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Story Publication logo May 10, 2024

Unveiling the Shadowy Nexus: Power, PEPs and Opacity in Ghana’s Fisheries Sector


About fifty small fishing boats with green nets line a beach.

The project would shed light on the dark reality behind the collapse of the ‘people’s fish’ (small...


An illustration showing individuals classified as politically exposed persons in Ghana, who are listed as owners of various fisheries companies. Image by Solomon Nyamekye. 2024.

About this investigation

  • Thirty-two percent of companies analyzed in Ghana’s fisheries sector were either owned or controlled by politically exposed persons (PEPs), with over 80 percent showing connections to Chinese ownership interests.
  • Twenty-five (25) companies analyzed showed that no director and shareholder had filed their PEP status as required by law.
  • The Registrar General of Companies in Ghana had not prosecuted a single case of PEPs’ non-disclosure of status or beneficial ownership, despite promises of legal action made years earlier.
  • The Fisheries Commission of Ghana and the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture lacked processes to enforce PEP regulations set by the Bank of Ghana and the country’s beneficial ownership regulations.
  • Over 80 percent of companies licensed to operate fishing vessels in Ghana failed to declare beneficiary ownership, despite evidence of foreign ownership ties.

ACCRA, Ghana — Samuel Abayitey, a Ghanaian fishery observer, disappeared under mysterious circumstances while aboard the Korean-owned trawler vessel MARINE 707 in October 2023. His vanishing, just like the unresolved case of Emmanuel Essien years earlier, points to a troubling pattern of risk and vulnerability for observers in Ghana’s fisheries sector. Notably, these incidents are set against a backdrop of politically exposed persons (PEPs) and the intricate web of beneficial ownership that shields accountability.

This investigation delves deeper into the nexus of power and privilege within Ghana’s fisheries industry, revealing troubling connections between politically exposed persons, fishing trawler ownership and the pervasive lack of accountability.

At the heart of these revelations stands Kenneth Dzirasah, a former deputy speaker of Ghana’s parliament, former member of parliament for the South Tongu constituency in Ghana and prominent member of the biggest opposition party, the National Democratic Congress.

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Who are Politically Exposed Persons according to Ghana’s regulations?

Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs) are individuals who are or have been entrusted with prominent public functions both in Ghana or in foreign countries and people or entities associated with them. PEPs also include persons who are or have been entrusted with a prominent public function by an international organization. Examples of PEPs include but are not limited to:

  • Heads of State or Government
  • Ministers of State
  • Members of Parliament (both local or foreign)
  • Politicians (including High ranking political party officials)
  • Ministries, Department and Agencies (MDAs)
  • Metropolitans, Municipals and District Assemblies (MMDAs) and other public institutions
  • High ranking political party officials (National, Regional, District and Constituency Executives etc.)
  • Legal entity belonging to a PEP
  • Senior public officials
  • Senior Judicial officials
  • Senior Security officials appointed by the Head of State or Government
  • Chief executives and Board Members of state-owned companies/corporations (both local and foreign)
  • Family members or close associates of PEPs; and
  • Traditional Rulers

Source: Bank of Ghana and Financial Intelligence Centre Anti-Money Laundering Guidance, 2022

Dzirasah serves as a director and shareholder of Kenbonad Fisheries and has been identified as a PEP in the Thomson Reuters World-Check. Despite his influential status, official company records obtained showed that Dzirasah has failed to disclose his PEP status, raising concerns about potential conflicts of interest, the integrity of Ghana’s regulatory framework and the effort to combat tax evasion and money laundering.

The failure to disclose PEP status raises “serious questions about money laundering, tax evasion, and influence peddling” within Ghana’s fisheries sector, underscoring the need for “greater oversight and scrutiny” says legal expert and head of African Fisheries Transparency Network Professor Kojo Nyarko.

In 2020, Ghana implemented stringent revisions to its anti-money laundering laws, placing heightened scrutiny on the activities of politically exposed persons. This legislative overhaul was accompanied by a directive from the central bank in 2022, designating PEPs as “high-risk” customers and requiring financial institutions to rigorously verify the source of their wealth. Additionally, the directive mandated the implementation of robust risk management systems to identify PEPs and obtain senior management approval before establishing any business relationship with them.

An assessment of company documents from 25 fishing companies authorized to operate in Ghana over the last five years unveiled a startling reality: Not a single director or shareholder had disclosed their PEP status. Only four companies had ventured to declare beneficial ownership.

Shockingly, the evidence revealed that a staggering 32 percent of these companies were either owned or controlled by PEPs, with over 80 percent connected to Chinese ownership interests.

List of 25 companies assessed.

1. Adom Mbroso Company Limited – Beneficial ownership not declared, PEP status not declared.

2. Lyemylefem Company Limited – Beneficial ownership not declared, PEP status not declared.

3. Global Marine Consul Limited – BO declared, PEP status not declared.

4. Akrafi Fishing Company Limited – Beneficial ownership not declared, PEP status not declared.

5. Kenbonard Fisheries Company Limited – Beneficial ownership not declared, PEP status not declared.

6. Nasaa Company Limited – Beneficial ownership not declared, PEP status not declared.

7. Osthena Company Limited – Beneficial ownership not declared, PEP status not declared.

8. Danac Fisheries Company Limited – Beneficial ownership not declared, PEP status not declared.

9. Tema Fisheries & Freezing Company – Beneficial ownership not declared, PEP status not declared.

10. Bossgie Company Limited – Beneficial ownership not declared, PEP status not declared.

11. Boatacom Enterprise Limited – Beneficial ownership not declared, PEP status not declared.

12. Zoweh Sons Company Limited – Beneficial ownership not declared, PEP status not declared.

13. New Gulf Fishing – BO declared, PEP status not declared.

14. Guojin – Beneficial ownership not declared, PEP status not declared.

15. Elshadai Fisheries Company Limited – Beneficial ownership not declared, PEP status not declared.

16. Nashi Fishing Company Limited – BO declared, PEP status not declared.

17. Nduman Company Limited – Beneficial ownership not declared, PEP status not declared.

18. Zoweh Sons Company Limited – Beneficial ownership not declared, PEP status not declared.

19. Nebula International Limited – Beneficial ownership not declared, PEP status not declared.

20. Tri-Dan Bruce Company Limited – Beneficial ownership not declared, PEP status not declared.

21. Santa Fisheries – Beneficial ownership not declared, PEP status not declared.

22. Reong Fisheries – BO declared, PEP status not declared.

23. Jetap Fishing Company Limited, PEP status not declared.

24. Ceilakus Investment – Beneficial ownership not declared, PEP status not declared.

25. Mystical Grace Company Limited- Beneficial ownership not declared, PEP status not declared.

In 2020, a report by China Dialogue Ocean showed that the Meng Xin 15 fishing trawler, where Emmanuel Essien was last seen, registered under Kenbonad Fisheries and was owned by a Chinese company, Dalian Mengxin Ocean Fisheries.

When iWatch Africa approached the former speaker and director of Kenbonad, Kenneth Dzirasah, regarding the missing observer, the nondisclosure of his PEP status and the potential connections between his company and Chinese entities, the former speaker of parliament offered little clarity.

“It is in the pipeline [filing his PEP status],” he responded, while insisting that he “cannot assist” with any answers when pressed about his company’s relationship with Chinese interests, leaving investigators with more questions than answers.

Emmanuel Essien’s disappearance aboard the vessel registered to Kenbonad Fisheries marked not the first, but a distressing recurrence of trouble with regulatory authorities. In 2017, Ghana’s Fisheries Commission accused Kenbonad Fisheries of unauthorized fish transfers within Ghanaian waters and of operating trawlers with unqualified captains, but failed to revoke their license.

The Fisheries Commission is an agency under the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture in Ghana and has an oversight role over fisheries management and development in the country.

Data obtained from the country’s ministry of fisheries during this investigation revealed a troubling pattern: Kenbonad Fisheries had previously failed to pay fishery infraction fines imposed by the state.

Despite these allegations, Francis Ashiteye Armah, an official of the company, told iWatch Africa that “the company had settled all outstanding fines,” contradicting official records.

Ghana’s Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture and the Fisheries Commission did not immediately respond to the findings from this investigation.

Professor Kojo Nyarko argued that: “If PEPs can operate with impunity, hiding behind complex corporate structures, then the systemic issues plaguing Ghana’s fisheries sector will only deepen.”

“Without rigorous oversight, meaningful legal consequences, and a renewed commitment to transparency, the shadowy nexus of power will continue to obscure the truth, leaving lives at risk and the sector’s sustainability in peril,” he added.

Ghana’s fishery sector supports the livelihoods of millions of people, but persistent IUU fishing practices, including opaque corporate structures, which protects beneficial owners, have had severe impact on fish populations, which resulted in an European Commission warning (yellow card) in 2021.

Further exploration and scrutiny of official company records unearthed a troubling pattern: Seven additional companies accused of evading fishery fines by the fisheries ministry shared a common denominator—politically exposed persons among their shareholders and directors.

Bright Simmons, Vice President of policy think tank Imani Africa, illuminated the pervasive issues within Ghana’s PEP landscape in a recent blog post, asserting, “Every Ghanaian knows many PEPs who have become wealthy overnight and freely utilize the financial system without any hard questions being asked of them by anyone.”

Expanding on the concerning trend, Simmons added, “The requirement that all transactions by PEPs should be reported to the Financial Intelligence Center is also widely known to be regularly flouted because the mechanisms for identifying ‘relatives and close associates’ are lax and poorly maintained.”

The companies, shadowy PEPs and Chinese ownership interests

Among the companies investigated is Global Marine Consult, authorized to operate the Meng Xin 5 and 6 in Ghana’s waters. Investigations revealed that the company’s directors and shareholders are presently Awurama Ofori-Ani and Edwin Ofori-Ani, both acknowledged as beneficial owners. Compelling evidence suggests that Awurama Ofori-Ani is a PEP who, as of February 2024, had failed to declare her status. Notably, she holds a senior finance role as a director of management information systems at Volta River Authority (VRA), a power utilities company in Ghana owned by the State.

A damning report by Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) in 2021 further implicated the fishing trawler Meng Xin 5 in unauthorized transhipment and illegal adaptation of fishing gear.

According to the report, while a fine of GHS 347,690 was imposed, a mere GHS 100,000 (approx. US $42,507) was paid by Global Marine Consult—a fraction of the minimum fine stipulated by the country’s law.

What is striking is that from 2007 to 2015, 199 fishing trawlers were arrested for various fishery offences in Ghana, according to a USAID report. The report noted that “some fines were not paid in full and in some cases the minister of fisheries accepted less the amount imposed.”

In response to our investigation, Edwin Ofori-Ani, identifying himself as Awurama Ofori-Ani’s husband, acknowledged her failure in declaring her PEP status, stating that she is “in the process of filling the documents.”

He, however, emphasized her extensive tenure at VRA. She has worked “all her life with the VRA since graduation from the then University of Science and Technology, where she had her national service and has continued to work till her recent appointment as a director of the company,” he argued.

He also contested any outstanding fines owed by Global Marine Consult to the Fisheries Commission. “In fact, as at today, Global Marine Consult Limited does not owe a pesewa of fine to the Fisheries Commission,” he stated, providing payment receipts totalling over GHC1.9m or $140,000 in fines paid over the past two years, as he sought to refute claims of financial delinquency.

Previous reporting by China Dialogue Ocean unveiled a tangled web of foreign ownership linking Global Marine Consult to the Dalian MengXin Ocean Fisheries. Despite these revelations, Edwin adamantly denied any beneficiary ownership by Dalian MengXin Fisheries, asserting, “The relationship between Messrs Global Marine Consult Limited and Dalian MengXin is that the former acquired the trawlers from the latter and have a working arrangement to ensure that the cost of the trawler are paid for and the trawlers handed over to the Ghanaian company. Dalian has NO shares in Global Marine.”

Steve Trent, CEO of an environmental watchdog NGO, EJF, emphasized, “The Ghanaian law expressly forbids foreign ownership of industrial trawl vessels operating under the Ghanaian flag both in terms of ownership on paper, and, crucially, in terms of those who profit from the vessel — known as the ‘beneficial owners,’” during a previously related interview with iWatch Africa.

“The 2019 Companies Act (Act 992) clarifies the definition of a beneficial owner, showing clearly that the way Chinese fishing corporations are using Ghanaian front companies is illegal,” he added.

Other companies identified with significant ties to PEPs

Continuing our investigation, Business Empire Limited emerges as a focal point in our scrutiny of PEPs within Ghana’s fisheries realm. Currently overseeing fishing trawlers LU RONG YUAN YU 927 and 926, the company’s shareholder and director lineup features Rex Daniel Wussah and Helena Korkor Doku.

Wussah, member of the National Democratic Congress, coupled with his past role as a district chief executive (DCE) of Ada East in the Greater Accra Region, underscore his political influence. Despite this, official records indicate his failure to declare his politically exposed status as of March 2024.

In response to this investigation, the former DCE stated, “l wish to let you know that l don’t hold any political office and l work as a private business person,” while failing to address other concerns regarding Chinese ownership interests in his company.

However, his assertion is contradicted by the Registrar and BoG financial regulations, which specifies that a PEP encompasses an individual who “is or has been entrusted with a prominent public function.”

The investigation also identified the following PEPs connected to the fisheries sector who have all failed to disclose their PEPs status as of the end of 2023 while holding several senior roles within Ghana’s public sector.

  • Patrick-Appiah Opong, director and shareholder of Jetap Fishing Company, holds a senior role as a marine engineer at the Ghana Maritime Authority. Ghana Maritime Authority is a public institution that oversees all maritime-related infrastructure, including vessel operations and the enforcement of international maritime conventions and national laws.
  • Cecelia Akuerter, director and shareholder of Ceilakus Investment Company, is a member of the National Democratic Congress and had previously contested the position of the deputy national organizer of the party.
  • Nana Ama Ayensua Saara III, CEO of Nasaa Company Limited, holds a prominent public office as the Omanhemaa (traditional ruler) of the Denkyira Traditional Area and a board member of GCB Bank PLC, partly owned by the State. All shareholders and directors of this company had also failed to declare their PEP status despite their relationship with the CEO.
  • Stephen Adjokatcher is one of the shareholders and directors of Santa Fisheries Ghana and Mystical Grace. Adjokatcher is currently a board member of the Fisheries Commission of Ghana, the regulatory body with oversight powers over his companies raising questions of conflicts of interest. Despite his influential role, Adjokatcher has not declared his PEP status.

None of the shareholders or directors mentioned above responded promptly to our requests for comment.

Policy analyst Bright Simmons underscores the need for comprehensive scrutiny, writing, “concerted and consistent work is required to effectively bring issues to light and address the risks posed to Ghana’s economic well-being by PEP financial misconduct.”

During a public forum in 2020, Ghana’s Registrar General, Jemima Oware, promised sanctions, in the form of fines and jail time for companies that fail to disclose beneficial ownership information, particularly PEPs.

Despite promises of sanctions by the Registrar General, our checks three years later show a glaring lack of enforcement. Not a single case has been filed against shareholders and directors who failed to declare PEP status or beneficial ownership.

Ghana’s registrar of companies did not immediately respond to our questions about her inaction and her reaction to the findings of this investigation.

“This lack of transparency is problematic for a number of reasons, particularly in disguising the true beneficiaries of profits flowing from illicit activities in Ghana’s trawl sector, preventing those individuals from being held to account,” EJF has warned.

For fisheries expert Professor Kojo Nyarko, the imperative to safeguard fishery observers, combat the influence of PEPs, and uphold accountability within the fisheries sector is indisputable.

The regulators’ inaction is no longer tolerable in the face of this “glaring nexus of shadowy political ownership, foreign influence and impunity,” he said.

“Remember Ghana is still within our second yellow card and we are still struggling to enforce the laws and fight against IUU fishing. Comprehensive reforms and heightened accountability are imperative.”

“Anything less jeopardizes the entire sector, risking a devastating ban on fishery exports.”


a yellow halftone illustration of two trout





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