Ghana’s purchases of aircrafts from Airbus, during the erstwhile Mills and Mahama administrations, are now at the centre of what is said to be the biggest bribery case in a UK court.
The “chop-chop” deal was led by John Dramani Mahama, who was the Vice-President under the late President Mills, and later became the President.
Airbus has admitted in a London high court to paying huge bribes to enable it secure the contract for the supply of the aircrafts.
It has agreed to pay a record £3billion in penalties after admitting it had paid huge bribes on an “endemic” basis to land contracts in 20 countries.
Dame Victoria Sharp, president of the Queen’s Bench Division of the court, approved the settlement struck with the UK’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO).
The SFO started its investigation in 2016 after evidence emerged of “irregularities” involving Airbus’s secret agents.
Grave, pervasive corruption
In her ruling, the president of the court said: “The seriousness of the criminality in this case hardly needs to be spelled out. As is acknowledged on all sides, it was grave.” She added that the scale of the wrongdoing demonstrated that bribery was “endemic in two core business areas within Airbus”.
Anti-corruption investigators are quoted to have described the court’s decision as the largest ever corporate fine for bribery in the world after judges declared the corruption was “grave, pervasive and pernicious.”
The 32-page ruling states in paragraph five: “the SFO’s investigation demonstrated that in order to increase sales, persons who performed services for and on behalf of Airbus offered, promised or gave financial advantages to others intending to obtain or retain business, or an advantage in the conduct of business, for Airbus SE.
“It is alleged that those financial advantages were intended to induce those others to improperly perform a relevant function or activity or were intended to reward such improper performance and that Airbus did not prevent, or have in place at the material times adequate procedures designed to prevent those persons associated with Airbus from carrying out such conduct.”
Ghana, in 2011 and 2015, acquired three Airbus C-295 planes as part of efforts to augment and modernise the fleet of the Ghana Armed Forces.
The first order of the military aircraft arrived on November 17 2011; followed by a second on March 19 2012. The last order arrived on December 4 2015.
Then President Mahama, in November 2014, announced that Ghana was to acquire an additional C-295, in addition to other aircrafts, including five Super Tucanos, Mi-17s and four Z-9s.
A total of about $150 million was spent in acquiring all the three aircrafts, one of which overshot the runway recently.
Ghana’s bribery case
According to the ruling, in paragraphs 52 to 56, the fifth count alleges that, contrary to section 7 of the UK’s Bribery Act 2010, between July 1 2011 and June 1 2015, Airbus SE failed to prevent persons associated with the company from bribing others concerned with the purchase of military transport aircraft by the Government of Ghana. It adds that the said bribery was intended to obtain or retain business or advantage in the conduct of business for Airbus SE.
It further says that, between 2009 and 2015, Airbus engaged a close relative of a high ranking elected Ghanaian government official as its business partner in respect of the proposed sale of three military transport aircrafts. There are suspicions that the said elected Ghanaian official is former President Mahama, while his close relative is Samuel Mahama, who is domiciled in the UK.
According to the ruling, a number of Airbus employees knew that the business partner was a close relative of the elected Ghanaian government official (named as Government Official 1 in the case), who was a key decision maker in respect of the proposed sales.
It adds that a number of Airbus employees made or promised success-based commission payments of approximately €5 million to the business partner (named as Intermediary 5 in the case).
False documentation was said to have been created by or with the agreement of Airbus employees in order to support and disguise these payments. The payments were said to be intended to induce or reward “improper favour” by Government Official 1 towards Airbus.
Airbus, through one of its Spanish subsidiaries, conducted two campaigns to sell its C-295 military transport aircraft to the Government of Ghana: the first campaign ran from 2009 to 2011, the second from 2013 to 2015.
It said the close relative of the high ranking elected Ghanaian official, who had no prior expertise in the aerospace industry, acted as the business partner for Airbus in both transactions.
In August 2011, the purchase agreement for the sale of the two C-295 aircrafts was signed by the Spanish subsidiary and the Government of Ghana. According to the court, it contained a declaration of compliance with the 1997 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions, as well as a declaration that no more than €3,001,718.15 would be paid to business partners in connection with the contract.
A number of Airbus employees (two of them senior, and one involved in compliance) were said to have agreed to deliberately circumvent the proper compliance process, by falsely representing that the work in the first campaign had been done by another intermediary, which could, in turn, make the money available to intermediary 5 and others.
“Similar false representations to those detailed above were made in February 2014 and then in May 2015, in respect of work allegedly done by Intermediary 8 in respect of a further proposed purchase by the Government of Ghana of a C295.
“In this case, however, the Liquidation Committee requested further due diligence before any payments were made; an external due diligence report was completed in respect of Intermediary 8, and Intermediary 8 declined to participate in interviews by external counsel Airbus had engaged to conduct extended due diligence interviews. Intermediary 8 therefore failed due diligence; Airbus did not enter into a second written contract or make any further commission payments (disputing Intermediary 5’s later claim that he was owed €1,675,000),” it added.
Ghana’s Special Prosecutor, Martin Amidu, who was relieved of his position as the Attorney General by the late President Mills, alleged in 2014 that the late President set up a committee of enquiry to investigate the acquisition of aircrafts for the Armed Forces, negotiated by former President Mahama.
Mr Mahama has still not responded to this allegation of suspicious transactions.
On February 19 2009, in his State of the Nation Address to Parliament, then President Mills said his government was reviewing the decision to purchase two executive presidential jets. “Ghana simply cannot afford the expenditure at this time and we certainly do not need two presidential jets,” late President Mills said.
Unknown to many Ghanaians, then Vice-President Mahama was receiving delegations and negotiating the acquisition of five jets, including the most expensive hangar, when his President appeared not to be aware of the transactions.
The late President Mills, apparently shocked and suspicious of his Vice-President’s negotiations, was said to have set up a committee, comprising William Aboah, George Amoah and Brig Gen. Allotey (Rtd.) to investigate the processes of the acquisition of the aircrafts.
It is alleged that the committee was dead on arrival because the late President Mills was confronted, and warned of the implications of investigating then Vice-President Mahama as well as other government officials and top military officers.
According to Martin Amidu, “pressure groups never allowed the committee to take off. But the very fact that the late President Mills contemplated this committee meant that he was uncomfortable with and suspicious of the alleged inflated prices of the aircrafts.”