Ex-TOR Boss Charged In US Over $2.5m Bribe

Asante Berko

The Tema Oil Refinery (TOR) boss, Asante K. Berko, who resigned in 2020, following reports in the United States that he facilitated the payment of bribes to government officials and some MPs during an emergency power contract arrangement under the Mahama-led NDC administration, has been charged.

According to global news agency Reuters, the US securities regulator last Monday, charged Mr. Berko, a former banker at a subsidiary of a US bank for arranging at least $2.5 million in bribes to be paid to Ghana government officials to gain approval for a client’s power plant project.

Mr. Berko became TOR boss after the departure of Isaac Osei in January, 2020, but by April same year, he had resigned from office after news emerged that the US authorities were holding him responsible for facilitating the payments of bribes to NDC government officials and MPs between 2015 and 2016, in a deal between the Mahama administration and a Turkish energy company called AKSA Enerji.

According to Reuters, the Securities and Exchange Commission in the US said that Asante Berko arranged the bribes for a Turkish energy company to funnel the money to a Ghana-based intermediary, which then paid the local officials.

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported the news earlier in the day and said that Berko was a former banker at Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

Goldman Sachs, which was not named in the SEC lawsuit, terminated its involvement with the project after the energy company refused to explain the intermediary firm’s role, the US report had said.

“Goldman Sachs fully cooperated with the SEC’s investigation and as stated by the SEC in its press release, the firm’s compliance personnel took appropriate steps to prevent the firm from participating in the transaction,” the WSJ report added, citing Nicole Sharp, a spokeswoman for Goldman.

Berko helped the Ghana-based intermediary pay more than $200,000 in bribes to various other government officials, and personally paid more than $60,000 to members of the Ghanaian parliament and other government officials, the SEC statement said, adding that Berko took deliberate measures to prevent his employer from detecting the bribery scheme.

The regulator filed the complaint in the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York and is seeking monetary penalties, among other remedies, against Berko.

Goldman Sachs did not immediately respond to a Reuters’ request for comment.

Ultimate Decision

Back in Ghana, 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 during the Mahama-led NDC administration.

Total Denial

Documents that emerged from the US authorities indicated in 2020 that the ex-TOR boss allegedly facilitated the payment of not less than $2.5 million in bribes to the NDC officials and some MPs, but Mr. Berko denied the claims and said he would contest the issue in the US courts where a civil case had been filed against him by the authorities there at the time.

Mr. Berko, per the civil 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 was then charged for violating Section 30A of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, the anti-bribery provision of the FCPA, and the US SEC sought monetary penalties against him among other remedies.

Berko Statement

In the ensuing heat, Mr. Berko issued a statement on April 14, 2020, 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 had added.