Alfred Tuah-Yeboah, Deputy Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, says custodial sentence for the founder of defunct Capital Bank, William Ato Essien, is inevitable due to his failure to meet the payment terms of GH¢60 million owed to the state.
Mr Ato Essien was convicted on his own plea in December last year, but narrowly escaped custodial sentence, because of the agreement he entered into with the prosecution to pay the GH¢60 million by the end of 2023.
However, Mr Tuah-Yeboah, addressing reporters after yesterday’s court session said: “The convict (Essien) was given every opportunity to be spared custodial sentence. He has spurned such an opportunity and we think that the Section in the Court Act, Section 35 (7) must apply”.
Even as I told the court, if you look at Section 35 (7), the court does not even have the power or the discretion to extend time for such a convict. So we think that the convict has come to the end of the road and for that matter he must be sentenced,” he told the media.
According to him, claim by Essien’s Counsel that the convict had paid GH¢4 million and there is a commitment to further pay GH¢1 million was neither here nor there, adding “what is GH¢4 million out of GH¢60 million. Remember per his refusal to pay as ordered by the court, we are not expecting him to pay only the GH¢20 million, but he is supposed to pay out of the GH¢60 million.
“So having failed to do so, I think it will be in the interest of justice that the law, as we have, is made to work. It is true that we may think that the state needs money, but the laws must also be obeyed.
We were expecting that coming here today, he will just come and say that I have the GH¢60 million to be spared the custodial sentence.
He is now lucky that the court has adjourned the matter to next week. If he has the sixty million and of course, he pays it that is the end of the matter.”
The Deputy Attorney General also promised that the state would do whatever it takes to recover the liquidity support advanced to Capital Bank by the Bank of Ghana, as well as depositor’s funds.
“If you steal or you commit an offence against the state and it involves dishonesty, which has resulted in the state losing money, if you are convicted and sentenced, the next step is that the state will take reasonable steps to cover the money from you. So if for example he (Essien) is not able to pay the outstanding sum and the court sentence him to a prison term, that would not stop us from pursuing to get the amount,” he added.
Ato Essien’s Invitation is dangerous
In the court room, the Deputy A-G, in response to an application filed by Ato’s Counsel, Thaddeus Sory, said the state is not interested in renegotiation of the payment terms with the convict, as it will serve no useful purpose, but set a bad precedence.
He told the Accra High Court, presided over by Justice Eric Kyei Bafour, that application for renegotiation as well as to stay proceedings was a dangerous invitation, as the court cannot read any meaning or exercise discretion over Section 35 (7) of the Court Act to vary the agreement terms.
According to him, Ato Essien was given a special grace and dispensation under Section 35 (7) to avoid custodial sentence, but deviated and breached the terms of the agreement, hence the law must be applied. Similarly, he added that the language of Section 35 (7) is clear without any ambiguity.
Mr Sory, on his part, urged the court to look at Section 35 (7) beyond its literal meaning, but its purpose to recover funds owed to the republic.
He said the convict is committed to paying the money owed to the state and that they have attached to their affidavit expected inflows meant to complete the payment of the GH¢60 million.
Ato Essien is expected to pay GH¢90 million, but paid GH¢30 million in his initial negotiation with the prosecution.
And per the agreement accepted by the court, the convict was to pay the GH¢60 million by the end of this year in three tranches.
Ato’s Application Has No Merit
Justice Baffour ruled that the court fails to see the invitation by the convict in respect of the proper approach to section 35 (67) of the Court Act. He said the Court finds no merit in the invitation by the convict and accordingly dismissed it.
Ato Essien’s next court appearance is scheduled for May 17, 2023.
He was charged and pleaded guilty to conspiracy to steal, stealing and money laundering.