An Accra Circuit Court has acquitted and discharged a former head pastor of the Akyem Oda branch of the Lighthouse Chapel International (LCI), Lawrence Nii Narku Odonkor a.k.a. Larry, of stealing over GH¢7,000 belonging to the church.
Odonkor had pleaded not guilty to the charge of two counts of stealing and dishonestly appropriating the church’s GH¢7,054 meant for the payment of his own SSNIT contributions and taxes.
In a judgment on September 15, 2023, the Court presided over by Ellen Ofei-Ayeh, held that although there was appropriation on the part of Odonkor it was not dishonest.
The court found that the accused, as administrative head of the Oda Branch of the church, had indeed written and signed in the church’s accounts books for monies designated expressly for the payment of his SSNIT contributions and GAR taxes on behalf of the church.
While the money was paid into his personal account, the Court said at the time of resigning from the Church, Odonkor asked a senior bishop whether he had any financial obligation but the response was no.
The Court has, therefore, acquitted and discharged Odonkor after a full trial which lasted one year and seven months.
Odonkor is one of the six pastors who have sued the Lighthouse over their Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT) contributions.
The criminal case was filed by police prosecutors following a complaint by the church.
The facts as presented by the prosecution were that Odonkor was a Bishop of Lighthouse Chapel International and between January and April 2020, he was the head pastor and administrative head of the Akyem Oda branch of the church.
He said part of his duties as head pastor was to ensure the payment of SSNIT contributions and taxes for himself and employees working under him.
In March 2020, the prosecution said Odonkor wrote a cheque of GH¢8,527, which had a breakdown of GH¢5,000 for his salary for February while GH¢1,667 and GH¢1,850 were for the payment of his SSNIT contributions and taxes respectively for January and February 2020.
The prosecution noted that he, however, deposited all the monies into his personal account, made use of the same and failed to pay the SSNIT contributions and taxes to the appropriate authorities.
Again, in April 2020, the prosecution alleged that Odonkor repeated his previous conduct and wrote a cheque of GH¢8,527, out of which GH¢5,000 was for his salary for March 2020 while GH¢1,667 and GH¢1,850 were for the payment of his SSNIT contributions and taxes respectively for March and April 2020.
“He, however, deposited all the monies into his personal account and made use of same and failed to pay the SSNIT contributions and taxes to the appropriate authorities,” the prosecutor said
In September 2020, the prosecution told the court that Odonkor turned around and wrote to SSNIT and complained to them that the church had neglected to pay his SSNIT contributions.
Again, the prosecutor said the church’s attention was then drawn to failure on the part of the accused person to make the payments for the said SSNIT contributions and taxes and was made to pay the same with penalties amounting to GH¢10,963.91.
The case was subsequently lodged at the CID Headquarters of the Ghana Police Service and Odonkor was arrested.
However, the prosecution failed to prove same in the course of the trial leading to the acquittal and discharge of Odonkor.