Ex-TOR Boss Bribe Scandal Unmasked

Asante K. Berko

Details are emerging on how the United States authorities tracked down the Tema Oil Refinery (TOR) boss, Asante K. Berko, who recently resigned, following a bribery scandal that happened under the Mahama administration.

The job was reportedly done by the most feared investigators in the whole of America called the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, which is one of the premier litigation offices representing the United States in three of the five boroughs of New York City – Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island – and both suburban counties on Long Island – Nassau and Suffolk.

This special office investigates, prosecutes and deters violations of federal statutes, enforces and represents the interests of the United States in civil litigation, upholds civil, constitutional and victims’ rights, and fosters partnerships with other federal, state and local government agencies and community groups.

Mueller Probe

It is the same office that Special Counsel Robert Mueller used in the investigation into allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election and related matters.

The office ended up taking down many of President Donald Trump’s associates, most of whom are currently languishing in jail.

Ultimate Decision

Mr. Berko, who became TOR boss after the departure of Isaac Osei in January, resigned from office after news emerged that the US authorities are holding him responsible for facilitating the payments of bribes to government officials and MPs between 2015 and 2016 in a deal between the Mahama administration and a Turkish energy company called AKSA Enerji.

The deal which went to Parliament was one of the emergency energy contracts (Power Purchase Agreement) when the power crisis (dumsor) was at its peak.

Total Denial

Per the documents emerging from the US, the TOR boss is alleged to have facilitated the payment of not less than $2.5 million in bribes to the NDC officials and some MPs, but Mr. Berko has since denied the claims and said he would contest the issue in the US courts where a civil case has been filed against him by the authorities there.

Mr. Berko, per the court documents, facilitated the bribes to the Ghanaian officials when he worked for Goldman Sachs, a financial institution in the US.

Mr. Berko, who holds both Ghanaian and US citizenship, resigned from Goldman Sachs in 2016, according to the court documents.

On April 13, 2020, the US Securities & Exchange Commission filed documents indicating that Mr. Berko as a former executive of a financial services company orchestrated a bribery scheme to help a client (AKSA Enerji) to win a government contract to build and operate an electrical power plant in Ghana, in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Cash Payments

According to the documents, Mr. Berko helped the intermediary pay more than $200,000 in bribes to various other government officials.

The documents further said Mr. Berko personally paid more than $60,000 to Members of Parliament (MPs) and other government officials in Ghana.

They insisted that Mr. 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.

Mr. Berko is now facing a charge of violating Section 30A of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, the anti-bribery provision of the FCPA.

The US SEC is seeking monetary penalties against him among other remedies.

The US SEC’s case is being 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.

Berko Statement

Mr. Berko issued a statement on April 14 admitting he was part of the Goldman Sachs team that handled the transaction between the Turkish company and the Mahama administration but denied ever facilitating the payments of bribes to the NDC officials and the MPs.

“The SEC’s proceedings have come as a complete surprise to me as the SEC in May 2017 interviewed me extensively. This was my only interaction with the SEC. I gave the SEC full and frank disclosure of my involvement in this transaction, as well as all payments I have received and the dates on which the payments were received,” he said in his statement.

“I had since not received any communication from the SEC until this week when my lawyer in the US was served with the civil proceedings and at which same time the news of the proceedings against me broke. I intend to contest the proceedings to clear my good name and for this purpose, I have asked my lawyers to file my response to the allegations,” Mr. Berko added.

By Ernest Kofi Adu