It has been 23 months since Bishop Oko Mensah resigned from the Lighthouse Chapel International. He resigned in October 2019 after nearly 15 years of service.
It has also been five months since he sued the church in April 2021, alleging emotional, psychological abuse and economic exploitation.
But two months after suing the Lighthouse Chapel, the church also filed a criminal complaint against him at the Auto-Theft Unit of the Criminal Investigations Department of the Ghana Police Service for stealing his official car, a Hyundai Elantra with registration, GN8591-12.
The car was procured for his official use in 2012, and he used it until he resigned in 2019. In its complaint to the police, Lighthouse Chapel International valued the nine-year-old car at $20,000.
On Wednesday, September 22, 2021, Emmanuel Oko Mensah stood up before an Accra circuit court judge, Evelyn Asamoah, and pleaded not guilty to the charge of stealing his official car.
The prosecutor, Chief Inspector Simon Apiosornu, said Emmanuel Oko Mensah “failed to hand over” the vehicle after he resigned. It was Lighthouse Church’s Human Resource Director, Rebecca Edith Addae, who reported the matter to the police on June 11, 2021.
In an application for a self-recognisance bail after Oko Mensah pleaded not guilty, Kofi Bentil, who is the lawyer for the accused, explained that his client had a case against the church. That case was being heard in a building adjacent to the court and, therefore, had no motivation to abscond from the jurisdiction.
To buttress his request for the self-recognisance bail, Kofi Bentil explained that after the complaint was first filed at the police, his client fully submitted himself to the police and fully cooperated with investigations.
“He was given a self-recognisance bail [by the police] which he never violated,” Bentil said. He added that as a reverend minister, his client also had a church to administer and would not “do anything to jeopardise his freedom.”
The lawyer’s plea for self-recognisance did not move the judge.
She set bail at GHc150,000 with two sureties. She also adjourned the case to October 12, 2021.
Controversy over the “stolen” car
Emmanuel Oko Mensah is one of the six former Lighthouse pastors who resigned and have sued the church. On the charge of stealing, he has maintained his innocence. He said after he resigned from the church, he parked the car at the La Bawaleshie branch of Lighthouse Chapel International in Accra.
He said that branch of Lighthouse Chapel is situated on a property given to the church by his father.
Oko Mensah’s father, though not a member of Lighthouse Chapel International, said it was his contribution to the evangelistic goals of LCI where his son, a trained engineer, had dedicated his life to serving, in full-time ministry.
The property, two bungalows, was given to the church to use as a place of worship free of charge – since 2008. The church continued to use the premise even after Oko Mensah resigned in 2019. But it relocated to a bigger location after Covid-19 broke out in 2020.
Bishop Oko Mensah said when he resigned and parked the car at the La-Bawaleshie branch of the church, on his parent’s property, he could not be said to have stolen the car which was in the full view of members of the church.
The former bishop of the church also told the police in his caution statement that even if he took the car home, it was in line with a documented church policy that allowed former employees, such as sacked workers, to take their official cars home once they left the church.
Kofi Bentil explained that “commonsense” dictates that once the church wanted its property back it should directly ask Oko Mensah to return it. If he failed to return the car, it could report Oko Mensah to the police for stealing.
But Lighthouse Chapel International went directly to the police to complain that its Hyundai Elantra had been stolen nearly two years ago.
After the church filed the complaint against its former employee, Emmanuel Oko Mensah returned the car on June 24, 2021, to the police headquarters.
“The car was never missing, never stolen, never in controversy,” the lawyer insisted.
He laughed off the church’s claim at the seven-year-old saloon car could be valued at $20,000 (GHC80,000).
The lawyer said this charge of stealing pushed by the church is part of many acts of revenge, and intimidation against the six former employees since they sued the church in April.
He said Emmanuel Oko Mensah was not the only target of harassment by the church.
Lighthouse Chapel International also tried to file a complaint against Larry Odonkor, accusing him of selling his official vehicle while in Madagascar. But it turned out he had not sold any car.
Against, Rev. Edem Amankwa, LCI filed a complaint at the police alleging he had pocketed GHc38,000 from the sale of Bishop Dag Heward-Mills’ books, even though he had submitted an account of the sale of the books to the church before he resigned years ago.
Against Faith Fiakojo, the church has accused him of stealing a church building in Fumbisi.
“Without any grounds, the police have persisted in harassment,” Kofi Bentil put together what he said was a pattern of harassment.