The High Court in Accra has ordered the Office of the Special Prosecutor (OSP) to return the $590,000 and GH¢2.73 million seized from Cecilia Dapaah’s home to her within seven days.
The court has also reversed an order by the OSP to freeze the bank accounts of Dapaah at Société Générale and Prudential Bank.
These orders were made after an application to confirm an order to freeze the bank accounts of the former sanitation minister and seize some monies found in her home was dismissed by the court as without basis.
The OSP made the application as part of an investigation into corruption and corruption-related offences against the NPP politician.
This follows the publication of reports of a theft case in which monies in excess of $1 million and 300,000 euros were stolen from her home.
The OSP was of the view that the monies were tainted properties and that the order for seizure and freezing should be confirmed by the court.
Ruling on monies seized
The monies were seized at Dapaah’s home in Abelemkpe when officers from the OSP searched three houses associated with the former minister.
The OSP, after finding the $590,000 and GH¢2.73 million, seized the property on suspicion that it was tainted property. The application for confirmation was then made in accordance with the provisions of the OSP Act, Act 959.
However, the court dismissed the application on the grounds that it was made out of time.
Dapaah’s lawyers had argued that, in accordance with Section 32(2) of Act 959, such an application must be made within seven days of the seizure order being issued. The court agreed with this argument.
The judge noted that the property was seized on July 24, 2023, and the application was filed on August 8, 2023.
This means that the application was made 14 days after the order to seize the monies and seven days after the constitutionally allotted time for the application to be made.
In the court’s view, the actions of the OSP were a breach of the statutory provisions on which the instant application is based.
The judge ruled that the court lacked jurisdiction to hear the matter since it was brought out of time.
Search of Cecilia Dapaah’s residence breached the law
The court also described the search that resulted in the order to seize the properties as a breach of the OSP Act. According to the court, the conditions precedent for a property to be seized were not met.
The OSP Act states that a property may be seized if there are reasonable grounds to believe that the property is tainted and that it is necessary to exercise the power of seizure to prevent concealment, or if the circumstances are so urgent that immediate exercise of the power without the authority of a warrant or the order of a court is required.
The judge noted that the officer who issued the order of seizure did not satisfy the grounds in Section 32(1) of Act 959.
The judge questioned how the OSP came to the conclusion that the property was tainted, given that the application indicated that the ownership of the said monies was in doubt.
The court also noted that the OSP did not provide proof that the seizure was necessary to prevent concealment. In the judge’s view, the fact that the minister and her husband noticed the theft from their home in 2022 and yet kept that amount of money at home even after the matter came to the public domain on July 5, 2023, disproves the claim that she intended to conceal the property.
The judge further stated that the OSP should have obtained a court warrant for the search and seizure.
The court therefore dismissed the application, as confirming the order to seize the property would be unfair.
Order to freeze bank accounts dismissed
The court also dismissed the order made by the OSP to Prudential Bank and Société Générale to freeze bank accounts in the name of Cecilia Dapaah.
According to the judge, the OSP did not discharge the burden of proof to show that Dapaah is being investigated or has been charged with any offence.
The judge noted that the OSP did not present any caution statement or documents as evidence to show that the minister is truly being investigated or charged with a specific offence.
It emerged on Friday, July 21 that two house helps of the Minister were facing charges before an Accra Circuit Court for allegedly stealing an amount of $1 million, €300,000, and millions of Ghanaian cedis at the former minister’s residence at Abelenkpe, Accra, in October 2022.
The two, 18-year-old Patience Botwe and 30-year-old Sarah Agyei allegedly stole the money and personal effects of the couple, between the months of July and October 2022.
Both have been charged with one count of conspiracy to commit a crime and five counts of stealing US$1 million, €300,000, and millions of Ghana cedis.
The 68-year-old former Minister disputes the figures given in the court document, but the revelations outraged many in Ghana.
Resignation and Arrest
Ms Dapaah subsequently resigned as minister of sanitation and water resources.
That did not quell the anger. By Monday, July 24, she was under arrest.
The Office of the Special Prosecutor, which deals with graft allegations against high-level officials, announced that it had arrested and was questioning Ms Dappah for “suspected corruption and corruption-related offences regarding large amounts of money and other valuable items reportedly stolen from her residence”.
She was released on bail later after her official and private residences in the capital, Accra, were searched.