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Thursday, 21 February, 2002, 03:31 GMT
Ghana's $20 million rice scandal
John Atta Mills, former Ghanaian Vice President
Four million dollars is spent annually on imported rice
By Kwaku Sakyi-Addo in Accra

Former Vice President of Ghana John Atta Mills has testified in the country's High Court in a $20 million rice plantation case.

Five government officials in the administration of former Ghanaian President Jerry Rawlings currently on trial over the loss of project funds, include two former ministers and the chief of staff at the presidency.

Walk over us if that is what facilitates the project

Former Vice President
John Atta Mills

The money was allegedly given to an African-American business woman from the US-based company, Quality Grain, to cultivate rice.

Professor John Atta Mills, who is currently a visiting scholar at the University of British Columbia in Canada, flew home to give evidence in favour of former finance minister Kwame Pepra.

Government was desperate

He told a packed high court on Wednesday that in a country where $4million is spent annually on the importation of rice, the administration was eager to see that rice was cultivated locally in viable commercial conditions.

Professor Mills said that the government was so desperate to boost rice cultivation that they were even prepared for Mrs Juliet Cotton, the African-American, who initiated the scheme to "walk over us if that is what facilitates the project".

Jerry Rawlings, former Ghanaian President
Corruption was rife under Rawlings

However, he was not satisfied with her conduct, he said, citing her "rudeness" and some of her demands which made him "uncomfortable".

He admitted that a report from the Serious Fraud Office alleged fraud on the part of Mrs Cotton with the assistance of two of the defendants.

But the investigators failed to produce any evidence, on which Professor Mills could take any action.

Public interest

Last year Mrs Cotton was fined by a court in Atlanta in a case brought by her business associates of Quality Grain, for embezzling a third of the project's resources to fund her luxurious lifestyle.

There is great public interest in the trial. Former President Jerry Rawlings recently showed up in the public gallery to watch the proceedings.

He subsequently described it as a "political trial" . He was scolded by the trial judge.

If the accused men are found guilty, it will deepen the perception that many Ghanaians have that the Rawlings administration was corrupt.

But the accused men are hoping that Professor Mills' testimony would help to exonerate them.

See also:

28 Jan 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Ghana
06 Feb 02 | Business
Ghana 'misled' IMF
01 Feb 02 | Business
Ghana stocks fail to woo investors
05 Feb 02 | Africa
Timeline: Ghana
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