The most senior judge in the Upper East region, Justice Jacob B. Boon, has disqualified himself from a case before him at the Bolgatanga High Court Room One following a Starr News undercover investigation on public access to equal justice under the law.
He recused himself from the case after he was officially notified of the investigative findings on Monday December 17, this year.
Starr News undertook a series of undercover investigations recently, choosing the Bolgatanga High Court Room One in one of the tasks and focusing its mission on a case involving two mining firms operating in the Talensi District of Ghana— the Cassius Mining Limited (from Australia) and the Shaanxi Mining Company Limited (from China)— at the court.
Cassius had complained that neighbouring Shaanxi had deliberately entered its licence area, sneaked underground and carted away tonnes of ore extracted from its goldfield. A rift that came up later between the two companies over the alleged trespass and raid became a dispute only a law court could settle.
So, Cassius took the matter to court in August, this year, where it sought an order directing Shaanxi to pay general damages for trespass. The plaintiff (Cassius) also prayed the court to grant interlocutory injunction on the operations of the defendant (Shaanxi) outside the licence areas of its hosts (Yenyeya and Pubootaaba mining groups). And it, among other requests, pleaded with the court to restrain the defendant from unlawfully interfering in the area where the plaintiff (Cassius) had been licensed to undertake prospecting.
Whilst the hearing of the case was underway, Starr News did weeks of undercover monitoring of developments in the background on the issue. Two weeks to the ruling on the case, Starr News sighted officials of the Shaanxi Mining Company Ltd twice on separate days— at noon and at night in November, 2018— at the official residence of Justice Jacob B. Boon— the judge in charge of the case.
Pressure and Bribe to Suppress Investigative Findings
Two days before the judge would pass a ruling on the case, Starr News established contact with the officials of Shaanxi for comments on their secret visits to the house of the region’s Supervising High Court Judge and the meetings they held with him.
Initially, they denied paying visits to the judge. But, after the irrefutable findings were laid bare to them, Starr News received telephone calls from some powerful figures, who are linked to Shaanxi, pleading strongly on behalf of the judge and the Chinese-owned company to not publish the findings.
The names of the influential figures and the ‘inflammable’ comments they made are being withheld for now.
Subsequently, Shaanxi officials brought a bribe of Gh¢5,000 cash in a brown envelope and a brand new motorbike worth about Gh¢5,000 to the investigative journalist for him to kill the story — a demand completely at odds with the ideals of Journalism.
“We know you are using a very wretched motorbike. This is just the beginning for you,” one of the officials told Starr News after the motorbike was delivered. “We have held a meeting to see how every month you’ll get something from us. If you publish it, it would affect many people including the judge who is about to retire.”
“Journalists,” says Article 3 of the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) Code of Ethics, “should not accept bribe or any form of inducement to influence the performance of his or her professional duties.”
Strong threats trailed the telephone calls in the form of caution to the reporter from known and unknown sources to have the findings quashed— a push which flies in the face of Article 8 of the GJA Code of Ethics: “Under no circumstances should news or a publication be suppressed unless it borders on national security or is in public interest to do so.”
Court’s Ruling Favours Shaanxi Mining Company Ltd
On Monday November 26, 2018, the judge, after presiding over arguments sequentially waged by a team of lawyers from each side against the other, and following weeks of studying the exhibits tendered before him by Cassius to buttress its claims and those tendered by Shaanxi in defence, ruled on the case.
The ruling favoured the Shaanxi Mining Company Ltd as the judge did not grant the interlocutory injunction the Cassius Mining Limited sought.
Officials of the Cassius Mining Ltd— a company which, in recognition of the “highest number of employment” it has given to “the Ghanaian community” so far, won the Employer of the Year Award at the 2018 MOBEK Business Excellence Awards Ceremony held recently in the country— looked crestfallen after the ruling. Whilst the Shaanxi side was jubilant after the ruling, the disappointed-looking staff and business associates of the Cassius Mining Ltd stood outside the court premises, staring in reflective silence at the motto of the Judicial Service of Ghana inscribed on a nearby signpost: “Justice and Fair Play”.
Starr News is sincerely unable to establish whatever took place indoors as the Shaanxi officials visited the judge privately at least twice within two weeks before the ruling. Starr News also can neither conclude nor suggest that Shaanxi’s multiple visits to the judge’s house influenced the outcome of the case even though Shaanxi’s attempts to silence Starr News with bribe after the ‘secret visits’ and the pleas which came from some public figures to cover Shaanxi and the judge may raise a lot of questions.
But it is public knowledge that Ghana’s Code of Conduct for Judges and Magistrates, especially under Rule 2 and Rule 5, stresses the need for judges to avoid whatsoever might cause their impartiality to be reasonably questioned or erode public confidence in the judiciary.
This, perhaps, is the reason one of the judges in the Upper East region (name of the celebrated judge to be revealed in a future publication) is said to have persistently warned and reminded the public, especially those who have cases in his court, to stay away from his residence or he would have such unwelcome visitors arrested and prosecuted.
It is one of the reasons the loving public often refers to that acclaimed judge as “The CJ”— not “The Chief Justice” but “The Clean Judge”.
So deep is the unwavering commitment of that humble judge to fairness (no matter who is involved) and to the rule of law that some observers, who say his courtroom is not only a delight to attend for the man in the street but also a “law school” where lawyers cannot risk to attend half-prepared, are reported to have vowed to “take the bullet for him” any day because, as one of them puts it, “this anti-corruption judge makes the law look so beautiful, the judiciary so attractive and democracy so appealing”.
Starr Reporter Proposes Donation of Bribe Gifts to a Worthy Charitable Cause
There are schools where pupils, for lack of furniture, sit hopelessly on the floor to learn in the Talensi District where the Shaanxi Mining Company Ltd operates.
The bribe money doled out in a desperate bid to seal a journalist’s mouth from revealing the secret visits could have provided some furniture for some floor-seated pupils in the same district where some agitated residents and small-scale miners say their concerns are never addressed because the Chinese company, according to them, has ‘bought’ authorities with the same money made from the gold extracted from their deprived-looking land.
Such underprivileged schoolchildren need common tables and chairs to spare them the poor academic performance and the health complications associated with lying on their bellies to learn for their future.
The underdeveloped region needs more patrol vehicles for the police to conscientiously fight crime so residents everywhere, irrespective of their status, can always be sure of safety and security of life and property. The bribe motorbike, which was given to a journalist in a drastic attempt to shut him up, is desperately more needed at the Zuarungu Police Station where there are no patrol vehicles to deal with the recurrent operations of coldblooded armed robbers terrorising helpless road users on the main roadway between Zuarungu in the new Bolgatanga East District and Kpatia in the Talensi District.
Edward Adeti has handed over the bribe gifts to appropriate hands with a wish for the cash to be used to procure furniture for deprived classrooms in Talensi
Starr News has handed over the bribe items to appropriate hands pending the outcome of the case. And it is the humble wish of the investigative journalist that the motorbike would end up at the Zuarungu Police Station to aid patrol operations and the Gh¢5,000 used to purchase furniture for needy classrooms in the Talensi District.