Weeping Galore At Court…Anas Cocoa Smugglers Jailed

Friends and relatives joined eight accused persons to weep at the Accra Fast Track High court, after a judge handed down a total sentence of 16 years with hard labor. The trial judge, Justice Bright Mensah, found the accused persons guilty for aiding and abetting in the smuggling of cocoa out of the country. It was a scene of wailing and loud cries when the convicts were being escorted out of court to begin their prison terms. Each convict caught on hidden camera by investigative reporter Anas Aremeyaw Anas; is to serve a two year jail term on charges of abetment and receiving bribes. The charges run concurrently. In sentencing them, the trial judge stated that; the intention to commit a crime constituted abetment under Section 20 (1) of the Criminal Offences Act 29/1960, and thus convicted all those seen collecting or counting money in the video. Some of the relatives of the convicted persons started cursing Anas when they got out of the court premises; "God will curse that Anas boy for bringing his cameras to create all this problems, our God is not asleep," they charged. The case was handled on behalf of the State by Principal State Attorney, Evelyn Ama Keelson. She was assisted by Nana Adoma Osei, an Assistant State Attorney. How It Happened The facts of the case were extracted from an investigative documentary film titled, “In the Interest of the State” published in April 2010 by Anas and his Tiger Eye PI team. The film detailed how corrupt activities on the part of some officers of Customs Excise Preventive Services (CEPS), the Ghana Police Service and Ghana Immigration Service resulted in the smuggling of cocoa beans from Ghana into Cote d’Ivoire. A situation that robbed Ghana of needed revenue which ended up in the pocket of these corrupt officials. Anas’s private investigations company, Tiger Eye PI, was approached by the Ghana Cocoa Board on how best to arrest the spate of cocoa smuggling especially along Ghana’s western frontiers. Hidden Camera in Action After a series of reconnaissance efforts that confirmed the corrupt acts of some officers of the security agencies, Anas and his team set up base in Dadieso, Kwesi Nrumah, Kukumso, Aberewakrom among other places. The team filmed the activities and dealings of these officers over several months. Amongst others infractions, the team captured on video (hidden camera) how some officers were aiding the smuggling of Ghana’s cocoa into neighboring Cote d’Ivoire. An act that was negatively affecting revenue due to the state. At a point in the investigation, one Mr. Daniel Ibrahim Bepoh, Elubo district manager of Armajaro Ghana Limited a produce buying company caused the arrest of Anas when he tried to bribe him. That however did not hault the investigations especially as officers of Police, Immigration and CEPS showed their readiness at every approach to take monies and allow the team to transport bags of cocoa from Ghana into Cote d’Ivoire. The team was able to bust the clique that also involved some smuggling kingpins involving taxi drivers, ordinary members of the public who knew the underhand deals and who to contact for successful operations. April 2010: the Story Breaks The story broke as a documentary film entitled “In the Interest of State” but also in print publications carried by the New Crusading GUIDE newspaper. When the story broke, 14 officers were picked up and arraigned before a circuit court in Accra. Out of the 14, three were acquitted on a submission of no case. The remaining 11 were ordered by the court to open their defense in February last year after the court held that they had a case to answer. Anas testified in court as a police witness during the trial. Of the 11 on trial, the court acquitted another three, Rockson Eric Appeadu and Isaac Kwaku Asare Darko both of CEPS and Kofi Aboagye, an Immigration Officer; on grounds that the evidence submitted against them was not solid, adding that; “they threw doubt which could not be resolved during proceedings.” Beyond the arrest of individuals, three Cocoa Marketing Companies; Armajaro Ghana Limited, Diabe and Transroyal were also banned by the Ghana Cocoa Board on grounds that their officials were engaged in acts that facilitated the smooth operation of smugglers. Plea for Mitigation Prior to the sentencing, lawyers for the eight convicted persons pleaded for mitigation of sentences on grounds that their clients were first time offenders, they had lost their jobs and suffered enough stigma; but that was not accepted by the trial judge. Justice Bright Mensah’s main reason to hand down a custodial sentence instead of a fine being that smuggling of cocoa out of the country had become rampant. The convicted persons included Gabriel Dimado, William Festus Yawson, Steven Sowah, Nii Armah Adolf, James Dzamesi, Paul Dzamesi all were CEPS collection assistants. Others were Police constable J.K. Boakye and an Immigration Officer, Mate-Korle. After the publication of the investigative findings, the Ghana Cocoa Board recorded significant increases in cocoa revenue accruing to the state and a drop in the cases of cocoa smuggling along Ghana’s western boarders. In an interview with Anas, he emphasized that the courts had just completed his three pronged mantra of “Name, Shame and Jail,” and that it was a forward march in the anti corruption and nation building efforts.