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Ato Essien: Founder of Defunct Capital Bank Jailed 15 Years Over Bank’s Collapse

A High Court in Accra has sentenced the founder of defunct Capital Bank, William Ato Essien, to a 15-year jail term following his failure to pay in full the restitution amount of GH¢ 90 million.

Essien has been standing trial following the collapse of his bank in 2017 when the Bank of Ghana (BoG) undertook a financial sector cleanup.

Together with Fitzgerald Odonkor, Dr Tetteh Nettey and Kate Quartey-Papafio – all three later acquitted and discharged, they were accused of causing the insolvency of the bank, by stealing about GH¢200 million of a GH¢620 million liquidity support given to the bank by the BoG.

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As founder of the bank, Ato Essien was accused of flouting all banking and risk management rules in the management of monies saved by customers.

He was also accused of personally investing some of the liquidity support into businesses, in breach of standard corporate governance practices.

Restitution Deal

In December 2022, Essien, who later became the only accused person in the trial, reached an agreement with the Attorney-General’s department to pay an amount of GH¢ 90 million as restitution to the state, after also pleading guilty.

By the terms of the agreement, Ato Essien who had already paid GHc 30 million at the time the agreement was reached, was expected to pay the remaining amounts of GHc 60 million in three installments.

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This deal was made possible under section 35 of the Courts Act, 1993 (Act 459), which allows an accused person standing trial for causing financial loss to the state to pay compensation or restitution and possibly avoid a custodial sentence.

In April 2023, he missed the deadline to pay the first installment – an action which led the Attorney-General to urge the court to impose a prison sentence, as the terms of the agreement allowed.

The court however offered to give him more time to make the outstanding amounts after he had paid GHc 5 million and made strong commitments to honour the deal.

On July 4, 2023, he was again given a second lifeline of three weeks to honour the deal after having paid GHc 2 million on the first installment – bringing money he has paid so far to Ghc 37 million.

But at the sitting on Thursday, October 12, 2023, the court, presided over by Justice Kyei Baffour concluded that having missed deadlines for April 28 and August 31, Mr. Essien is not in a position to make any further payments.

“The court did not sit for two months and the convict, if he was in the position to pay any extra amounts, would have done so. The huge sums of money involved were taken from Capital Bank in a manner that led to its collapse.

“These monies taken from the bank cannot be seen as one of the many stealing cases. They were executed as an opportunistic theft,” said trial judge Eric Kyei Baffour.

The Capital Bank case is one that at the initial stages of prosecutions had many calling for more people to be prosecuted, as most of the said mismanagement was not done without the blessing of the Board of Directors.

In 2018, Vish Ashiagbor and Eric Nana Nipah of PricewaterhouseCoopers, receivers of the bank, sued popular preacher, Pastor Mensa Otabil, and 15 former Board of Directors.

The case has however remained pending, as the court is yet to determine whether those who brought the matter before it still have the capacity to initiate and or continue the case in 2023.

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