When the CEO of Aporgan K-A Enterprise, Asumbekere Karim Anagbila, got a notification that ¢31,000 had been withdrawn in cash from his bank account, he was alarmed. But what alarmed him more was the name that came with the alert, David Aruk.
David Aruk is the Engineer and head of the works department at the Bongo District Assembly. Karim said he had not permitted him to withdraw any money from his account.
But that was not the last time the Bongo District Assembly was involved in withdrawing cash from the account without his permission.
On June 14, 2021, a cash amount of ¢156,520 entered and disappeared from Karim’s account under murkier circumstances than the first withdrawal, this time without any traces.
Manasseh Azure Awuni’s investigations have revealed that both withdrawals were facilitated by officials of the Bongo District Assembly.
The withdrawals, which Karim insists were illegal, were in respect of a shady contract which the Bongo District Assembly allegedly awarded to the management of the assembly using Karim’s company without his permission.
The deal was fronted by Baba Nsobilla Sebastian, an official of the National Health Insurance office in the Bongo District.
Karim’s company, Aporgan K-A Enterprise, was awarded a contract in November 2020 to drill 10 boreholes in some communities in the Bongo District. The Bongo District Chief Executive (DCE), Peter Ayinbisa Ayamga, told The Fourth Estate that the contract was fronted by Madam Diana.
In other words, he awarded that contract to Diana. Diana and Karim have told The Fourth Estate that they work together, and there’s no disagreement in the execution of the contract.
The contract sum was ¢219,820, and work was supposed to be completed in six months. The payment was to be made based on the amount of work executed at every stage of the contract for which the contractor raised the certificate for payment.
The consultant for the project, according to the two-page contract, was the head of the works department of the Bongo District Assembly, David Aruk.
Bongo District Assembly awards contract to the management of the assembly
Karim said when he detected the withdrawal of money from his account by the head of the works department of the assembly, he followed up to enquire from the assembly, and he was given rather worrying details.
Officials of the Bongo District Assembly said someone had used Karim’s company for another contract with the assembly, so the GH₵31,000 withdrawn from his account was in respect of that contract. That contract was also for the drilling of 10 boreholes in the district at the cost of GHc219,820.
The DCE, Peter Ayinbisa Ayamba, told The Fourth Estate that he awarded that contract to Baba Nsobilla Sebastian at the same time he awarded the other contract to Madam Diana.
He said the assembly had followed the procurement process by advertising the contract in the national dailies and attracting interest from contractors across the country before selecting the winners on merit.
Asked whether he noticed that both contracts were awarded to two separate individuals who presented the same company, the DCE said at the time he was busy with the 2020 election in which he was the parliamentary candidate for governing New Patriotic Party (NPP). He, therefore, did not have the time to scrutinise the deal properly.
Karim was agitated by what had happened and caused his lawyers to write demand letters to the bank and the assembly. As a result, the parties involved were invited by the Upper East Regional Director of the National Intelligence Bureau (NIB), formerly the Bureau of National Investigations (BNI).
The DCE has confirmed attending this meeting at which the NIB concluded its questioning and said it was writing its report to Accra.
Highly placed sources in the intelligence agency told The Fourth Estate that officials of the assembly admitted during interrogation that, indeed, they awarded the contract to the management of the assembly using Karim’s company.
David Aruk, according to the NIB sources, was supposed to have sought Karim’s permission to use his company, but the assembly realised later that he had not.
Peter Ayinbisa Ayamga, however, insisted that he awarded the contract to Baba.
Baba opens up on his involvement
The Fourth Estate met with Baba Nsobilla Sebastian and asked whether he had the permission of Karim to use his company to bid for the assembly’s contract. Baba said he had not spoken with Karim or anyone close to him about using his company’s certificates to bid for a contract.
He said it was the assembly’s head of works department, David Aruk, who facilitated that.
“I heard of the advert, but as at the time, all my documents [company licences] were not ready… So, I asked engineer [David Aruk] if there was any help. He said he would talk to Asaa [Karim’s friend] to use Karim’s contract [his company’s licence],” Baba told said.
But David Aruk did not speak with Karim, the owner of the business. He told The Fourth Estate that he spoke to Karim’s friend, Abu Aleme Asaa, about the use of Karim’s company for the contract.
Asaa has denied this assertion. He said David Aruk contacted him only after the first withdrawal was made on Karim’s account, and he (Karim) complained.
“The assembly staff contacted me and said they used somebody’s company and awarded a contract to themselves. But a problem had come in, and they heard that the person was my friend so I should plead with the person on their behalf, which I did,” Asaa told The Fourth Estate.
“The guy also said that he was afraid of what might happen tomorrow. That’s what I know,” Asaa said, adding that it was David Aruk who called him.
That contract was signed the same day the other contract was awarded to Aporgan K-A Enterprise. So effectively, both contracts were awarded to Aporgan K-A Enterprise, but one without the knowledge or permission of the owner of the company.
The ¢31,000 paid into and withdrawn from Karim’s bank account by the assembly was the “mobilisation payment” for the contract awarded to Baba using Karim’s company.
Compromised way forward
Karim said when he discovered the “illegal” withdrawal and followed up, the Coordinating Director and other officials of the assembly explained that his company had been used to award a contract, and the work was being executed.
He said the assembly officials explained that subsequent payments would go through that account, and they needed his cooperation to withdraw the money.
He said he was then given a copy of the contract purportedly awarded to his company and the agreement was that no further withdrawal should be made from his account without his permission.
He told The Fourth Estate that he feared the assembly could use his company to make payments without executing the contract.
The compromise at the meeting was that when the assembly makes the next payment through his account, he would go with bank officials to withdraw the money for them.
But that would not be done until he had satisfied himself that the work was completed so that if auditors came in the future, they would not accuse him of receiving payments from the assembly without the execution of the contract.
As a sign of good faith, he said the assembly officials asked him to deposit a blank cheque with the assembly, which he did with only a signature on the cheque.
The agreement was that when the work was done, and he inspected it, he would go with the assembly officials to withdraw the money.
He said this meeting was held at the district assembly on June 12, 2021. The assembly’s officials present included the District Coordinating Director, the District Finance Officer, the Head of Works Department, and others.
But this agreement would be breached by the assembly.
The June 14 withdrawal of ¢156,000
Karim said on June 14, 2021; he got wind that the assembly was going to pay the money into his account and withdraw it without him.
He called the Coordinating Director and reminded him that though the assembly had the cheque, they could not withdraw more than ¢5000 cash from a third-party account. Then, in a phone call he recorded, he asked that the assembly should not go ahead and withdraw the money without him as agreed.
He again called the manager of the Maltaaba Community Bank, where his business account is, and instructed that no money should be paid from the account without his permission. When he made the call, he had gone to the bank, and the accountant at the bank had told him the money hadn’t been withdrawn. The bank manager had stepped out.
According to him, the assembly had not yet shown him evidence of work done for which the payment was being made. He, therefore, considered it a breach of the compromised agreement if they proceeded to withdraw the monies without him verifying whether the work was done.
Despite these interventions, an amount of ¢156,520 was taken from his account in cash. The money was paid into the account that same day it was withdrawn. Unlike the first withdrawal, he did not get any SMS alert from his bank.
When he later enquired from the bank why his alerts stopped coming, he was told the system had mistakenly deleted his number. However, it was restored when he complained.
Karim believed the bank intentionally blacklisted him from receiving the SMS alert to carry out the transaction against his order.
The Chairman of the Board of Directors of the bank, Dr Francis Atintono, told The Fourth Estate that the anomaly was not orchestrated by the Maltaaba Community Bank.
Who withdrew the GH₵156,000? Any “complicity” by the bank?
According to The Fourth Estate’s sources, the Bongo District Assembly and the DCE wield much influence on the Maltaaba Community Bank.
The bank building used to be the district post office, which the assembly donated for conversion to a bank.
The DCE, Peter Ayinbisa Ayamga, is also a director and shareholder of the bank. He, however, denies having any influence on the operations of the bank.
When Karim called the Maltaaba Community Bank manager to complain and inquire about the withdrawal of the money against his order, heated exchanges ensued between them. But, unfortunately, the call ended without the answers he was looking for.
Because he did not receive an SMS notification, he did not know who withdrew the cash from his account. Furthermore, the bank statement he requested from the bank did not show the person who withdrew the money from his account.
The narration that went with the withdrawal of the ¢156,520 was “miscellaneous debits.”
The Fourth Estate’s investigation to establish who withdrew the money started at Maltaaba Community Bank in Bongo. The bank manager, Felix Akwara, said he had been instructed not to speak on the matter by the board of directors.
This reporter then called and met the board chairman of the bank in Bolgatanga. Dr Francis Atintono came with two other board members to that meeting.
The board chairman said the information he had was that then GH₵156,000 was withdrawn by Karim’s friend, Asaa and given to the assembly.
When The Fourth Estate contacted Asaa, he denied ever facilitating or receiving payment from Karim’s account and challenged the board and the bank to produce evidence.
“I will be surprised to hear my name in this issue that I picked money from the bank. I don’t know anything about picking money from the Bongo Bank,” he told The Fourth Estate. “I’m not the owner of the account. Second, the owner of the account did not give me permission to withdraw money. How can I withdraw the money?”
Asked whether it was normal to withdraw such an amount from a third party’s account, Dr Atintono said that was not the practice, but they often relaxed some of their rules because of the trust they had for their customers. He said attempts had been made to reach Karim on the phone before the payment was made, but he did not answer his call.
Asked about Karim’s attempts to stop the payment, the board chairman said those interventions came late in the day, but the money was paid out in the morning.
That controversy was, however, resolved when The Fourth Estate met with Baba Nsobilla Sebastian.
Baba confirmed that on June 14, he was at the bank when the ¢156,520 was withdrawn. He said the District Finance Officer of the Assembly, Madam Fawzia Adamu, handed him the cheque, which had Karims signature. He countersigned it and went to the bank with her to withdraw the money.
He said when they got to the bank, Madam Fauzia went in to speak to the bank manager before the cash was handed to him.
Contrary to the claim by the bank’s board chairman that the money was paid in the morning before Karim’s intervention, Baba said he and the district finance officer got to the bank close to 3 pm that day.
Karim said he was at the bank at 2 p.m. to instruct them that no money should be paid out of his account without his permission.
Lawyers’ exchanges and the NIB interrogation
On June 14, 2021, Karim’s lawyers wrote to the DCE of Bongo and demanded an explanation for “the circumstances surrounding this mysterious contract as well as the unauthorised dealing with our client’s business account….” The demand notice was also copied to the manager of Maltaaba Bank to “explain how a third party could have access to the business account of our client without his knowledge and authorisation.
The bank did not reply. A separate letter written by Karim’s lawyers to the bank’s governing board chairman also did not receive a response.
However, the Bongo District Assembly, through its lawyers, responded to Karim’s demand letter.
That response stated, “Respectfully, it is our information that your instructions in respect of the award of constructs by our client [the Bongo District Assembly] are accurate but not entirely factual. Contracts were awarded to people who used your client’s [Karim’s] business certificates for the execution, and payments were effected in that regard.”
After these exchanges, the National Intelligence Bureau (NIB) in Bolgatanga invited the parties for questioning. It was during the questioning that the assembly officials admitted they awarded the contract to themselves.
The Fourth Estate sources at the NIB said they had prepared a report on the matter and submitted it to Accra.
Works engineer pleads guilty, DCE swears innocence
In all, GHc187,000 was withdrawn from the bank account of Karim without his authorisation.
From The Fourth Estate’s investigation, the District Finance Officer of the Bongo District Assembly, Madam Fauzia, handed the blank cheque Karim had deposited with the management of the assembly to Baba Nsobilla Sebastian and went with him to the bank to cash it. However, the ¢156,000 cashed from the third-party account broke the acceptable threshold of cash withdrawal from third-party accounts.
The DCE said he had learned that a third-party cheque could not have a counter withdrawal of more than ¢5000 but said that could change depending on the customer’s relationship with the bank.
The ¢31,000 was withdrawn by David Aruk. He told this reporter that he did not read the withdrawal form before signing, so he did not know he was wrong.
“It’s this development that I now know that what I did was not good. But when I got to the bank, my belief and the trust was that I was doing something right for BA [Baba],” David Aruk said.
Peter Ayinbisa Ayamga, the DCE, has insisted he did nothing wrong in the transaction. He admitted awarding the contract to two different persons who presented the same business for the advertised job, but he said that was normal.
He said the boreholes were drilled and were in use, and that was the most important thing. The Fourth Estate visited three sites where handpumps had been fixed, and the boreholes were being used.
The DCE swore that he did not benefit financially from the contracts. He believed the agitation over the deal was an attempt by his detractors to undermine his chances of being retained as the DCE of Bongo by President Akufo-Addo.
“I can tell and swear by your camera and the video you’re using that this whole contract, even ¢1, has not come to my pocket. I swear same by my vehicle,” he said.
“If someone got the money and bought pito or beer for me, [it’s] different. But to take part in that project process and they say, ‘chief executive, take this one’, I swear by my car lorry steer, as I leave here, I shouldn’t get home.”
Meanwhile, the DCE said he had ordered the assembly to withhold the payment of money to the main contract awarded to Karim’s company. He said the payment would not be made until the scandal surrounding the illegal withdrawals from Karim’s account had been resolved.
Some personalities, including directors of the Maltaaba Community Bank, have prevailed on Karim not to escalate the matter because it could have implications for the bank and other personalities involved.
The bank manager who supervised the transactions is still at post.