The Menzgold heartache in Ghana

Two years after people staked their hard-earned money in what they thought was a good bet, they have realised that it was a Ponzi scheme. Komla Adom reports from Accra.

In September 2018, thousands of persons got their funds locked up in what many have described as one of the biggest financial scams in Ghana’s recent history. Students, doctors, teachers, mine workers and many were affected. Official records show at least 200 million Cedis have been locked up in the gold dealership firm, now widely tagged as a Ponzi scheme. The impact remains far-reaching and difficult to quantify.

Worst affected victims

There was a meeting with thirty-seven year-old Ayambilla; bedridden for more than a decade after surviving an accident. Escaping a ghastly road accident which killed nearly everyone on board a commercial bus en route his father’s funeral, has left him almost permanently paralyzed!

“It was the worst day of my life, I literally saw my life snuffing out of my body,” Ayambilla said as he struggled to string his words together.

He said: “As I sit, it is like they are using pins to pierce me inside. I feel immense pain because of the fracture in my back. The bone is completely broken and as I sit, I cannot control urine.”

Convinced by a friend, he invested an amount of money raised to cater for his medical treatment in the gold dealership firm, Menzgold!

“I had my doubts, but I thought I could invest the money in Menzgold, get returns and fly out of the country to seek treatment to make my condition better.”

Shutdown of the company, meant his funds and that of several other thousands of people were locked up. It has been a daily struggle for Ayambilla since September 2018; he still cannot do anything by himself and cannot control urine.

“Since the company was shut down on September 12, 2018, it has not been easy for me at all. I have had sleepless nights, in addition to the pain of being consigned to one spot. It’s been pain after pain each passing day,” Ayambilla told CherryAfrica. His hope is wearing thin, fearing, at 37 years and with his predicament, his days on earth are numbered

But, Ayambilla is not alone. Travels to Kasoa in the Central region of Ghana also exposed more on the effect of the scam. It is where sixty-three year-old pensioner, Francesca Dzoboka, now lives, in an uncompleted structure offered her by someone who introduced her to the Menzgold Company. She is down with stroke and facing death threats constantly from her husband who is blaming her for the woes of the family, after their combined investment of sixty thousand cedis was locked up.

“My husband says he would kill me if I do not go and find his money for him. He is not talking to me. He said our diets have become poor and we now feed off the benevolence of others,” a distraught Francisca said while tears streamed down her cheeks. The pensioner says she is unable to afford a decent meal after two years of frustration following the collapse of gold dealership firm, Menzgold. She convinced her husband to contribute 20,000 cedis to add up to her 40,000 she raised to invest in the firm. But exactly six days after the transaction, Menzgold shut down.

Francisca cannot hold back her tears. “I was entertaining some fears, when my friend introduced me to the firm, but I wanted to make life better for us all and also help see my son through university.”

With her 85 year-old bedridden sick mother, and her last child almost dropping out of medical school, Francesca says her world is crushing; a teaching career of more than 40 years almost means nothing now.

“If they pay me back my money, I can take my mother to the best hospital to seek medical care and I can also treat myself,” stated as she sunk her face into her cloth, trying to hide the tears.

Regulatory interventions before Menzgold shutdown

The Bank of Ghana on Tuesday December 5, 2017 in a notice issued and signed by the secretary of the Central Bank Caroline Otoo, stated that despite the several cautions to Menzgold Ghana “to desist from solicitation, receipt of money and the payment of dividends to its clients, the company persists in its deposit-taking activity.” According to the BoG, this was in breach of section 6(1) of the Banks and Specialized Deposit-Taking Institutions Act, 2016 (Act 930). The notice said that Menzgold is not licensed to receive money and pay dividends to clients. A year later, on September 7, 2018, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) ordered Menzgold to shut down operations. It further requested the company which had been on the warpath with the Bank of Ghana, not to accept new investments.

After the shutdown

Days and weeks after Menzgold was directed to close shop, agitated customers thronged the various offices of the company to attempt to retrieve their monies. They visited their anger and frustration on some journalists at the scene. Since then, there have been countless protests by agitating customers demanding their locked up funds. One hundred customers were in January 2019 arrested for storming the Trassaco residence of chief executive officer of the defunct company, Nana Appiah Mensah to collect their monies after he returned to Ghana from Dubai following his arrest over a botched gold deal.

Any moves to pay back depositors?

Officials of the gold dealership told the media, Nana Appiah Mensah won an appeal case with Dubai based Royal Horizon Diamond and was expected to be paid over 35 million dollars owed him. On August 19, 2019, CEO of the company, addressed the press following his return from detention in Dubai. He admitted it’s been a tough road and assured the company would work to honor its financial obligation to its customers.

“To our Menzgold customers, we note that you have experienced an increased level of anxiety and concern but have been extremely patient with us through these trying times,” the CEO of the defunct company told pressmen.

Nana Appiah Mensah said: “We recognize your sacrifice. Please remember that your patience with us has been earned by the way we worked with you diligently over the past years. I can assure you that it would pay off favorably soon.”

He concluded a tense press briefing by urging customers to remain calm, “as we work to meet our obligations and to the government of Ghana, we applaud you for not sparing the rod and spoiling the child.”

Any hope for the customers?

But after more than a year the customers say it has been one excuse after another and the over ten thousand affected members continue to wallow in penury. According to executives of the coalition of aggrieved Menzgold customers, more than sixty of their members have died in the last two years since the debacle! A commemorative event to mark two years since the collapse of the company on September 12, and a wreath-laying exercise in memory of the deceased in Accra, was also scuttled by the police. It’s been a long tortuous road for these customers – several appeals to the Securities and Exchange Commission and government to intervene have proven futile.

For now, Francesca, Ayambilla and many other affected customers would hope some help would come – after a migration and validation exercise sanctioned by the company.

Court and legal processes

The Economic and Organized Crime Office (EOCO) in January 2019, secured a court order confirming the freezing of landed properties and Vehicles of embattled CEO of Menzgold, Nana Appiah Mensah. The properties affected include Menzgold Ghana Limited, Menzgold office complex, Zylofon Arts complex, Brew Marketing Consult, Star Madrid Football Club, Zylofon Music and Media Company Limited.

Others include Brew Energy Company Limited, G-Tech Automobile Service, Two (2) properties located at Trassaco Valley (plot No. 315 and plot No. 337 , Plot of land No. 54 near Oak Street Trassaco Valley), uncompleted residence, 510 acres of land. EOCO in a statement directed all employees of the affected companies, relatives and friends who are in possession of any such properties to surrender same by the authority of the High Court to EOCO. Checks with EOCO indicate all the frozen assets have been handed over to the police Criminal Investigation Department (CID). Officials from the legal team of EOCO said: “EOCO has since 2018 prepared the docket on the matter under the supervision of the head of public prosecutions and the Attorney General’s office and handed over to the police CID.”

“All movable and immovable assets of the defunct company and documentation have also been handed over to the CID.”

Police sources within the CID, say investigations have been concluded and the case currently before court. But the customers say the longer the case hangs, the worse they become. Two years on, has there been any lessons learnt from the Menzgold heartache? Chief Executive officer of Dalex Finance, Ken Thompson believes not.

“It was such an obvious scam and I don’t know how we allowed it to happen. And I am not sure it would not happen again,” he stated.

He added: “It was almost as if the messiah had come and was changing peoples’ lives. Whenever these things happen, it derails the trust people have in the financial system.”

And on whether or not these aggrieved customers would ever get their monies back, Mr. Thompson says there is no hope.

“As for the people who have lost their monies, it is unfortunate, they may not get it back. If they get something back, then it probably would be from the generosity of the state,” he further stated.

With the Menzgold heartache, arguably the most publicized financial scam in recent memory, experts say the relevant agencies must act to ensure the players in this circus are prosecuted.

“It is such a shame that two years on, people are still walking. Nobody has been prosecuted, Nana Appiah Mensah is probably living in luxury in his mansions and other properties that are left.”

Thomson’s view: “It would have been nice, if some people felt that justice had been done, it would have given them some sense of closure even though it would not bring back those who have died.” Francesca, Ayambilla and many others like them who are battling depression, stroke, permanent deformities and other health conditions would hope sometime soon, they would hear good news! But how long can they wait?



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