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Court orders return of Cecilia Dapaah’s money but OSP disagrees

The High Court in Accra orders return of Cecilia Dapaah’s money after rejecting an application filed by the Office of the Special Prosecutor (OSP) to freeze bank accounts and seized amounts of embattled former Minister of Sanitation and Water Resources.

The Court presided over by Justice Edward Twum therefore ordered the OSP to return Cecilia Dapaah’s money within seven days from Thursday, August 31, 2023.

The OSP however, disagrees with the court and has pledged to take all necessary legal steps to ensure that the seized Cecilia Dapaah’s money and the balances in the bank accounts in question as well as investments are neither concealed, lost, nor otherwise dissipated.

What OSP sought to freeze

The OSP prayed the court to confirm its decision to seize some sums of Cecilia Dapaah’s money it discovered after searching the former minister’s residence.

The monies discovered were $590,000 and GH₵2.7 million (GH₵2,730,000).

The OSP also sought to freeze bank accounts and investments of Cecilia Dapaah at Prudential Bank Limited and Societe Generale Ghana.

Court says OSP violated conditions precedent

Justice Twum ruled that the OSP acted wrongly in exercising its powers to conduct a search in the home of the former minister.

The court said the OSP per the law violated conditions precedent before it could make such orders to seize those properties it deemed “suspected tainted property” with corruption.

The court also ruled that, the OSP failed to file the application within the seven days statutory requirement but rather filed the seizure orders out of time and the court cannot support it.

The court said the seizure was done on July 24 while the application was filed on August 8, which is 14 days in clear violation of seven days period legally required.

No reasonable ground

Justice Twum said he finds no reasonable ground for which the OSP froze the bank accounts of Cecilia Dapaah.

The court further held that the freezing of the accounts was done without any legal basis and the court in the interest of fairness, cannot confirm the freezing of those accounts as it was not done fairly.

In respect of seizure of monies discovered in the home of Cecilia Dapaah, the court held that the OSP did not provide any justifiable grounds for its decision to seize the monies.

The judge ruled that the OSP appears to have misconstrued possession to mean ownership.

He explained that for the OSP to merely seize the monies it found in the possession of Cecilia Dapaah, on grounds that she owns it because they were found in her possession, amounts to putting the cart before the horse.

Reactionary in response to public sentiments

Justice Twum  noted that the actions of the OSP in freezing the accounts of Cecilia Dapaah and seizing monies discovered in her home was reactionary in response to public sentiments and not based on any investigative done by the OSP.

“The action of the OSP was based on speculations, mere guesses and at best, reactionary to public sentiments and not based on any criminal intelligence gathered as the OSP wants this court to believe,” he stressed.

OSP’s response

In response to the ruling the OSP described the court’s decision as one based on erroneous computation of the time limitation within which the Office took its decision.

Kissi Agyebeng argued that his Office searched three private residences associated with Cecilia Dapaah over the course of two weeks, and that searches and discovery were ongoing during that period.

 He said, “There is little doubt that the OSP filed its application within the statutory window once the search and discovery window is considered.”

The OSP’s further argued that, the seizure freezing order were effectuated on the very firm basis of reasonable suspicion that the amounts and bank balances were tainted property as Cecilia Dapaah prevaricated as to the source(s) of the amounts she reported stolen from her residence, the amounts discovered by the OSP in her residence, and the volume of transactions in her bank accounts and investments.

He argued further that the freezing order was not based on public sentiments, but on court processes filed in a criminal matter before the Circuit Court, Accra involving Cecilia Dapaah as the complainant.

Also, he said the freezing order was effected to aid the investigation, as required by law, not on the basis of the investigation, as indicated by the Court.

“It cannot be said that the OSP did not carry out proper investigations to warrant the freezing order. The investigation has only commenced, and it is ongoing,” he said.

In view of the development, OSP announced commencement of investigation into suspected corruption and corruption-related offences involving Cecilia Dapaah, regarding large amounts of money and other valuable items which were found at her residence.

OSP lawyer’s argument in court

On Thursday, August 17, 2023, Dr Isidore Tufour,  Director of Prosecutions at the OSP, argued that even though the ownership of the monies discovered at the residence of Cecilia Dapaah still remain in dispute, the OSP has reasonable grounds to suspect that the monies are tainted property.

According to him, the OSP’s seizure was made on the strength of section 32 (1) of the Office of the Special Prosecutor Act, (2017) Act 959.

On the request to confirm freezing, the OSP noted that it brought the application based on section 38 of the Office of the Special Prosecutor Act, (2017) Act 959.

“The freezing is justified under Section 38(1) which gives power to the Special Prosecutor to freeze any property which is necessary to facilitate investigation and this is the standard test for validation of freezing under section 38,” Dr Tufour told the court.

Cecilia Dapaah’s lawyer argue in court

Opposing the freezing application, Victoria Barth, lawyer for Cecilia Dapaah, contended that the application of the OSP must fail on the grounds that the lawyer for the OSP conceded that contrary to section 32(2) of Act 959, his application for confirmation of seizure of suspected tainted property has been brought out of time.

“The language of section 32(2) is very clear and leaves no room for a secondary meaning or waiver. The word ‘shall’ used in section 32(2) puts it beyond dispute that it is a mandatory requirement that must be satisfied to properly invoke this court’s jurisdiction,” she stated.

Victoria Barth pointed out that there must be grounds that funds found in the matrimonial home of her client have been used in connection with the commission of an offence or that they were derived, obtained or realised as a result of the commission of corruption or corruption related offence.

“This is why the mere fact of investigating the respondent for a broadly described offence of corruption is not sufficient under section 40(1) as grounds for the confirmation of a freezing order” Cecilia Dapaah’s lawyer stated in court.

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