EOCO probes sale of kids at orphanage

Thursday, 27 January 2011 Attorney-General, Martin Amidu

The Economic and Organised Crimes Office (EOCO) has begun investigations into allegations of child trafficking at the Hohoe Christian Orphanage.

The Deputy Executive Director of the EOCO in charge of Operations, Mr Charles Nii Adama Akrong, told the Daily Graphic that his office had reports that the Founder and Executive Director of the orphanage, Mr Nicholas Koku Azakpo, was allegedly engaged in the sale of the children at his orphanage to wealthy buyers in Europe and America.

He said suspected accomplices of Mr Azakpo at the Department of Social Welfare were also being investigated and confirmed that four investigators from the office had been to Hohoe to take statements from Mr Azakpo.

The office had also taken statements from Mr Issa Amegashitsi, the foster father of Delali Papa Amoaku, an eight-year-old boy who Mr Azakpo allegedly attempted to sell to an Italian for $7,000 last year and other persons who knew about the founder’s activities, Mr Akrong said.

EOCO officials have also interviewed Mrs Helena Obeng-Asamoah, the Social Welfare Officer in charge of orphanages.

He said the investigations would later be extended to cover the activities of all orphanages and foster homes in the country because the sale of children in the country was believed to be widespread.

Mr Akrong said EOCO would not hesitate to recommend the closure of private orphanages in the country if investigations proved that proprietors had engaged in criminal activities such as the sale or trafficking of children.

Under the Economic and Organised Crime Act, 2010 (Act 804), EOCO is mandated to “investigate and, on the authority of the Attorney-General, prosecute serious offences that involve financial or economic loss to the republic or any state entity or institution in which the state has financial interest, money laundering, human trafficking, prohibited cyber activity, tax fraud and other serious offences”.

It is also mandated to “recover the proceeds of crime; monitor the activities connected with the offences to detect correlative crimes; take reasonable measures necessary to prevent the commission of crimes specified and their correlative offences”, among other things.

Last year, a tussle ensued between Mr Amegashitsi and Mr Azakpo over Delali when Mr Amegashitsi withdrew the boy from the orphanage, claiming he had heard that Mr Azakpo was about to offer the child for sale to an Italian.

That tussle resulted in Mr Amegashitsi being arrested and locked up by the police on two occasions on trumped-up charges of conspiracy to engage in child trafficking.

He was to be arraigned before an Accra circuit court on September 14, 2010 but minutes before he was scheduled to appear, the Attorney-General’s Department, which had wind of it, stopped the trial.

On December 1, 2010, the A-G’s Department also ordered that Delali, who had been taken away from Mr Amegashitsi by the police since July 26, 2010 and kept at the Osu Children’s Home, should be handed over back to him.

And in August the same year, an American citizen, Mrs Jill Wiggins Smith, accused Mr Azakpo of demanding $7,000 from her to adopt Delali from his orphanage.

Mrs Smith had, earlier in 2008, adopted a two-year-old girl from the same orphanage, for which, she told the Daily Graphic, she had first paid $9,000 to an agency in the US called No Greater Gift.

However, No Greater Gift ceased to exist immediately after she had adopted the little girl.

Mrs Smith alleged that later when she arrived in Ghana to take the child away, Mr Azakpo extorted $2,000 and $300 from her on different occasions at his orphanage.

She said the move to adopt Delali stalled because of her refusal to pay the $7,000 demanded by Mr Azakpo.

When reached by the Daily Graphic for his comments, the founder denied the figures and said, “I just received $100 and another $200 and a few other hundreds later to process the papers”.

He declined to answer further questions.