposed in 2003. The search for the two is a result of the recommendations of a three-man committee instituted to investigate suspected deposit withdrawals from the ICU Tema branch accounts which were lodged with the Ghana Commercial Bank in Tema. The Tema Branch is made up of four local unions consisting Ashiaman, New Town, Prampram and Sakumono.

Again, as a consequence of the conclusion of the report, the ICU General Secretary, Napoleon Kpoh, signed a letter dated August 2 removing the two executives from office on grounds of fraudulent misconduct. “The National Secretariat and leadership have also carefully considered the issue and have endorsed the decision of the Tema Branch/Regional Council taken at its general meeting to remove the two Executives from office on the basis of fraudulent dishonesty,” the letter stated in part. The members of the three-man committee are Morgan Ayawine, Chairperson, Sam Atiemo-Debrah, Member and Secretary, and Isaac Asauh, Member. It was set up June 11, 2003 at the Tema Regional Secretariat. The committee submitted its report July 24, 2003 to the ICU national executive for action to be taken against the suspects.

In an interview with Detective Sergeant George Ahiagbenyo of the Criminal Investigations Department at the Police Headquarters in Accra yestyerday, he confirmed that the ICU had reported the case against the two former executives but the police have not yet arrested any of them because “their locations are not known.” Ahiagbenyo said: “we are doing everything possible to effect their arrest through the complainant. We don't know them neither do we know their places of abode.”

When this reporter put it to him that the police and the complainant appear to be reluctant in arresting the duo because the latter knew the suspects' places of residence and Agana recently spearheaded a failed workers' demonstration and spoke to the media extensively, the CID sergeant emphatically debunked the accusation. He stated that everything depended on the ICU leadership, the complainant. Informed that The Statesman will publish the story soon, Ahiagbenyo exclaimed: “I'm praying for that. May be that can help us.”

According to the findings of the committee, a total of ¢68,317,888 million being Union dues and Education Endowment Fund for the National Union was fraudulently paid into the Tema Branch/Regional Council account and withdrawn. The committee established that Brothers Wilson Agana and Bruce Ghartey both signed the cheques for the withdrawal of the funds at various periods. The cheques were found to be either 80% Education Fund or 50% normal dues to ICU, Accra. It also came to light during our investigations that the committee did not accept Ghartey's assertion that the amount was a loan granted him by a friend since the information provided by the Volta Aluminium Company, contributor of the money, was contrary.

The cheque books were retrieved from Agana's house with some difficulty by the Regional Officer on his assumption of duty in 2003. Apart from the ex-Chairman and the then First Trustee, none of the other executives and officers of the Tema Branch knew about the transaction. The two former union leaders were the only signatories to account number 1071130000519 at the Tema Main Branch of the GCB. The bank made available statements covering the period December 10, 1999 to June 12, 2003 to the committee. The committee, among others, recommended that the accused leaders be charged for criminal action in accordance with the law. “Henceforth, the National Union should put in place an effective monitoring and dues collection mechanism to avoid the recurrence of these criminal acts in future,” proposed the committee.

During the committee's investigation, Ghartey, who was elected on the ticket of VALCO, explained that the deposits were loans contracted from a friend but could not disclose how much was contracted. Later, he apologised and requested that he be allowed to expatiate on the issues for an amicable resolution but was told that the case must take its logical course and arrive at a conclusion. Agana denied knowledge of the fraud but Ghartey debunked this, insisting he signed and withdrew cheques with Agana. Also, Ghartey said he did inform Agana about the transaction and payment of the cheques into the branch accounts from the onset.

In another interview with The Statesman in Tema Thursday, Morgan Ayawine, Regional Officer of the Tema Branch, ICU, said the act was discovered after he took office and studied periodic statements of accounts. “One of the things that led to the discovery was that they kept cheque books at their houses. So I came here and asked for the cheque books… we found that money was lost so we started questioning and traced and found that the amount came from VALCO.”

Ayawine said when the duo was debarred from holding any position at all levels of the ICU, they called it quits and joined the Union of Industry, Commerce and Finance Workers, a break-way faction of the ICU. “They claimed that they are not members of ICU but we haven't sacked them. After the committee submitted its report, the National Union reported the case to the Police Headquarters for action to be taken,” he said. According to Ayawine, the police apprehended Agana and released him on bail after he (Agana) had made a statement while Ghartey is said to be on the run. He intimated: “There is no acrimony between us and when we meet it is as if nothing has happened.” He did not confirm speculations that the two former executives were involved in similar fraudulent practices which deprived the ICU of cash, adding that “what we know now is this one and that is what we are pursuing.”

When The Statesman contacted the ICU headquarters, General-Secretary Napoleon Kpoh was unavailable but Gilbert Awinoya, deputy General Secretary of ICU, confirmed the case. When Agana was asked to comment on the case, he told this paper to call him on his cell phone later Thursday. But when he was phoned last night, Agana cut the call on four occasions after initially pretending to having problems hearing our reporter. Mr Bruce Ghartey could not be contacted for his side of the story.

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