Consuming Waste: Unraveling the Multi-Million Cedi Trade in Ghana’s Expired Goods Sector (Part 2)

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Crack the Sarpong code

After digging through a maze of email conversations by Fareast Mercantile management to figure out how boxes of biscuits that are almost a year out of date were sold during the Christmas holidays in 2021, DUBAWA’s attention turned to one of the kingpins, Edward Sarpong, who was notorious for buying and selling expired products, mostly non-consumables. On March 17, 2022, we had information suggesting that he was at the Fareast warehouse (non-food section) and was likely to buy expired products. We quickly headed to the warehouse to begin our monitoring and tracking activities. A day before that however, we intercepted what had become a normal routine – the curious emails. Only this time, no specific reference was made in the mail to suggest that the goods had expired, except that the person they were to sell the stocks to, gave the land.

The trail of email conversations started by Fareast Finance Manager Aney Mate on March 16, 2022 was sent to Saurabh Sharma, Logistics and Supply Chain Manager; with a copy to General Sales Manager (Non Food), Raja Mohammed. The mail was primarily used to communicate documentation processes and prices covering a stock, suspected to be expired goods destined for the market.

Before going to the warehouse on March 17, we had in mind these products listed by email. Our objective was to know if the products that Sarpong had come to buy and was about to load into his truck showed similarities with those detailed in the mail of the day before and if any of these products were expired or not. The results were all too striking. As mentioned in the mail, our cameras captured some of the products which included Airwick FM Refill LAV & CAM 6*1, Harpic Gel Citrus, 725ML 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 these products had expired in September 2021.

Around 3:30 p.m., Sarpong had finished loading his truck with the goods. Skilled at what they do, they first packed the expired products in the truck, then later covered them with cartons of healthy Dettol.

After documentation, Sarpong’s truck left from the Fareast Mercantile warehouse which is almost opposite the Coca Cola company at Spintex. From the Spintex to Accra CMB, a traffic-laden 13.7 km journey, DUBAWA followed the truck of produce to be sure of the final destination and watched as the produce was unloaded by strongmen and potters in chef (kaya yei) in mini-shops. located in the heart of the CMB.

The truck finally arrives at CMB to be unloaded
The truck finally arrives at CMB to be unloaded

“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”, purchased margarine and cookies suspected to have expired in the Fareast warehouse. He is known to trade in expired consumables such as margarine, biscuits and soft drinks and is said to have recruited a number of dealers some of whom have since severed ties with him to go solo. On March 29, when many Ghanaians had to ponder a crucial final World Cup qualifier against Nigeria, Bogger was thinking about business. He arrived at the warehouse around 2:00 p.m. and loaded the goods into the same truck used by Sarpong and transported them to the heart of CMB. DUBAWA, as usual, followed the truck from the Spintex roundabout warehouse to its final destination – about a four to five minute walk from where Sarpong had previously unloaded his. The products were also unloaded here in mini-shops and warehouses at the CMB.

Expired margarines and other suspicious products finally arrive at CBM
Expired margarines and other suspicious products finally arrive at CBM

Arrest of Sarpong

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

Raja Mohammed, the general manager of sales (non-food) and contact person for Unilever at Fareast Mercantile, who was copied in the mail, responded with prices for the goods. His response was only copied to Aney, the finance manager.

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CID involvement

After understanding the modus operandi of Expired Goods Merchants with their facilitator, Fareast Mercantile (Imperial Logistics), and gathering sufficient evidence, DUBAWA engaged the Police Criminal Investigation Department of the Ghana Police Service (CID), informed them and asked for their help. in the arrest of suspects. This would happen on March 31 when DUBAWA, in collaboration with the CID, organized an operation to arrest Sarpong, seize his truck and interrogate Fareast officials.

Sarpong had returned to the warehouse on March 31, a day after the curious email conversation, to purchase the same amount of expired Glade mini-gel (whose stock expired on March 22, exactly as stated in the conversation by E-mail). As usual, the expired Glade mini-gels were first loaded into the KIA truck by Sarpong and his men and covered in healthy Dettol cartons.

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

Sarpong, who was driving a dark Toyota sedan, was dragged from the Fareast Mercantile office to CMB and arrested along with the KIA truck which had also arrived at CMB and was about to be unloaded. A preliminary police search of the truck revealed boxes of expired Glade Mini Gel buried under a pile of healthy Dettol cartons.

The driver and Sarpong were detained and the truck seized, pending a full investigation by the FDA.

Return to Fareast Mercantile

The DUBAWA team along with an FDA officer, Patrick Osei, along with police officers, returned to Fareast Company to hear from the company and conduct further investigations at the various warehouses. Due to traffic, the combined team arrived at the warehouse after 6:00 p.m., but police said they could not conduct a search after that time, in accordance with police rules. The warehouses were therefore sealed and locked by the FDA to allow a thorough search to be carried out the following day. A Fareast manager who introduced herself as the general affairs manager, Nafisa Quainoo, with a lovely warm smile, denied management’s knowledge of the sale of expired products and demanded that the matter be resolved at the out of court, but the police insisted on the search.

On the morning of April 1, the DUBAWA team returned to the warehouse and encountered a busload of FDA agents numbering about 12, as well as the CID agents who carried out the operation the day before. , present for a thorough search.

After nearly three hours of searching eight warehouses (food and non-food divisions) owned by Fareast Mercantile, 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, nearly seven clear months after they expired. Quainoo could not provide a definitive answer to questions from the FDA official regarding when the company last approached the FDA for destruction of expired products, as required by the guideline.

Cookies expired September 2021
Cookies expired September 2021

Expired products were carefully separated from healthy products, which was generally the right thing to do. But what revealed the company was the fact that the expired mini Glade gel found in the warehouse was the same expired product found in Sarpong’s truck which, without the operation of DUBAWA and the CID police, would have ended up on tables and on the bare floor at CMB and in private homes.

FDA officials inspect the impounded truck at police HQ
FDA officials inspect the impounded truck at police HQ

Upon the return of FDA officials to police headquarters, the detained suspects were instructed to unload the entire contents of the seized truck for inspection. It turned out that 7,778 pieces of SC Johnson’s Glade mini Gel had expired. However, few cartons of Glade Mini Gel have been found to be sound. The FDA has taken custody of the expired cartons to use as exhibits if it becomes necessary to prosecute. Eddy Sarpong and the driver are out on bail pending the FDA’s final investigation.

The truck seized at the Police HQ with expired products
The truck seized at the Police HQ with expired products

Confession?

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

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

After that ?

Police told DUBAWA that they have turned over evidence to the experts – the FDA – for further investigation and advice, and will take further action when the CID receives further direction.

DUBAWA also presented its evidence to the FDA’s Chief Legal Officer, for the FDA to act quickly in the public interest.

The FDA has begun its own investigation but has yet to make a decision on what to do with Fareast Mercantile officials. Under the Public Health Act 851 of 2012, and depending on the seriousness of violations, the FDA has the power to impose fines and prosecute people who violate any part of its guidelines.

Prior to the publication of the first part of this investigation, attempts to obtain an official response from Fareast’s general affairs manager, Nafisa Quainoo, failed. She did not respond to calls or messages from Dubawa. Dubawa then published the first part, hoping that if the company found it necessary to respond, the answer would be included in the second part. Later, a lawyer from Fareast called to answer questions that DUBAWA had wanted to ask the company. The questions have been sent to him and are awaiting their response which will be included in our next publication.

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


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