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The acquittal and discharge of Kwabena Amaning, alias Tagor, and Alhaji Issah Abass of cocaine charges by the Court of Appeal has been welcomed as an opportunity for the state to reopen investigations into some high-profile narcotic cases in the country.

A former Executive Secretary of the Narcotics Control Board (NACOB), Mr Kofi Bentum Quantson, said the decision of the Court of Appeal should, indeed, pave the way for President John Evans Atta Mills to fulfil his promise of having all high profile narcotic cases comprehensively investigated. "This is a must. That is the only way to reclaim Ghana's integrity and credibility in the war against the drug menace," he stated in an interview with the Daily Graphic Monday.

Mr Quantson, who is also a former National Security Co-ordinator, said the verdict of the Court of Appeal should not be a surprise at all. "Indeed, from the way the whole MV Benjamin cocaine saga and other narcotic cases were manipulated to suppress vital information, it is the expectable outcome," he said. He said there were far too many pertinent questions and issues that needed to be addressed by the Georgina Wood Committee, the Kojo Armah Committee, the Ghana Police Service, NACOB, the Attorney-General's Department and the then Office of the then Minister of National Security.

Mr Quantson, who also served as the Director of the Bureau of National Investigations (BNI), said in his view, the judgement of the Court of Appeal was an indictment on the prosecution and the investigators as a whole. He wondered why ACP Kofi Boakye was not called to court, either as a prosecution or a defence witness, and why Mr Benjamin Ndego was also not called to court. He said the manner in which the investigations were handled, resulting in the mysterious escape of key persons involved in the saga, left much to be desired.

For his part, Dr Kwesi Aning, who is the Head of the Conflict Prevention, Management and Resolution Department (CPMRD) of the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre, said the judgement raised very serious issues about the quality of investigations and also the prosecutorial skills of those empowered by the state to deal with such cases.

"There is no doubt at all that there is the need to re-open investigations into all high profile narcotics cases and ensure that we deal with this challenge once and for all," he said. He said the danger with drug-related cases was that there were several ancillary threats to the state: Security, communities, business, national reputation and danger to public health. "It is crucial that the Mills administration establishes a bi-partisan parliamentary or national commission to examine the threat of drugs to Ghana across board," he said. The Court of Appeal last Friday acquitted and discharged Tagor and Alhaji Abass after they had spent almost 20 months in prison for an alleged narcotic-related offence.

The court, presided over by Mr Justice E. K. Piesare, set aside the November 27, 2007 conviction by the Accra Fast Track High Court of 15 years' imprisonment each with hard labour. Other members of the panel were Mr Justice Yaw Apau and Mr Justice E.A. Addo. The appellants were on November 27, 2007 convicted and sentenced when the court, presided over by Mr Justice Jones Victor Dotse, then a Court of Appeal judge with additional responsibility as a High Court judge, found them guilty on charges of conspiracy and engaging in prohibited business related to narcotics without authority.

That was after the Georgina Wood Committee set up to investigate an alleged 76 parcels of cocaine missing on board the MV Benjamin at the Tema Port had recommended the trial of the appellants. In its unanimous decision, the court ordered the immediate release of the two, saying the conviction and the sentence were flawed and against the weight of Criminal Law. The court described the lower court's decision as a nullity and a cancerous tumour in the country's legal anatomy which needed to be flushed out of the system.

According to the court, the charges, together with the accompanying particulars, were defective and deficient, while the prosecution failed to establish a prima facie case against the appellants.

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