GERMAN COY FREEZES COCOBOD FUNDS
By Emmanuel Akli
After failing to siphon a monstrous 100 million Euros from the Republic of Ghana at the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) over an alleged breach of investment contract, Hamester, 60% owners of the West Africa Mills Company Limited (WAMCO), a Takoradi-based cocoa processing factory, is still bent on bringing down the Ghanaian economy.
Information reaching The Chronicle indicates that apart from sacking some of the workers for revealing what the management claims to be an industrial secret, the German company has also refused to pay the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD) $15 million worth of cocoa beans supplied to it for processing and subsequent export.
Apparently fed up with the refusal of Hamester to pay back the money after repeated warnings, COCOBOD has also cut the supply of the beans to the embattled company.
The Chief Executive of COCOBOD, Mr. Tony Fofie, admitted in a telephone interview with The Chronicle that the supply of cocoa beans to WAMCO had been stopped, because the cocoa processing company had refused to reconcile its accounts with his outfit.
According to Mr. Fofie, the German owned company is disputing the amount it owes COCOBOD, which is for cocoa beans they (COCOBOD) had so far supplied to them.
Hamester took over WAMCO in 1992, after the divestiture of the former state owned company. The German managers, then led by Mr. Michael Holzapfel, unceremoniously left the shores of Ghana in 2003, after piling up a debt amounting to 38 million Euros.
The 23 million Euros represents 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 five 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, and without the knowledge and approval of the 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.
The Chronicle gathered that after the sudden departure, the workers of WAMCO, with the support of COCOBOD, took over the running of the company, and managed to pay all the debts left by the German conglomerate.
However, in September 2010, Mr. Bernard Diesterweg, who until Friday September 28, 2012, was the Managing Director of the company, came with a power of attorney from Hamester to take over the running of the company, which was rejected.
Diesterweg then proceeded to court in Ghana and managed to obtain an injunction against those who were then running WAMCO.
A source within the workers told The Chronicle that a few months after the new MD took over the running of the company, COCOBOD cut the supply of cocoa beans, and when the workers enquired, they were told that the company it.
Under the previous arrangement, when the workers were running the company, it was agreed that Ghana Cocoa Marketing Company, a subsidiary of COCOBOD, would market the finished products, which are mainly cocoa butter, cocoa liquor, and cocoa cake among others, on the international market.
After the sales, 25% of the revenue would be given back to the workers to run the company. The remaining amount would then be used to pay for the cost of the beans and machinery.
The Chronicle gathered that Hamester after taking over the running of the company in 2010, following its failure to squeeze the 100 million Euros they were demanding from the Government of Ghana in Switzerland, did not only breach this arrangement, but also went ahead to sell all the finished products in the warehouse of the company without paying a penny to COCOBOD, which had supplied the raw materials.
Knowing that the German owners of WAMCO had the penchant of piling up debts, COCOBOD decided not to supply the raw materials again, and this compelled the Bernard Diesterweg led-administration to start buying materials from Ivory Coast for processing.
Even with this, the supply was irregular. Seven staff members who were at the forefront protesting against the haphazard manner the company was being managed, were sacked early this year, over what the management claimed was the revelation of an industrial secret.
This reporter was informed that ever since Hamester bought 60% shares of the company and took over its management, no dividends have been paid to the government.
Both WAMCO One and Two – all based in Takoradi – used to collectively process 160 metric tonnes of cocoa per day, but the same cannot be said about the two plants today.
All attempts made by The Chronicle to speak to Bernard Diesterweg over the issue proved futile, as he failed to answer calls put through to his two cellular phones.
It was when the reporter made an attempt to send him a text message that he was told the MD had been fired after the Board met on Friday, September 28, to review the performance of the company.
When The Chronicle spoke to Mr. Tony Fofie, he insisted that his outfit could not have continued to supply the company with beans, when they were disputing the materials they had already supplied to them.
Tony Fofie, who is also a member of the WAMCO Board, told this reporter that when the board met recently, the German owners of the company were briefed about developments going on in the company. He would however, not go into details of the issues they discussed.
The Bureau of National Investigations (BNI) and the Economic and Organised Crime Office (EOCO) recently summoned a senior policy analyst at the Centre for National Affairs (CNA), Mr. Richard Rocky E. Obeng, and the former Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Madam Betty Mould-Iddrisu, and two others, over the same WAMCO issue.
Hamester had dragged the government of Ghana to the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes in The Hague for breaching the agreement it had entered into with it.
Hamester’s case has been that it was entitled to damages as a result of alleged breaches by the Republic of Ghana of the Bilateral International Treaty (BIT).
As a result of the breaches of the BIT, Hamester asserted that it “has suffered substantial losses in excess of 100 million Euros,” and claims: (i) compensation for losses due to the non-supply of cocoa beans in 2002, in the total sum of EUR 33,045,031.29;
(ii) Loss of profit from 2003 to 2008 in the sum of EUR 27,984,000.00;
(iii) Loss of share of WAMCO’S profits from 2002 to 2008 in the sum of EUR 13,396,555.00; and (iv) loss of future profits in the range of 37,768,000.00 to 67,042,3000 Euros.
The ICSID, in its ruling on the matter, brought out the following important information about the directors of Hamester, Messrs Holzapfel and Opferkuch, and stated they had given incoherent and patently dishonest explanations as to why they caused the false receipts for consultancy services and public relations to be issued to WAMCO, and subsequently, transferred to the Republic of Ghana.
But, despite winning the case, Madam Betty Mould-Iddrisu failed to submit the necessary documents to the court to enable it award costs against Hamester, which after losing the case against Ghana, made a sudden U-turn to take over the running of the company they had abandoned.
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