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Court orders OSP: Return Cecilia Dapaah’s cash within seven days

The special prosecutor has been ordered by the court to return the seized money within seven days

The financial crimes high court presided over by Justice Edward Twum has ordered the Office of the Special Prosecutor (OSP) to return all monies seized from former sanitation and water resources minister Cecilia Dapaah back to her within the next seven days from the date of the ruling.

The Office of the Special Prosecutor on Thursday 17 August, prayed the court to confirm its order freezing two accounts belonging to Dapaah on suspicion that the monies in the accounts may be tainted property. The OSP was also praying the court to confirm its decision to seize some sums of money it discovered after searching the former minister’s residence. The monies discovered were US$590,000.00 and GHC2,730,000.00.

By court

Justice Edward Twum’s court in it ruling on 31 August 2023, held that it finds no reasonable ground for which the applicant, Office of the Special Prosecutor (OSP), froze the bank accounts of the respondent (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.

On the 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 discovered in the home of Cecilia Dapaah.

The court ruled that the OSP appears to have misconstrued possession to mean ownership. The court 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 cat before the horse.

The court further noted that the actions of the Office of the Special Prosecutor in freezing the accounts of Madam 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” Justice Edward Twum ruled.

Background

Moving the OSP’s motion in court on Thursday, 17 August 2023, Dr Isidore Tufour, the 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.

He stated in open court that 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 prayer of the OSP to confirm the freezing of madam Cecilia Dapaah’s bank accounts, 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 Isidore Tufour told the court.

Contention of defence lawyer

Victoria Barth, lawyer for Cecilia Dapaah, opposed the application of the OSP seeking to confirm the freezing of her client’s account and seizure of monies found in her home.

She 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” Victoria Barth stated in court.

The defence lawyer also 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.

“We are relying on the deposition in our affidavit in opposition which speaks to the caliber and work history of the respondent (Cecilia Dapaah) among other facts that would show that this application has been brought [by the OSP] in flagrant of the applicant’s own enabling law and seeks to perpetrate the arbitrary exercise of powers based on nothing more than suspicion fueled by misrepresentation of facts and resultant media frenzy. We pray the court to dismiss the application” Victoria Barth, Lawyer for Cecilia Dapaah said in her concluding argument.

Reporting by Wilberforce Asare in Accra

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