Politics

Ex-TOR Boss Admits Bribing Ghanaian MPs, Gov’t Officials In US Case

A former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. banker and former Managing Director of the Tema Oil Refinery in Ghana, Asante Berko, has virtually admitted bribing Ghanaian Parliamentarians and others, after U.S. regulators cited him for arranging millions of dollars as monetary inducement to enable a client; a Turkish company, win a power-plant contract.

Asante Berko, a former executive at Goldman's London subsidiary, has agreed to pay about $329,000 to resolve the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission's case without admitting or denying the regulator's allegations, according to court filings.

The names of the Ghanaian government officials, as well as MPs, have been kept under tight wraps. The MPs and their political parties; NDC and the NPP, have also remained tightlipped over the bribery claims expecting the matter to die a natural death.

The penalty represents what regulators say are the net profits Asante Berko, who was appointed MD of TOR by the Akufo-Addo government, gained as a result of the alleged bribery scheme, plus interest.

"Mr. Berko is pleased to put this matter behind him," said his lawyer, Carl Loewenson Jr., a partner at the law firm Morrison & Foerster LLP.

The SEC didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mr Berko was charged by the SEC in an April 2020 civil lawsuit with facilitating as much as $4.5 million in bribes to help a Turkish energy company win a contract to build the power plant in Ghana. He personally paid at least $66,000 to members of the Ghanaian parliament, according to the SEC's lawsuit, which accused him of violating the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

A person with knowledge of the case said the company involved was Turkish energy company Aksa Energy. The SEC said the Istanbul-based company funneled money to an intermediary, which then paid bribes to Ghanaian officials. The company didn't immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

Mr Berko, a U.S. citizen who left Goldman Sachs in 2016, tried to hide the scheme from Goldman's compliance officers, according to the SEC's lawsuit. The bank, which wasn't named in court filings, ended its involvement with the project after the Turkish company refused to explain the intermediary firm's role, the SEC said.

A Goldman Sachs spokeswoman said the bank fully cooperated with the SEC investigation, adding that the commission at the time noted the bank's compliance personnel took "appropriate steps."

The penalty agreed upon by the SEC and Mr Berko on Wednesday represents a significant step back from what the regulator said should be imposed at the time its civil lawsuit was filed.

In a complaint filed in 2020, the SEC had said that the former Goldman banker should pay a civil penalty, along with disgorgement of gains from the alleged scheme and interest. The settlement reached on Wednesday didn't include a civil penalty.

A statement entitled "SEC Obtains Final Judgment Against Former Executive of Financial Services Company".

The document published on the website of the SEC was mentioned as Litigation Release No. 25121. It was dated June 23, 2021.

It captured the bribery case as "Securities and Exchange Commission v. Asante K. Berko, No. 1:20-cv-01789-FB-MMH (E.D.N.Y. filed Apr. 13, 2020)"

It stated that "the Securities and Exchange Commission today obtained a final judgment against a former executive of a financial services company for his role in orchestrating a bribery scheme to help a client to win a government contract to build and operate an electrical power plant in the Republic of Ghana, in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act".

"As alleged in the complaint filed on April 13, 2020, Asante Berko, a former executive of a foreign-based subsidiary of a U.S. bank holding company, arranged for his firm's client, a Turkish energy company, to funnel at least $2.5 million to a Ghana-based intermediary to pay illicit bribes to Ghanaian government officials in order to gain their approval of an electrical power plant project".

"The complaint further alleges that Berko helped the intermediary pay more than $200,000 in bribes to various other government officials, and that Berko personally paid more than $60,000 to members of the Ghanaian parliament and other government officials".

"According to the complaint, Berko took deliberate measures to prevent his employer from detecting his bribery scheme, including misleading his employer's compliance personnel about the true role and purpose of the intermediary company", it said.

The SEC statement said that "Berko consented to the entry of a final judgment that permanently enjoins him from violating the anti-bribery provision of the FCPA, Section 30A of Securities Exchange Act of 1934, and orders him to disgorge $275,000 in ill-gotten gains plus $54,163.92 in prejudgment interest".

It discloced that "the SEC's case was handled by Asita Obeyesekere and Paul G. Block of the FCPA Unit and Kathleen Shields, Mark Albers, and Marty Healey of the Boston Regional Office".

Source: www.theheraldghana.com

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