The Herald’s investigation into the Ramadan Rice matter, where the director of administration in the Office of the Vice-President, James Keck Osei and four others, have been put on a criminal trial by the Office of the Special Prosecutor (OSP) keeps getting murkier by the day.
This paper, has landed court documents in which one of the persons, Issa Seidu, who is being prosecuted by the OSP, has through a company called Faithy Ventures, filed processes in court against the Director-General of Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA), Commissioner Of Customs and Cosco Shipping Lines Company Limited over attempts to deny him his goods.
Issa Seidu, is accusing the top officers of conniving with a hotelier cum businessman by name Alex Takyi, who is “feverishly trying to appropriate” some 10 containers of rice belonging to him using FIRSTIDEA Company Limited, the 5th Defendant as his agent.
This court process preceded the OSP’s arrest, detention and arraignment of the four namely; Issa Seidu, James Keck Osei, John Abban and Peter Archibald Hyde before the High Court (Criminal Division) in Accra on Monday, February 13, 2023. They were charged for not declaring their assets, which is very unrelated to the confusion of the rice. Many see the criminal trial as more of an intimidatory tactic engineered by the hotelier.
There are also claims that, James Keck Osei, had secured a court injunction against the GRA bosses not to release the containers of rice to Alex Takyi and his FIRSTIDEA Company Limited. Keck’s injunction has not been cited, except that of Issa Seidu filled on his behalf by one Edward Nana Asare of Quandzie & Associates.
It is unclear, what game is being played, but Seidu’s lawyers in their writ described the conduct of Alex Takyi and his company as a “fraudulent act” saying they “were able to pass customs entry with a Bill of Entry (BOE) number 40222110303 and paid a duty of Two Hundred and Seventy Three Thousand and Sixteen Cedis Eighty Three Pesewas (Gh¢273,016.83) on the 8th April 2022 for the goods” to get the containers of rice until they hit a wall.
The Herald has obtained several documents on the matter of the Ramadan rice, but this is the first time the containers have been quoted as 10, other documents had maintained, including an investigative report by the Customs that they were 15 in number.
Again, although the Customs probe had mentioned that the 15 containers being fought over were imported from Thailand by Faithy Ventures, Issa Seidu in his writ, insisted that his company Faithy Ventures, rather bought the rice from Vietnam and not Thailand as claimed by Alex Takyi and FIRSTIDEA Company Limited.
The latest revelation also means James Keck Osei of the Vice President, Mahamudu Bawumia’s office, Jubilee House, the seat of government was just out dropping names to outwit customs by evading taxes.
Cosco Shipping line, one of the defendants, is said to have through a letter confirmed the origin of the consignment of rice as Thailand.
Additionally, although the Customs’ findings, had identified Suwannaphum Rice Co. Ltd of Thailand as the shipper, Faithy Ventures in its writ, mentioned Kien Giang Import and Export Joint Stock Company in Vietnam as the shippers raising doubts as to who owns the rice.
Issha Seidu, stated in his writ that Faithy Ventures is a registered Company in Ghana engaged in the importation of general goods. It had imported ten (10) containers of rice from Vietnam in December 2021. It mentioned the port of loading of the goods as Vung Tau Port in Vietnam.
The 5th Defendant; FIRSTIDEA limited, the writ said was a liability company and a Clearing agent of the 4th Defendant, Alex Takyi who does customs duties at the port by clearing of goods.
It said that the goods arrived at the Port of Tema on the 25th January 2022 with a bill of lading number C0546322340280 on Vessel MV ISeaco Genesis.
Upon arrival of the goods, Seidu feverishly tried to clear them, but realized in the process that someone or entity had managed to make entries to the extent of claiming the goods, however, upon further investigations, it realized that Takyi and his company were the culprits. They had managed to pass entries as if they were the Plaintiff by using its name, bill of lading numbers, and its container numbers to pass the customs entry.
According to the lawyers, by doing so, they changed the name of the shipper and the origin of goods by now claiming that the goods were from Thailand instead of the original place of Vietnam which is in the customs system and manifest in Ghana.
“Upon that fraudulent act the 4th and 5th Defendants were able to pass customs entry with a Bill of Entry (BOE) number 40222110303 and paid a duty of Two Hundred and Seventy Three Thousand and Sixteen Cedis Eighty Three Pesewas (Gh¢273,016.83) on the 8th April 2022 for the goods.
“In spite of the payment the 4th & 5th Defendants did, they fail to clear the goods because they do not possess the original bill of lading which is the exclusive preserve of the actual importer of any goods, the world over including Ghana.
“Upon arrival of the goods in January frantic efforts were made to clear but could not meet the necessary deadlines so the goods remained uncleared and went into Uncleared Cargo List (UCL) on the 18th February 2022. This was because the original bill of lading has the name of Faithy Ventures in line with what customs has in its system.
Upon the goods entering the UCL status, customs again transferred the containers to Allas Terminal in April 2022. Now once goods are placed on the UCL, it is only the Commissioner of Customs who can allocate it to any entity.
Seidu revealed “that on the 25th February 2022 in spite of the containers having attained UCL status thus into a Government Warehouse for not being cleared, the 5th Defendant managed to use entries of the Plaintiff to secure a customs pass and paid duty on the goods though at the time the goods has been confiscated to the state.
This, he said “was done through fraud in that the 4th & 5th Defendants used entries of the Plaintiff and also changed the name of the Shipping Line claiming that its goods also being rice and ten (10) containers were from Thailand rather.
Last week, the Office of the Vice President opened up on the reasons behind the criminal prosecution of some four persons, including James Keck Osei by the OSP.
The Herald had obtained some documents, including two letters authored by Mr Keck Osei in the name of the Office of Vice President in an effort to get the 15 containers of rice from the Tema Port using the name Dr Bawumia’s religion to apparently evade taxes.
However, a press statement issued by the Vice President’s Secretariat, has revealed that Mr Keck Osei, is on the wrong side of the law, because he had illegally wrote a letter to the Commissioner General of the Ghana Revenue Authority “seeking assistance in clearing 15 containers of rice” imported from Thailand in April 2022.
“Among others, the letter falsely conveyed that the Office [of the Vice President] needed the containers of rice for Ramadan festivities,” the Vice President’s Secretariat, said in the statement signed by Augustine Blay.
According to the Secretariat, GRA did not comply with Mr Keck Osei’s letter, but rather informed him that there was another claimant of the rice, leading to Mr Keck subsequently writing another letter in July 2022 to withdraw his earlier request.
The statement from the Vice President’s office titled “Response to Media Report on Mr James Keck Osei” said “The Office of the Vice President, has taken note of media reportage about Mr James Keck Osei, a civil servant who works at the Office of the President as Director of Administration”.
For the evidence of doubt, here are the facts related to this issue:
1. On 27th April, 2022, Mr James Keck Osei, addressed an unauthorized letter to the Commissioner General of GRA, seeking assistance in clearing fifteen containers of rice. Among others, the letter falsely conveyed that the Office needed the containers of rice for the Ramadan festivities.
2. The Ghana Revenue Authority, did not comply with Mr Keck Osei’s letter, but rather informed him that there was another claimant to the rice. On receipt of this information, Mr James Keck Osei wrote another letter on 5th July 2022, to withdraw his letter of 27th April, 2022. In his second letter, Mr Osei stated that the Commissioner, should cancel any prior taken based on his previous letter.
3. In September 2022, it came to the attention of the Office of the Vice President that Mr James Keck Osei, has been invited to the Office of the Special Prosecutor to assist in an investigation related to rice importation.
4. The Office of the Vice President was satisfied with the decision by the Special Prosecutor to continue with its investigation into the matter, resulting in a decision announced on Friday, 10th February 2023, that Mr Osei has been arraigned to appear before court on Monday, 13th February 2023.
5. Pursuant to the announcement by the Special Prosecutor, the Chief Director at the Office of the President, has begun investigating the matter in accordance with the Civil Service procedures, rules and regulations and where a breach is established in respect of Civil Service rules and regulations, the service shall apply the necessary sanctions.
6. It is ONLY the secretary to the Vice President, who is mandated to write letters on behalf of the Office of the Vice President and Mr Osei did not have any such authority.