A former Director General of Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT), Ernest Thompson, and three other former employees of the Trust as well as a private businesswoman, Juliet Hassana Kramer, all pleaded not guilty to the 29 new charges levelled against them by the Attorney General’s Department yesterday.
The plea of the accused persons had to be retaken after the AG filed an amended charge sheet in accordance with the orders of the Supreme Court to enable the accused persons to properly defend themselves.
The five accused persons are before an Accra High Court for the various roles they allegedly played in the Operational Business Suite (OBS) Contract of the Trust between 2011 and 2017, which the AG’s Department insisted has led to the state incurring financial loss.
Apart from the ex-SSNIT Boss, then General Manager of Management Information Systems at SSNIT, Caleb Kwaku Afaglo, then General Counsel of SSNIT, Peter Hayibor, as well as John Hagan Mensah, Information Technology Infrastructure Manager of SSNIT and Ms. Kramer are on trial.
The five are facing 29 counts of conspiracy, willfully causing financial loss to the Republic, defrauding by false pretences as well as the contravention of Public Procurement Act contrary to Section 92(2)(a) of the Public Procurement Act, 2003 (Act 663).
The charges generally related to payments made under the Operational Business Suite project which the prosecution said had already been paid for under the controversial OBS contract.
Appearing before the court yesterday, Richard Gyambiby, a Principal State Attorney told court that they had filed the new charge sheet and under the rules the court was supposed to take the pleas of the accused persons again.
The 29 charges were then read out to the accused persons and they pleaded not guilty to all of them.
Samuel Codjoe, counsel for Ernest Thompson, after the pleas were taken, asked the court to grant him bail and urged the court to allow him remain on the old bail with terms granted on July 24, 2018, when the case first got to court.
“We have cooperated with the prosecution, we are not a flight risk and we rely on the arguments that convinced this court to grant the original bail in this case. We are very anxious to clear our name and will always appear for trial as and when the case is adjourned by this honourable court,” he said.
Lawyers for the other accused persons associated them with Mr. Codjoe, adding that to the extent that the charges and the facts of the case remain the same, their clients should also be made to remain on the old bail terms granted by the court.
Mr. Gyambiby, on his part, told the court that “we have had no cause to suspect that the accused persons will not appear to stand trial therefore, we are not opposed to the applications.”
The court presided over by Justice Henry Anthony Kwofie, a court of appeal judge sitting as an additional high court judge, in his ruling held that “having regards to the sentiments expressed by counsel for all the accused persons and the fifth accused person and the counsel for the Republic with regard to the fact that the charges against the accused persons have not changed and the accused persons consistently appear before this court when the case is due, I hereby order that the accused persons remain on their previous bail granted on July 24, 2018.”
The five accused persons had been granted self-recognizance bail subject to changes in the course of the trial.
Meanwhile, the prosecution has indicated that it will rely on all the documents that have already been filed as part of disclosure.
The case was adjourned to May 26, 2021.
Per the new charges as signed by the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), Yvonne Atakora Obuobisa, the ex-SSNIT Boss Mr. Thompson, John Hagan Mensah, Juliet Hassana Kramer, and Caleb Afaglo have been charged with 18 counts of wilfully causing financial loss of $14,803,299.5 to the state between September 2013 and April 2016.
Juliet Hassana Kramer is also facing charges of having between October 2011 and May 2017 defrauding SSNIT of the sum of $66,783,148.08 under a contract to Perfect Business Systems (PBS) Limited, a non-existent company and Silverlake Structured Services by representing that she was the Chief Executive Officer of PBS and Silverlake, authorised to sign on behalf of Silverlake, the tenderer of the OBS contract.
Mr. Thompson is also facing a charge of contravening the PPA Act by approving the sum of $9,536,652.50 for “Change Request for the Operational Business Suite Project, an amount which is above the threshold of the head of the entity.”
Caleb Afaglo is facing charges of possession and altering of forged Bachelor of Science in Computer Studies certificate from Georgia Institute of Technology, contrary to Section 169 of the Criminal Offences Act, 1960 (Act 29).
BY Gibril Abdul Razak