Ex-gov’t official’s conviction politically oriented or legal ?

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A five- year jail sentence handed down on Tsatsu Tsikata, a key opposition figure and close ally of Ghana’s former president Jerry John Rawlings, by an Accra court last Wednesday, dominated the media in the country, with reactions varying from a pat on the shoulder of the judge, to condemnation.

The arguments in the press are mainly: Was he guilty or innocent? Was it a political trial or rule of law? Did the judge rush to give judgement or acted properly?”

“Tsatsu jailed 5 years for causing financial loss” was the headline of the mass circulation state-owned Daily Graphic, which also carried his photograph as he walked from the courtroom to be escorted to begin the sentence, against which he has appealed.

The newspapers said Tsikata was shocked because he was not expecting judgement to be delivered yet, having filed another application at the Supreme Court, which he said, would introduce fresh information.

The pro-government Independent newspaper said “Tragedy hits National Democratic Congress (NDC); Tsatsu Tsikata jailed five years; NDC gurus in tears”, while another pro-government newspaper, Daily Guide said “Tsatsu jailed; NDC shocked”.

The main stories were the same. Tsikata, a brilliant lawyer and energy expert, who was chief executive of the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation (GNPC), was found guilty on three counts of wilfully causing financial loss of 230,000 Ghanaian cedis (US$ 230,000) in 1996 to the state and one count of misapplying public property of 2,000 Ghanaian cedis (US$ 2,000) and jailed for five years on each count. The sentences will run concurrently.

The charges arose from Tsikata guaranteeing a loan for Valley Farms, a private farming company and repaying the loan when the farm defaulted.

Daily Guide said Rawlings arrived 30 minutes after the judgement was delivered, while senior officials of the party and parliamentarians also rushed to the Supreme Court building to sympathise with Tsikata.

“Rawlings who sat in his Toyota Land Cruiser for about 10 minutes went into the court building to see the convict and refused to comment,” wrote the Daily Guide .

It said top-guns of the NDC “went into full mourning” and as if they were mourning a dead person, they were handed red bands.

The Graphic newspaper, in another story headlined “Tsikata’s conviction stirs debate,” said there were “exciting discussions” among lawyers, but the general consensus was that the trial judge, Henrietta Abban, did not offend the law.

It said those who thought the judge did nothing untoward argued that the judicial precedent had been that a pending appeal at the superior court did not serve as a stay of proceedings, while even when courts had given a decision, it was required by law to review it.

However, those who thought the judge erred argued strongly that since the outcome of a pending appeal could affect a substantive matter, it was the norm to stay proceedings to await the outcome of the pending appeal.

The pro-government Accra Daily Mail said Professor John Evans Atta Mills, the presidential candidate of the NDC, expressed reservations about the sentence, saying he had been to court a number of times and listened to the arguments and was therefore taken aback by the judgement.

“I thought Tsatsu had done the best that he could and rather than throwing him in jail, I genuinely believe he deserved honour,” Mills was quoted as saying.

The pro-opposition Ghana Palaver summed up its frustration in its headlines: “Travesty of justice: We’re appalled, disgusted and ashamed”, “Tsikata’s conviction : Disgusting and appalling”.

Ghana Palaver said “Tsikata is a victim of what millions of Ghanaians see as travesty of justice of monumental proportions.” It said Ghanaians were expressing their “utter disgust and disappointment” with the judgement.

For its part, the state-owned Ghanaian Times quoted an opposition lawyer, Dr Sintim Togbiba as describing the conviction of Tsikata as “very shocking”.

According to him, following the evidence that was led in court, it was difficult for him to accept Tsikata could be convicted.

However, another lawyer, Mr A.F. Boadu, advised the public not to be swayed by emotions but rather look at the larger interest.

Tsikata’s conviction followed those of Kwame Peprah, former minister of finance, Ibrahim Adam, former food and agriculture minister, Dan Abodakpi, former trade and industry minister, Victor Selormey, the late former deputy finance minister and several government officials for wilfully causing financial losses.

With an appeal in court, Tsatsu is set to once again test all the aspects of the law, as he did in the six years the case was in court. Panapress .

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