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Consuming trash: unravelling the multi-million cedi business in Ghana’s expired products business (Part 2).

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After digging through a maze of email conversations by top management of Fareast Mercantile to unravel how cartons of an almost one-year-old expired biscuits were sold during the Christmas festivities in 2021, DUBAWA’s attention was turned to Edward Sarpong, one of the kingpins, with a reputation for buying and selling expired products, mostly non-consumables. On March 17, 2022, we had information which suggested he was at the Fareast warehouse (non-food section) and was likely to purchase some expired products. We quickly made our way to the warehouse to begin our surveillance and tracking activities. A day before that though, we intercepted what had become a normal routine – the curious e-mails. Only this time, no specific reference was made in the mail to suggest the goods had expired, except the person to whom they were to sell the stocks to, gave the plot away.

The trail of email conversations started by the head of Finance at Fareast, Aney Mate,  on March 16, 2022 was sent to Saurabh Sharma, the Logistics and Supply Chain Manager; and copied to the General Manager for Sales (Non-food), Raja Mohammed. The mail was essentially to communicate the processes of documentation and prices covering a stock, suspected to be expired goods meant for the market. 

Before going to the warehouse on March 17, we had these e-mail-listed products in mind. Our objective was to find out if the products Sarpong had come to buy and was about to load into his truck had any similarity to those detailed in the mail the day before and whether or not any of those products had expired. The results were all too striking. Just as was detailed in the mail, our cameras captured some of the products which included Airwick FM Refill LAV & CAM 6*1, Harpic Gel Citrus, 725 ML X 12, Airwick FM Complete LAV & CAM 4EA*1, Harpic Gel Lavender-450MLX12, Airwick Cedar and Oranger Anti Tobacco 300MLX12 under “cash sales.” Some of those products had expired in September 2021. 

Around 3:30 pm, Sarpong was done loading his truck with the goods. Skilled at what they do, they would pack the expired products first into the truck and then later cover them with cartons of wholesome Dettol. 

After documentation, Sarpong’s truck set off from Fareast Mercantile’s warehouse which is almost opposite the Coca Cola company at Spintex. Right from the Spintex to Accra CMB, a traffic laden 13.7 km journey, DUBAWA tracked the truckload of products to be sure of the final destination and monitored how the products were offloaded by strong men and head potters (kaya yei) into mini-shops located within the heart of CMB.

Truck finally arrives at CMB to be offloaded  

‘The Bogger dealer’

On March 29, 2022, DUBAWA again mounted another surveillance at the Fareast Warehouse  and monitored how another dealer, known only as ‘Bogger,’ bought  margarines and biscuits suspected to have expired from Fareast warehouse. He is known for dealing in expired consumables such as margarines, biscuits, soft drinks and is believed to have recruited a number of dealers some of whom have since cut ties with him to go solo. On March 29 when many Ghanaians had a final crucial world cup qualifying play-off to think about against Nigeria, Bogger was thinking business. He got to the warehouse around 2:00pm and loaded the goods into the same truck used by Sarpong and transported them into the heart of CMB. DUBAWA, as usual, followed the truck right from the warehouse at Spintex roundabout to its final destination – just about four-five minutes walk away from where Sarpong had previously offloaded his.  The products were here also offloaded into mini-shops and warehouses at the CMB.  

The margarines and other products suspected to have expired finally arrives at CBM

ARREST OF SARPONG 

On March 30, an email was sent by Mate to Sharma, and other leaders of the company with the subject “Cash sales” indicating another transaction was afoot. This time, the expiry date of the product was clearly indicated. 

Raja Mohammed, the General Manager for Sales (Non-food) and the contact person for Unilever at Fareast Mercantile, who was copied in the mail, replied with prices of the goods. His reply was only copied to Aney, Head of Finance.

CID INVOLVEMENT 

Having understood the modus operandi of the expired goods dealers together with their enabler, Fareast Mercantile (Imperial Logistics), and having gathered enough evidence, DUBAWA engaged the police Criminal Investigations Department of the Ghana Police Service (CID), briefed them and requested their assistance in apprehending the suspects. This would happen on March 31 when DUBAWA, together with the CID, mounted an operation to have Sarpong arrested, his truck impounded and officials of Fareast interrogated. 

Sarpong had returned to the warehouse on March 31, a day after the curious e-mail conversation, to purchase the same quantity of expired Glade mini gel (which stock expired on March 22, exactly as was detailed in the email conversation). As usual, the expired Glade mini gel products were loaded first into the KIA truck by Sarpong and his men and covered by cartons of wholesome Dettol.

Sarpong and his men packing the expired goods first at the warehouse

Sarpong, who was driving a dark Toyota saloon car was trailed from the Fareast Mercantile office to CMB and arrested together with the KIA Truck which had also arrived at CMB and was just about to be offloaded. A preliminary search conducted by the Police on the truck revealed boxes of expired Glade Mini Gel buried under a heap of wholesome cartons of Dettol. 

The driver and Sarpong were held in custody and the truck impounded, pending a thorough investigation by the FDA.

The Return to Fareast Mercantile

The DUBAWA team together with an officer from the FDA, Patrick Osei, as well as police officers, returned to the Fareast Company to hear from the company and to conduct further investigations at the various warehouses. Due to traffic, the combined team got to the warehouse after 6:00 pm, but the Police said they could not conduct a search after that hour as per the policing rules. The warehouses were therefore sealed and locked by the FDA to allow for a thorough search to be conducted the following day. An official of Fareast who introduced herself as the Corporate Affairs head, Nafisa Quainoo, with a warm beautiful smile, denied management’s knowledge of the sale of expired products and requested that the case be settled amicably, but the police insisted on the search.

On the morning of April 1, the DUBAWA team returned to the warehouse and met a busload of FDA officials numbering about 12, together with the CID officials who conducted the operation the day before, present for a thorough search. 

After almost three hours of searching through eight warehouses (food and non-food divisions) belonging to the Fareast Mercantile, the FDA officials found expired products in both warehouses. In the food warehouse, margarine and biscuits that expired in September 2021 were still in the warehouse, almost seven clear months after expiry.  Quainoo could not provide a definite answer to the FDA official’s questions regarding the last time the company had approached the FDA for the destruction of the expired products as required by the guideline. 

The biscuits expired in September 2021

The expired products were neatly separated from the wholesome products which ordinarily was the right thing to do. But what gave the company away was the fact that the expired Glade mini gel found in the warehouse was the same expired product found in Sarpong’s truck which, but for the operation by DUBAWA and the police CID, would have ended up on table tops and on the bare floor at CMB and in homes of consumers.

Officials of FDA inspecting the impounded truck at the Police HQ

Upon the return of the FDA officials to the Police HQ, the detained suspects were asked to offload all the content of the impounded truck for inspection. It turned out that 7,778 pieces of Glade mini Gel from SC Johnson had expired. Few cartons of the Glade Mini Gel were, however, found to be wholesome. The FDA took custody of the expired cartons to be used as exhibit if it becomes necessary to prosecute. Eddy Sarpong and the driver are on bail pending the final investigation by the FDA. 

The truck impounded at the Police HQ with the expired products

Confession?

In a casual conversation in the Akan language at the police CID, which was recorded by DUBAWA, Sarpong confessed to selling expired products of about three months and that he had been doing this business for at least “eight years.”

According to him, his products are mainly sold by the market women at “donkomi” (give away) prices.

What next?

The police tell DUBAWA they have handed over evidence to the experts – the FDA – for further investigation and counsel, and would take further action when the CID receives additional directive. 

DUBAWA also presented its evidence to the Head of Legal at the FDA, for the FDA to act swiftly in the interest of the public. 

The FDA has begun its own investigation but is yet to take a decision on what to do with officials of Fareast Mercantile. Under Public Health Act 2012 Act 851, and depending on the seriousness of the breaches, the FDA has powers to fine and prosecute persons who breach any part of its guidelines.

Before the publication of the first part of this investigation, attempts to get an official response from the Head of Corporate Affairs at Fareast, Nafisa Quainoo, failed. She did not respond to Dubawa’s calls or messages. Dubawa then went ahead to publish the first part, hoping, if the company found it necessary to respond, the response would be included in the second part. Later, a lawyer for Fareast called to answer the questions DUBAWA had wanted to put to the company. The questions have been sent to him and are awaiting their response which will be incorporated in our next publication.

DUBAWA is set to follow this case to its logical conclusion.

Source:Ghana.dubawa.org| Nathan Gadugah

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