The Sekondi High Court in the Western Region has sentenced four convicts, including two Chinese, to a 15-year jail term each in hard labour.
The four, Chen Hung @Labania, Chen Zhili, Stephen Arthur, and Prince Denis Aidoo, were tried for buying and selling minerals in the country without licence, contrary to sections of the Minerals and Mining Act, 2006 (Act 703) as amended.
This was after the court, presided over by Justice Richmond Osei-Hwere, had overturned an earlier judgment by a Tarkwa Circuit Court which convicted and sentenced the four persons to only the payment of fines.
The high court found as erroneous the judgment delivered by the Circuit Court on November 5, 2021 in the case involving the four and, therefore, granted an application for certiorari filed by the state to have the decision quashed.
Justice Osei-Hwere ruled that the Circuit Court committed an error of law patent on the face of the record when it convicted the four only to pay a fine instead of imposing the correct sentences of custodial sentence and a fine as prescribed by section 99 (I)(a) of Act 703.
The trial judge further issued an arrest warrant for the convicts, who had all absconded from the country after the Circuit Court judgment, to be arrested to serve their prison terms.
Only Chen Zhili has been arrested and is currently serving his jail term.
The convicts were tried on eight counts made up of three counts of conspiracy to commit crime to wit, two counts of abetment of crime, buying minerals without licence, selling minerals without licence and money laundering.
The Circuit Court in its judgment sentenced Hung, Zhili and Aidoo to pay GH¢144,000 each or serve 15 years jail term, while Arthur was to pay GH¢120,000 or serve 10 years jail term.
However, with the latest ruling of the High Court, the convicts will pay the fines and serve the prison terms in addition as imposed by the court.
The Chief State Attorney, Patience A. Klinogo, who filed the application for the certiorari, argued that the Circuit Court ought to have imposed a term of imprisonment in addition to the fines in respect of six of the charges.
Ms Klinogo, during hearing, prayed the court to allow her to move the application in the absence of the convicts which was granted as they had all left the country and, therefore, efforts made to serve them at their known place of residence had proved futile.
She said it was important for the court to have imposed the punishment according to the dictates of the statutory provision and that “a court can only exercise its sentencing discretion within the confines of the sentencing regime relating to a particular offence”.
Any attempt to move outside the parameters of the sentencing regime, she argued, would amount to a nullity, as it constituted an error of law patent on the face of the record.
Lawyers for convict Zhili arguments
Zhili’s lawyers attempted to arrest the issuance of the commitment of the warrant issued by Justice Osei-Hwere on grounds that the prosecution adopted an unknown procedure under the Criminal Procedure Act to get sentences of imprisonment.
The lawyers argued that Zhili was not aware of whatever processes the state filed and that the state only claimed they could not find the convicts for which reason it filed an affidavit of non-service instead of substituted service to have them served through other means.
Justice Osei-Hwere, who said he was satisfied with the prosecution’s submission for which the custodial sentences were delivered, advised the lawyers to apply a copy of his judgment and if they had issues address them through a proper forum.