EU Ambassador discredits Foreign Minister’s claim on closure of Ghana’s bank account in Belgium

Ambassador Diana Acconcia, Head of European Union Delegation to Ghana with Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, Shirley Ayorkor Botchway Ambassador Diana Acconcia, Head of European Union Delegation to Ghana with Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, Shirley Ayorkor Botchway

Head of the European Union delegation to Ghana, Ambassador Diana Acconcia, has discredited claims by the Ghana's Foreign Minister that Ghana's Embassy in Belgium, has been ordered to close its accounts with ING Bank on grounds of EU blacklisting the country.

According to Ambassador Acconcia, it was purely a business decision taken by the bank, thus refuting Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey's claim that the decision was borne out of an extensive investigation.

Madam Ayorkor Botchwey, had earlier told investigative journalist, Manasseh Azure Awuni in a detailed story published by multimedia's news portal myjoyonline on Monday, October 5, 2020 that her investigations into the order from INK Bank to Ghana's Embassy to drawdown all its money and closedown the account, pointed strongly to one possible reason.

The Foreign Minister, said Ghana had been blacklisted by the EU for non-compliance with money laundering and terrorism financing regulations and that placed further burden on banks that deal such countries.

However, speaking on Asaase Radio on Monday, October 12, 2020, she explained that "the fact that the account of the Embassy of Ghana's in Belgium and the European Union, has been closed by a Belgium Bank, that was a business decision taken by the bank. The bank was not at all obliged by the EU to close the account of the Embassy".

She added that: "It was a business decision to apply more checks to the Embassy. The listing does not affect trade, development aid and there will be no problem in paying the budgetary support and the main projects we have in Ghana…. Ghana is doing a lot already because there is the Financial Intelligence Center at the Central Bank among others to check some of these things."

The new twist to the closure of the mission's bank account suggests something criminal is being done with the Ghana's bank account thus forcing the authorities not wanting any further dealing with the embassy.

In the Manasseh Azure Awuni story, said the ING Bank did not give any reason for the decision to close the embassy's accounts, but says the decision is irreversible. The embassy has up to November 12, 2020, to withdraw all its money to another bank.

Ghana's Mission in Brussels has four accounts with the bank. They are:

1. Main Euro Account, a current account,

2. Main Euro Account, a business account,

3. Special collections account,

4. Retention Fund account, which is used for the internally generated funds of the embassy.

The ING Bank said its action is premised on Article 59 of the bank's General Regulations. The said article states:

"Without prejudice to the provisions stipulated by specific agreements or regulations, in particular the Special Regulations for Payment Transactions, for Transactions and services covered by these Regulations, both the Client and ING may – without being required to justify their decision – terminate all or part of the business relationship they have entered into, subject, where appropriate and at the request of the other party, to compensation for any loss suffered as a result thereof, which the other party shall substantiate. The party which wishes to terminate its business relations shall notify the other party of its decision in writing…"

"At the embassy, we received a letter out of the blue from our bankers in August, that they had decided to trigger an article. When you open an account with the bank you sign that agreement. That article states that both parties can abrogate the agreement without any justification or explanation. They asked us to remove our money and put it in another bank. That's how they put it," Ghana's Ambassador to Belgium, Sena Siaw Boateng, told the reporter in an interview.

The ambassador said she and the embassy's accounting officer met with their relationship banker of their branch to try to get the bank to reverse the closure decision, but that did not yield any results.

"We were told that it was a decision from the bank's headquarters. We got a call five days after, and we were told that the decision was final and irreversible. So, this is where we are. No further explanation from the bank," she added.

The embassy's relationship banker said the bank only triggered Article 59 in "extreme cases" and when that happened, the decision was often irrevocable.

Ambassador Sena Siaw Boateng said the only option now was that the embassy would find a new bank and withdraw all its money before the November 12 deadline.

Foreign Minister Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey told this reporter that the incident had come to the Ministry's attention and steps were being taken, together with the Controller and Accountant Department, to open an account with a different bank for the embassy before the deadline.

Sources close to the Foreign Ministry had told this reporter that the closure of the account was as a result of financial malfeasance in the embassy, but both the minister and ambassador have refuted this allegation.

Ambassador Sena Siaw Boateng said Belgium was a cashless country so every transaction or expenditure left traces, which made it extremely difficult for financial malfeasance.

She added that the bank accounts in question were used strictly for official transactions of the embassy and were mainly used to receive monies that came from the government of Ghana to the embassy.

She said the bank had not closed individual accounts of the ambassador and other staff of the embassy.

Madam Ayorkor Botchwey, said their investigations so far pointed strongly to one possible reason for the closure of the accounts.

She said Ghana had been blacklisted by the EU for non-compliance with money laundering and terrorism financing regulations and that placed further burdens on banks that dealt with transactions from such countries.

The banks are required to do enhanced due diligence on transactions from blacklisted countries such as Ghana and report on such transactions, which places additional cost on the banks, the minister explained.

"Our checks tell us that this is why the account has been closed," Shirly Ayorkor Botchwey said.

Ambassador Sena Siaw Boateng said her checks with other embassies whose countries are on the EU's blacklist revealed that their transactions were being subjected to enhanced scrutiny by their bankers.

"I think the bank is just being proactive to ask us to stop. We have our funds coming from Ghana, not from any suspicious sources. We do not receive funds from Ghana into our personal accounts. Even when it's a personal account, you can be interrogated but they [the bank] cannot interrogate Ghana," she said.

The Foreign Minister, said the government was taking steps to resolve the issues that had put Ghana on the European Union's money laundering blacklist and was hopeful that the issues would be resolved soon.

Source: The Herald