When the Head of Legal Affairs at Ghana’s Food and Drugs Authority (FDA), Mrs. Cynthia Dapaah-Ntow, was denied admission to the Thomas R. Kline School of Law at the Drexel University in Philadelphia, she was worried and wrote to enquire the reason.
Mrs. Dapaah-Ntow had applied to study the LLM in Healthcare & Pharm Compliance for the Spring Semester of 20-21, but the admission team sent her the following response in an email:
“Thank you for applying to Drexel University. After careful consideration of your application, the Admissions Committee has determined that we are unable to offer you admission.”
Unsatisfied with the response and curious to know the reason for the denial of admission, the FDA lawyer wrote to the university to find out.
“I am passionate about the programme and would want to reapply,” she said in her letter. “I hope you will be kind enough to point to me what worked against me in my last application so I do not repeat the same in my next attempt.”
In a response sent by the Assistant Dean of Enrolment Management, Audrey Woods, on December 17, 2020, the university explained that the denial of admission had nothing to do with her academic credentials.
“We found you to be a very qualified candidate, however, it came to the attention of the admissions committee that you were under investigation for allegations of bribery which is not in line with our values and code of conduct,” the university said in an email to the FDA lawyer.
Details of the correspondence are part of court processes Mrs. Dapaah-Ntow filed to support a case in which she’s seeking an injunction from the court to stop the broadcast of the television version of “The Returned Bribe” an investigative documentary by the Editor-in-Chief of The Fourth Estate, Manasseh Azure Awuni.
“The Returned Bribe” scandal
In November 2020, Manasseh Azure Awuni released an investigative report titled “The Returned Bribe” in which the CEO of the COA FS food supplement, Prof. Samuel Ato Duncan, alleged the FDA attempted to extort money from him when his product gained popularity in the wake of the COVID-19.
In the investigative report, Mrs. Cynthia Dapaah-Ntow was cited in a $200,000 bribery saga. She allegedly demanded a bribe of $100,000 for the CEO of the FDA and another $100,000 for herself.
This happened at the same period FDA, in April 2020, suspended the production license of COA FS, citing breaches in safety protocols.
The CEO of COA FS said he suspected foul play in the FDA’s approach and contacted the Head of Legal to complain and seek advice on how to handle the situation. According to him, it was at a meeting to discuss the issues that Mrs. Dapaah-Ntow demanded the money.
Professor Ato Duncan returned the following day with ¢500,000 (the cedi equivalent of $100,000) for the CEO of the FDA and another ¢100,000 for the Head of Legal.
Mrs. Dapaah-Ntow later called him to come back for the money because the CEO of the FDA had rejected the money.
In that phone conversation, which was recorded, Mrs. Dapaah-Ntow is heard arguing with Professor Samuel Ato Duncan that the agreement was to give both the CEO of the FDA and her (the Head of Legal) $100,000 each. She said her cash of GHC100,000 was far less than the amount agreed.
“And we said okay bring her $100,000. And I asked you a specific question; [about mine] how much? Then you said the same amount,” she is heard in the audio.
“That’s what you said, Prof. We never discussed ¢100,000 at all… Because $100,000, if you were giving her that, would translate into 587 [587,000 cedis]. Is that not correct? Assuming you were giving her cedi equivalent, that’s 587 [587,000 cedis].”
Prof. Ato Duncan said he thought it was $100,000 for the CEO of the FDA and 100,000 cedis for the Head of Legal Affairs.
Asked why he gave the money knowing that it was illegal to pay a bribe, Prof. Duncan said he suspected foul play and decided to play along. He added that in the process, he was in touch with the Greater Accra Regional Director of the National Bureau of Investigations (NIB), whom he fed updates of the scheme including exchanges between him and the Cynthia Dapaah-Ntow.
Injunction and Defamation Suit and Drama
The radio version of “The Returned Bribe” documentary was aired on the Super Morning Show of Joy 99.7FM on November 12, 2020, and the television version was billed to be broadcast later that night.
Mrs. Dapaah-Ntow, however, applied for an injunction against the broadcast of the television documentary. She also sued Manasseh Azure Awuni, Professor Samuel Ato Duncan and The Multimedia Group for defamation.
In January 2021, lawyers for Mrs. Dapaah-Ntow had asked the court to reject Manasseh’s entry of appearance and statement of defence because they claimed Manasseh had failed to provide his residential address.
The court dismissed their application, stating among other things that the plaintiff had not had any problems with serving any of the processes on Manasseh.
Unsatisfied with the ruling, Cynthia Dapaah-Ntow appealed at the Court of Appeal.
The lawyers for Manasseh and the Multimedia Group led by Samson Lardy Anyenini, repeated their stance that the numerous actions by Mrs. Dapaah-Ntow were only meant to delay the hearing of the substantive injunction application, a charge lawyers for Mrs. Dapaah-Ntow took a strong exception to, leading to heated exchanges in the court.
The Court of Appeal, on March 24, 2021, dismissed her application and awarded a cost of ¢2,000 against her.
The injunction was supposed to continue at the High Court on March 30, but the docket had not been brought back from the Court of Appeal so the case has been adjourned to May 11, 2021.
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