At Judgment Debt Commission Today
By Cecil Mensah
The Judgment Debt Commissioner, Justice Yaw Apau will today start hearing the case of the payment of forty-seven million United States Dollars to the French company, Societe Generale (SG), part-owners of the SG-SSB Bank in Ghana as judgment debt by the Kufuor government.
The Commission has invited the management of Ghana National Petroleum Corporation (GNPC) to come and explain the rationale behind the payment of the whopping amount as judgment debt to SG when Nana Akufo-Addo, served as Attorney-General and Minister of Justice.
Details available to The Herald since last year, suggest that Nana Addo as Attorney-General, negligently failed to put in a defense during a trial in a UK court, leading to the colossal amount being slapped on GNPC. The Kufuor government, later blamed the loss on Mr. Tsatsu Tsikata, as having caused the loss to the country.
Aspects of this case, have something to do with Nana Addo’s cousin Ken Ofori-Atta of Data Bank, as well as, the sale and purchase of Nana Addo’s father’s rundown Ringway Hotel near Nkrumah Circle in Accra by SG.
The Herald, last week cited, on the notice board of the Commission of Inquiry, a public notice saying, the Attorney General/Solicitor General has been summoned to the hearing the matter of “Societe General Vrs GNPC” to testify.
Also summoned are Nana Asafu-Adjaye, the Chief Executive Officer of GNPC and Emmanuel Armah Kofi Buah, the Minister of Energy or his accredited representative in the same matter of Societe General Vrs GNPC to testify.
The commission starts sitting at 10am, according to the notice.
The Herald last year published the finding of its investigations, revealing how Nana Addo got SG to be paid the US$47 million judgment debt, in a case filed at the UK against the GNPC during the Kufuor’s presidency.
Prior to the payment of the colossal amount, GNPC under Rawlings presidency was hotly contesting Societe Generale’s claims in a UK court. But strangely, Nana Addo upon assuming office as Minister of Justice abandoned the case, leading to Ghana coughing up the US$47 million to the French company.
Mr. Akufo-Addo, had ordered GNPC to hand over the matter to him as the Attorney-General to handle. He later fired the UK lawyers, Bindman and Partners, who were fighting the case for GNPC, forcing Ghana, to cough US$47 million, to settle the massive judgment debt as a result of no legal representation.
What is even more shocking is the discovery that years later, SG was sold the collapsed Ringway Hotel property, owned by Nana Addo and his siblings at a cost of US$3 million dollars. The site of the mismanaged hotel at Kokomlemle near Kwame Nkrumah Circle in Accra, is now going to house the headquarters of the SG-SSB Bank-Ghana.
Another extremely bizarre thing about the US$47 million judgment debt was that, SG had sued GNPC demanding a US$20 million dollars, but later changed its position and wanted US$12 million instead. However, Albert Kan-Dapaah, the then Minister of Energy at an August 2001 press conference announced that US$47 million was rather paid for Tsatsu Tsikata’s wrongful decision to engage SG.
The Herald gathered that at the time of sacking the UK lawyers, they were in the middle of settlement negotiations with the France-based bank, SG, dropping its earlier claim of US$20 million on account of hedging transactions with GNPC to US$12 million.
The Herald was informed that negotiations were still ongoing when Nana Addo terminated the engagement of the UK lawyers, who had advised GNPC that it had a good case.
Again at the time of sacking the lawyers, they had sought orders from the court to obtain certain tape recordings in the
possession of SG to be made available in support of the position of GNPC in the case. SG was resisting this, knowing the disclosure of the tapes would not be in their favour.
Nana Addo, was made aware of all these facts by GNPC, but surprisingly, acting closely with Kan-Dapaah, they instructed that the lawyers take no further action. The application for disclosure of the tapes was then allowed to elapse and no further steps in defence of the action were taken by Akufo-Addo as Attorney-General.
This enabled Societe Generale to obtain judgment against GNPC, compelling government to sell a drillship owned by GNPC. Despite the fact that SG had been willing to settle for much less, they took judgment for the full claim of almost US$20 million and got that from the proceeds of the sale of the drillship.
SG was grateful to Akufo-Addo, Kan-Dapaah, KT Hammond and some others for enabling them to get easy judgment against GNPC. Payments of certain fees in connection with the sale of the drillship were made to certain people. The Herald continues its investigations related to this development.
Mr. Tsikata, also at a September 2001 press conference in response to Mr. Kan-Dapaa’s accusation that he caused the US$47 million loss, said the loss was occasioned by lack of legal representation.
The ex-Chief Executive Officer (CEO), explained that the instruction to the corporation’s solicitors to stop and hand over the case to the Attorney General, presented SG with the opportunity to make amendments to their case and apply for judgment against GNPC.
He said important applications made to the court by the GNPC’s solicitors were not pursued when the government decided to throw in the towel.
He said, GNPC lawyers had contested the claims of SG since 1999, based on the fact that it was SG that gave “negligent advice” to the corporation to hedge its anticipated production of oil and gas from the Tano Fields.
Mr. Tsikata said, when statements of defence were filed at the London High Court, it gave directives that the parties should exchange documents. The GNPC complied with the directive but SG blacked out sections of what they presented to GNPC, because they claimed they did not have to disclose those passages.
Mr. Tsikata said, an application was consequently made to the court to order SG to disclose them. It was at that stage that the government decided to drop the case, even though, there was a high probability that GNPC could win.
He came to this conclusion because, “before SG brought their claim in the London High Court, they had earlier in 1998 filed a suit in the United States – in the District Court in Houston ¬seeking an order to have the GNPC drill ship, D511, moved to the US and detained by them upon conclusion of its contract in Mexico.
“This suit was brought against the US company that had chartered the drill ship as well as GNPC. The case of SG was thrown out and when they appealed to the Court of Appeal in New Orleans, they were again unsuccessful.
“It emerged in those proceedings that SG had sought legal advice about taking action in Mexico, where the drill ship was operating, or in Panama, where the drill ship was registered, and they realised that they could not succeed in either jurisdiction if they filed a suit,” Mr. Tsikata said.
According to Mr. Tsikata, it was regrettable that Kan-Dapaah could rely on rejected allegations in the SG case to paint a picture to the public that was far from the truth.
He emphasized that SG dealt with the corporation as a commercial body throughout the transactions and there was no need for governmental interference. This, he said, explained why SG claims were pursued against the corporation and not the government.