Ghanaian politicians and civil servants have been named in a bribery scheme uncovered by the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The plot involves a former banker at Goldman Sachs Group Inc who is also Ghanaian.
Asante K. Berko, the Managing Director of Tema Oil Refinery, was named by the US SEC for using his influence as a vice president in the natural resource group of Goldman Sachs’s investment banking division to push through a deal for the procurement of a power plant for Ghana.
Court documents revealed that Berko arranged the payments of bribes for members of the Ghanaian government and some legislators under the erstwhile John Dramani Mahama administration in 2015-16.
The payment was done on behalf of a Turkish Energy Company, described in the court documents as a client of the subsidiary.
The former banker allegedly pushed the money through an intermediary company in Ghana which then paid the monies to MPs to approve the deal, and also to engineers. Officials at the Energy Ministry were not left out as they also had their share of the bribe, the court papers allege.
Even though the court documents did not name any government official(s) or the companies involved, there was a vivid description.
“From approximately 2015 through at least 2016 (the “relevant period”), while employed at the Subsidiary, Berko schemed to bribe various government officials in the Republic of Ghana (“Ghana”) so that a client of the Subsidiary, a Turkish Energy Company (the “Energy Company”), would win a contract (the “Power Purchase Agreement”) to build and operate an electrical power plant in Ghana and sell the power to the Ghanaian government (the “Power Plant Project” or “Project”),” the court noted.
It added that Berko arranged for the Energy Company to funnel between $3 million to $4.5 million to a Ghana-based company (the “Intermediary Company”) to bribe various government officials responsible for approving the Power Plant Project.
“The Energy Company transferred at least $2.5 million of the planned $3 million to $4.5 million to the Intermediary Company, all or most of which was used to bribe Ghanaian government officials.”
Asante Berko the Court said, “crafted, developed and carried out the bribery scheme with the knowledge, or under circumstances that made it substantially certain, that all or a portion of the money paid to the Intermediary Company would be paid as bribes to Ghanaian government officials to secure support for the Power Plant Project”.
Berko and the Energy Company timed the largest transfers of funds to coincide with key milestones in the approval process of the Power Plant Project so that funds would be available to bribe the corrupt officials who were in positions to help accomplish those milestones, the court papers further allege.
It was explained that on or about April 13, 2015, Berko learned that the Energy Company and the Ministry of Power of Ghana (“Ministry of Power”) had reached an agreement in principle on the terms of the Power Purchase Agreement.
By April 20, 2015, however, at the request of the Intermediary Company, Berko and the Energy Company had arranged for the Energy Company to transfer US$500,000 to the Intermediary Company, which the Intermediary Company then used to bribe a senior Ghanaian government official (“Government Official 1”) who represented the Ministry of Power during its negotiations with the Energy Company.
On May 11, 2015, the Energy Company and the Ministry of Power signed the Power Purchase Agreement. On May 19, 2015, the Intermediary Company sent an invoice to the Energy Company for an additional $1.5 million in funds for the bribe scheme. On May 22, 2015, the Energy Company transferred $1.5 million to the Intermediary Company, all or part of which was to be used to bribe Ghanaian government officials. Berko knew of this transfer at, or soon after, the time of this transfer.
On July 17, 2015, the Ghanaian parliament ratified the Power Purchase Agreement. On July 20, 2015, the Intermediary Company requested, through Berko, that the Energy Company send it another $1.5 million for its “next crucial steps.” Those funds were to be used to bribe Ghanaian government officials and to advance the bribery scheme.
On August 4, 2015, the Intermediary Company emailed another invoice to the Energy Company, copying Berko, for US$250,000 for the bribery scheme. On October 19, 2015, the Energy Company transferred US$250,000 to the bank account of an employee of the Intermediary Company (“Intermediary Employee 1”) who was also part of the bribery scheme.
46-year-old, Asante Berko also helped the Intermediary Company pay smaller bribes, totalling approximately US$210,000, to various other government officials involved in the Power Plant Project. These included bribes to a Ghanaian government official (“Government Official 2”) who assisted Government Official 1 on the Project, employees at the Ministry of Power who provided confidential information to the Intermediary Company concerning the Project, government engineers who assessed the Energy Company’s technology, and officials at other government agencies who reviewed the Project.
It was further stressed that, in addition to the bribes paid through the Intermediary Company, Berko personally paid bribes to advance the corrupt scheme. By August 2015, Berko had paid bribes of at least US$66,000 to members of the Ghanaian parliament and other government officials in his effort to obtain approval for the Power Plant Project.
What US SEC is seeking
US SEC is seeking monetary penalties against Berko and other remedies, according to the statement.
“Berko hid his misconduct from Goldman by misleading compliance personnel about the true role of the intermediary company that paid the bribes,” the SEC said.
He subsequently resigned from Goldman Sachs Group Inc in December 2016. But court documents say, “following his departure from the Subsidiary, Berko began providing consulting services for the Energy Company”.
Between 2013 and 2016, Ghana faced a crippling energy crisis, compelling the Mahama administration to procure additional power-producing plants from Turkey and UAE.
The government also entered into several power-purchase agreements to make up for inadequate supply from Ghana’s traditional sources in Takoradi, Kpong, Akosombo and Bui dams.
Former Government Official Reaction
Meanwhile, a former deputy power minister, John Abu Jinapor, has indicated that his former boss, Dr Kwabena Donkor, who was the substantive Power Minister, represented the government of Ghana during major discussions on the said project.
He said Dr. Donkor did due diligence and acted in the interest of the Republic of Ghana.
“I was deputy power minister when this bribery issue happened but not directly involved. As a deputy minister, I acted on the instructions of a minister so I cannot be directly involved in this AKSA bribery scandal. I wasn’t directly involved or assigned to this AKSA deal so I cannot give details [on] the said bribery issues.
“I worked with Kwabena Donkor as deputy where this AKSA deal happened. He did his best and left but never assigned me to the AKSA thing. The minister Kwabena Donkor did not assign me to anything involving the AKSA deal. I cannot give details on what happened. One should be careful discussing this whole AKSA bribery scandal because the trial is yet to begin,” John Jinapor stated.
Asante Berko’s denial
Asante Berko, the TOR MD, has described claims by the US SEC as false.
He said in a statement: “My attention has been drawn to reportage in the local and international news media, as well as documents in social media on the morning of 14 April 2020. The essence of the story is that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in the United States has issued civil proceedings against me, alleging that I bribed government officials and members of Parliament in Ghana to enable a Turkish IPP secure a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA).”
“While it is true that the SEC has just this week issued such proceedings against me, the allegations that government officials and members of Parliament were bribed by me, are completely false. I am therefore compelled to set the record straight,” his statement further read.