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$200k bribery scandal hits FDA boss and head of Legal Affairs over COA FS

The CEO of the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) and the head of Legal Affairs are being investigated for allegedly taking bribe from the manufacturer of COA FS.

Professor Samuel Ato Duncan told investigative journalist Manasseh Azure Awuni that the head of Legal Affairs, Cynthia Dapaah Ntow, demanded that he pays $100,000 so he will be given the green light to continue selling his product.

In a telephone conversation, Mrs Dapaah Ntow said she was taking the money on behalf of the Authority’s CEO, Delese Mimi Darko.

“On April 8, at about 10 am, I had a call that to immediately come to the FDA offices because there was something that the FDA lawyer wanted to discuss with me…prior to that, I had discussed with her that I have seen something happening so I needed her support. Because I felt that being a lawyer, she will be the best person to look at the scheme and help us out if there was anything.

“She said I should come but I told her I was not well so I can come on Monday but she said if I am able to come on that day it will be good. Then I asked my driver to take me to Accra,” he said.

According to him, although they were supposed to meet at the FDA, she called to say they should meet at GIMPA gate. Once they met there she led him to a nearby restaurant.

Mrs Dapaah-Ntow asked what help he needed and he told her about a scheme by some people trying to destroy his brand and he needed her help to stop that from happening.

She demanded the documents he had on the product which he promised bringing to her.

“Then she asked, ‘how much are you willing to give to madam [the FDA CEO]? That was when I became alarmed and probed further because I saw the whole thing as a scheme and I wanted to follow and see where the whole thing is going to end,” he told the investigative reporter.

He said although he knows Mrs Mimi Darko, they were not on such terms but since that was the demand she was supposedly making through Mrs Dapaah-Ntow, he obliged and was willing to give them ¢200,000.

“She said ¢200,000 is too small, make it $100,000. Then I said I will make it ¢500,000 but she asked, ‘how much are you giving me also?’ Then I said ¢100,000. She asked where is the money? I told her I don’t have it now because I didn’t know I was going to pay money so I can give you cheque,” Prof Ato Duncan said.

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According to him, she rejected it demanding cash instead so he said he had to go back to Cape Coast to take ¢600,000.

When he returned, he was handed a letter by Mrs Dapaah-Ntow suspending his product from the market and the FDA explaining the reason behind their action.

Prof Duncan said before he left, the head of legal affair asked him about the money. After he told her it was in his car, she directed that they meet at a nearby hotel.

“We drove to the place and she led us onto an untarred road and we stopped in the bush and I picked the money myself and put it into her VW saloon car booth. She asked and I told her this is ¢500,000 and this is ¢100,000 and she said okay I hear,” he narrated.

He said he was in the company of his driver and daughter and they left Mrs Daapah-Ntow there.

While giving the money to the FDA’s head of legal, a short video and a photograph were taken.

At the head office of the FDA, the parking lot of the head of legal, who is alleged to have taken the money had a VW saloon car parked there at the time of the investigative journalist’s visit.

Samuel Ato said she later called him to come back for his money.

Below is the transcription of the telephone conversation between them.

You’re a business person and you did this deliberately. I’m very certain of that.

–No. No. Listen.

I’ve dealt with all sorts of clients so I know…

–Listen to me. I am not like that. Seriously, I am not like that.

Prof.

–Yes?

The whole discussion we had, there was no, there was nothing about 100,000 cedis. There has not been any agreement about 100,000 cedis. That’s just it. There was never a mention of 100,000 cedis.

–Oh, that was…

I am a lawyer and I’m an astute lawyer. I do serious practice.

–You know…?

So all the tricks in the books I know but I’m not interested in… so I don’t want to get involved in this…

–There were no tricks in this. First, I mentioned ¢200,000.

For her…!

–For her. And you said it’s small so I said okay, then let me… So, when I said $100,000, I meant the 500,000 cedis figure. Then you asked, so how much do I give you? And I said 100,000 cedis but you didn’t hear me…

No Prof.! You never said that. You said same. Prof., I’m a lawyer, I do cross… I meet my own clients. I meet them [laughs] so what you’re doing, it’s…

–Am I not your client?

No, you’re not my client. It’s an FDA … You’re not my client.

Background

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COA FS as an immune booster

COA FS is known among its consumers as an immune booster and it became very popular during the Covid-19 lockdown period around the world. But the founder’s main aim was and still remains to find a treatment for HIV/Aids.

According to Prof Ato Duncan, researchers at the Kwazulu Natal University in South Africa conducted further studies on COA FS and said it had great potentials that needed further attention in the area of research and development.

Due to the difficulties in getting authorities to support him, he was advised to register COA FS as an immune booster.

He claims a Chinese national bought COA FS and took it to his country when there was an outbreak of the 2019 novel coronavirus and it saved some people. However, this claim is still contentious.

In March this year, the Director of Noguchi Memorial Centre for Medical Research, Professor Abraham Kwabena Anang, said COA FS as an immune booster could prove useful in managing Covid-19 until a cure was found.

On March 24, this year, a link to the story on Professor Anang’s COA FS comment was posted on a WhatsApp platform, which had some top officials of Ghana’s regulatory institutions. The institutions reacted differently to the story demanding answers from the Noguchi boss.

The following day, March 26, officials of the FDA were at the COA FS manufacturing facility in the Central Region to pick samples for the testing.

“When here, it was clear that his agenda was to find fault because they needed robust-based answers so that they could pin down the COA FS,” Prof Ato Duncan said.

FDA tests efficacy of COA FS

At the Head Office of the FDA, the Head of Laboratories, Eric Karikari Boateng, took Manasseh Awuni through the process of how the COA FS tests were conducted with samples from the factory and from the market.

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He told the journalist the Authority conducted two tests on Coa FS. The first was on samples the FDA collected from the market on March 19, and the second test was conducted on samples which the FDA collected from the COA FS factory on March 26.

It entered the records of the FDA on March 30 and the results were ready on the April 7. The report is dated April 8.

According to Mr Karikari Boateng, the first test which was conducted on samples collected from the market did not establish the presence of Ecoli in the COA FS.

The FDA, based on the tests and visit to the factory, suspended the production license of Coa FS and ordered the company to recall its products.

The visit to the Cape Coast office of the company saw hundreds of cartons of the product.

The letter suspending the production of COA FS was dated March 31. It among others stated that the reason for the suspension was that the product contained Ecoli.

Meanwhile, the results establishing the presence of ecoli in the product was dated April 8, 2020.

Going by this date, it means the letter was written and the reasons were stated even before the results of the test establishing the presence of ecoli were ready.

The FDA, based on the tests and visit to the factory, suspended the production license of the product and ordered the company to recall its products.

The visit to the Cape Coast office of the company saw hundreds of cartons of the product.

“Since the FDA came out, we are in a fix because majority walk in demanding for it. A woman came here saying her mother is down with stroke and when she started her on the COA she is up so she has been giving us pressure to try and help her up. So we are waiting to hear from FDA if the ban will be lifted any time soon,” one the vendors said.

In a letter dated August 7, 2020, the FDA lifted the suspension on the manufacture of COA FS after the company addressed what it said were the most critical deficiencies identified.

In another letter dated September 1, 2020, the FDA ordered COA FS to limit the indication of the product to general wellbeing.