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Ex-pastor of Lighthouse Chapel pleads not guilty in theft case

An Accra Circuit Court has acquitted and discharged Lawrence Nii Narku Odonkor, also known as Larry, the former head pastor of the Akyem Oda branch of Lighthouse Chapel International (LCI), who was accused of stealing over GH¢7,000 belonging to the church.

Odonkor had pleaded not guilty to two counts of stealing and dishonestly appropriating the church’s GH¢7,054, which was intended for the payment of his SSNIT contributions and taxes.

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In a judgment rendered on September 15, 2023, the Court, presided over by Ellen Ofei-Ayeh, concluded that while there was an appropriation of the funds by Odonkor, it was not done dishonestly.

The Court determined that Odonkor, in his role as the administrative head of the Oda Branch of the church, had appropriately recorded and signed in the church’s accounts books the monies designated for the payment of his SSNIT contributions and GAR taxes on behalf of the church.

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Although the money was deposited into his personal account, the Court noted that when Odonkor resigned from the Church, he had asked a senior bishop if he had any outstanding financial obligations, and the response was negative.

Following a full trial lasting one year and seven months, the Court acquitted and discharged Odonkor.

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Odonkor is one of six pastors who have filed lawsuits against Lighthouse Chapel International over their Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT) contributions.

The criminal case was initiated by police prosecutors based on a complaint from the church.

Prosecution’s account of the case:
According to the prosecution, Odonkor, as a Bishop of Lighthouse Chapel International, served as the head pastor and administrative head of the Akyem Oda branch of the church between January and April 2020. As part of his responsibilities, he was responsible for ensuring the payment of SSNIT contributions and taxes for both himself and the employees under his supervision.

The prosecution alleged that in March 2020, Odonkor wrote a cheque for GH¢8,527, which included GH¢5,000 for his February salary, GH¢1,667 for his SSNIT contributions for January, and GH¢1,850 for his taxes for February. However, he deposited all the funds into his personal account, utilized them, and failed to remit the SSNIT contributions and taxes to the relevant authorities.

In April 2020, Odonkor reportedly repeated this conduct, writing a GH¢8,527 cheque, with GH¢5,000 for his March salary, GH¢1,667 for his SSNIT contributions for March, and GH¢1,850 for his taxes for April.

Once again, he deposited the entire sum into his personal account, utilized it, and failed to pay the SSNIT contributions and taxes to the appropriate authorities.

The prosecution further claimed that in September 2020, Odonkor complained to SSNIT that the church had neglected to pay his SSNIT contributions.

The church was subsequently alerted to Odonkor’s failure to make the payments, and he was required to settle the outstanding amount along with penalties totaling GH¢10,963.91.

The case was subsequently lodged with the CID Headquarters of the Ghana Police Service, leading to Odonkor’s arrest. However, the prosecution failed to substantiate these claims during the trial, resulting in Odonkor’s acquittal and discharge.

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