Moves by state prosecutors to have a former boss of the Microfinance and Small Loans Centre (MASLOC), Sedina Tamakloe Attionu, tried in absentia have taken a new twist.
The Accra High Court is expected to give a ruling on February 28 on whether Attionu should be tried in absentia, but her legal team has requested the presiding judge to recuse herself and not be the one to deliver the ruling.
At Tuesday’s hearing, lawyer for Attionu, Agbesi Dzapkasu, said Justice Afia Serwah Asare-Botwe, a Justice of the Court of Appeal, with additional responsibility as a High Court judge, had given a similar ruling and, therefore, she should recuse herself.
“We pray that as far as this application is concerned, your Ladyship should not be the one to give a ruling on the application for trial in absentia,” counsel argued.
Go to Supreme Court
In response, Justice Asare-Botwe said she was going to rule on the application for trial in absentia based on its merit and not as a result of a different ruling she had delivered in another case.
According to the judge, if counsel was not comfortable with her giving the ruling, he should go to the Supreme Court and do the right thing.
“If you think the court is not properly composed, go to the Supreme Court and prohibit me. If anyone thinks I am not competent to hear the matter, go up and prohibit me,” Justice Asare-Botwe said.
She, subsequently, fixed February 28 for her ruling and directed the lawyers to file supplementary affidavits to have to further back their case.
Absent from court
Attionu, who is on trial for allegedly causing financial loss of GH¢90 million to the state during her tenure as the CEO of MASLOC between 2013 and January 2017, has failed to show up for the trial after being granted permission by the court to travel to the United States of America (USA) for medical treatment.
She was expected to return to Ghana for the continuation of her trial on October 6, last year.
In November last year, Justice Asare-Botwe expressed her displeasure about the situation and issued a bench warrant for the arrest of Attionu to force her to attend the trial.
Afterwards, the prosecution filed an application for trial in absentia.
On January 23, this year, Justice Asare-Botwe ordered the two sureties who secured a GH¢5 million Attionu, to pay the bail bond to the state for failing to produce the accused person to stand trial.
The sureties — Alex Mould, a former Chief Executive Officer of the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation and Gavivina Tamakloe, a brother of the accused person — were slapped with a forfeiture of recognisance.
That followed an application by the prosecution.
Messrs Mould and Tamakloe were first ordered to produce the accused on December 22, 2022.
The court subsequently extended the deadline due to processes filed by lawyers for the accused and the sureties.
Attionu is on trial with Daniel Axim, a former Operations Manager of MASLOC, on 78 counts of wilfully causing financial loss to the state, stealing and contravention of the public procurement act, among other charges.
The two have denied any wrongdoing and have pleaded not guilty to all the charges.
The prosecution has a litany of allegations against Attionu and Axim in the facts that accompanied the charge sheet filed at the court.
For instance, it accused Mrs Attionu of embezzling GH¢500,000 that was paid by a company, which benefited from MASLOC support in 2014.
It is the case of the A-G that MASLOC gave a loan of GH¢500,000 to the company, Obaatanpa Micro-finance Limited, but the company returned the money because of the high interest of 24 per cent that the loan attracted.
According to the prosecution, Obaatanpa Limited presented a cheque for GH¢500,000 to Attionu, but she refused and demanded cash payment, which it claimed was dissipated.