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Ato Forson Trial: I have no knowledge of the transaction in issue – Alexander Mould tells High Court

A former Chief Executive Officer of the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation, Alexander Mould has told an Accra High Court, that he has no personal knowledge of the purchase of two hundred ambulances (200) by the state in 2014, on which he was in court to give evidence.

Mr Mould appeared as second defence witness in the criminal action brought by the state against Minority Leader in Parliament, Dr Cassiel Ato Forson who authorized the payment for the ambulances in his capacity then as the Deputy Minister of Finance.

The state contends that Dr Forson has occasioned financial loss to the state because he did not follow the stipulations in the contract, for the purchase of the ambulances which were found to be defective and unfit for purpose when they were supplied.

Alexander Mould, appearing in the dock as an expert witness for the defense on payments by letters of credit, took his time to explain the various stages and processes required to effect such “complex and exact financial transactions according to the Uniform Customs and Practice for Documentary Credits (UCP) 600.

He also touted his credentials as a banker who had intimate knowledge of the processes governing the issuance of letters of credits, all the while being led-in-evidence by defense lawyers.

Transaction in issue
Attorney General (AG) Godfred Yeboah Dame, in cross-examination demanded to know whether Mr Mould had personal knowledge of the transaction of which he was testifying but the witness replied in the negative.

Indeed, Alexander Mould admitted that he had neither worked nor been consulted on the purchase of the ambulances and that his entire knowledge of the transaction had been as a result of a briefing he had received from counsel for Dr Ato Forson, Dr Basit Bamba.

Letters of credit
While Mould opined that letters of credit did not constitute an authorization to pay in trade finance, he admitted to the court that payment for the ambulances were to be done solely through letters of credit.

The witness sought to build a case for the defense by insisting that a letter issued by Ato Forson to the Bank of Ghana to establish letters of credit to pay for the said ambulances did not possess the language exactitude to trigger payment for anything.

“This letter cannot be used to pay anything. It may be able to start a process but it cannot definitely be used to pay for anything,” Mould said.

“Letters of credit are not used for payment. They are just documentary evidence between banks” that based on the right transactions, the banks will then pay,” he said.

However, a barrage of questions about the contract signed between the Republic of Ghana and Big Sea Trading LLC, made Mr. Mould admit to the court that indeed the payment for the ambulances were to be made only through letters of Credit and no other payment method.

Expert witness
Further questioning by the Attorney General on the lack of authorization and procedures made Mr Mould admit to a deficiency of knowledge in the approval processes between the Ministry of Finance and the Bank of Ghana.

The Attorney General probed; “should there not have been an authorization from the Finance Ministry which is in charge of public spending before the letters of credit were established? Mr Mould answered; “that is not normally the case.

You do not need the approval of the Ministry before starting a letter of credit.” AG, Godfred Dame then categorically asked that without an approval from the Ministry of Finance, how were the Letters of Credit going to be honoured to which Mr Mould replied “I am no expert in the approval processes between the Ministry of Finance and the Bank of Ghana which was authorized to raise payment, charged to the Ministry of Health in respect of the letter of credit in favor of Big Sea Trading LLC.

MoF authorization
Earlier in cross examination, Mr Mould had admitted to not seeing any documents authorizing Dr Ato Forson to be issuing instructions on the payment to Big Sea LLC.

This is contrary to his earlier stance that he could not reconcile why, Dr Ato Forson, a Deputy Minister could be brought to trial for signing documents which were in the regular course of his work attributable to his boss at the time, the Minister for Finance, Seth Tekper.

Yet again, the AG made him avert his mind to all the documents surrounding the issuance of the Letters of Credit to which the AG demanded if the expert witness had sighted any document authorizing Dr Ato Forson to pay for the ambulances. Mr Mould then admitted that he had not sighted any such document.

Question by AG: Did you site or come by any document by which first accused Cassiel Ato Forson (A1) was authorized by His Minster to write this letter?

Answer by Mr Mould: No, my lady.

Question by AG: You realize that after Forson signed Ex A on 7 August 2014, he proceeded to sign Ex B2 dated 12 August 2014, addressed to the controller, is that correct?

Answer by Mr Mould: Yes, my lady he did.

Question by AG: You see that first accused referred to his own letter dated 7th Aug 2014?

Answer by Mr Mould: Yes

Question by AG: Do you see any other document.

Answer by Mr Mould: Nothing in my possession

Question by AG: Did you come by any document showing authorization by the Minster

Answer by Mr Mould: No, my lady

Question by AG: Is it correct that authorization for the withdrawal from public funds even if its payment by letters of credit, must precede the process for the establishment of the letters of credit itself?

Answer by Mr Mould: Are you saying that there should be some approval before the issuance of letters of credit by the ministry of finance? Is that what you’re asking?

Question by AG: The payment for the goods in dispute was by letters of credit?

Answer by Mr Mould: The letter of credit is not a payment. It’s information given to one bank from another bank stating that they will make payment when certain documents are complied with. So, it’s not a payment instruction.

Question by AG: Could the Bank of Ghana (BoG) have gone ahead to receive this document upon this application for letters of credit without prior authorization from Minister of Finance?

Answer by Mr Mould: I cannot answer that.

Question by AG: Can payments be made for goods out of public funds without the Minister of Finance’s prior authorisation?

Answer by Mr Mould: No

Trail judge, Justice Afia Serwaa Asare Botwe, a Court of Appeals judge sitting as an additional High Court judge curtailed the cross examination so that Sylvester Anemana, the second accused who was in court despite being unwell could be attended to.

The judge who had enquired of the Attorney General earlier how long his cross examination would last took the firm decision to seal the witness so that Anemana could be attended to.

“Seriously, I have taken the position that we do not have to waste time of witnesses by bringing them to court over and over again.

“However today, I will have to make this decision. As you can see, Mr. Anemana is looking poorly hence I want him to be seen to. We will adjourn to next week for cross examination to continue” the court ruled.

The Court subsequently adjourned sitting to next Thursday 6 July 2023, for further cross-examination of Mr Alexander Mould, the second defence witness.

Minority leader Dr Cassiel Ato Forson, Sylvester Anemana, a former Chief Director at the Ministry of Health and Richard Jakpa, a business man, are standing trial for willfully causing financial loss to the state in the supply of some ambulances which were found to be unfit for purposes when they were delivered in 2014.

After making the case against the accused, defense lawyers were ordered by the court to open their defense because as the trial judge put it then “ there was a prima facie case made against the accused.

Alex Mould is the second defense witness. The first was Henry Myles-Mills, the head of dispute resolution and litigation at Stanbic Bank Ghana Ltd.

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