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Saturday, October 31, 2009

BNI Ordered To Answer Contempt Charges

Mr Stephen Asamoah-Boateng - former  Information Minister
Mr Stephen Asamoah-Boateng - former Information Minister
The Human Rights Division of the High Court has ordered the Director of the Bureau of National Investigations (BNI) and two others to appear before it and openly answer contempt charges levelled against them by a former Minister of Information, Mr Stephen Asamoah-Boateng.

The court, accordingly, declined to grant a request by the Attorney-General’s (A-G’s) Department which prayed it to hear the matter in camera in order to protect the identity of the respondents.

Mr Asamoah-Boateng, his wife, Zuleika, Jennifer Lorwiah, Nana Yaw Asamoah-Boateng and Andrew Asamoah-Boateng instituted the contempt action against the three respondents, Yaw Donkor, Josephine Gandawiri, Stephen Abrokwa, and the A-G for preventing them from travelling outside the country on two occasions without recourse to a court order.

Citing authorities to buttress the court’s decision in Accra, the presiding judge, Mr Justice U. P. Dery, disagreed with the A-G‘s Department’s suggestion that it would be inimical for the identities of the respondents to be blown, stating that the BNI and the police enjoyed the same rights and protection.

According to the court, it had carefully studied the Securities and Intelligence Act (Act 526) which clearly spelt out the rights of the police and the BNI as the same and for that matter “the BNI cannot be given special treatment”.

The court submitted that the police always availed themselves in court whenever they were needed to give evidence and it would, therefore, not be out of place to order the respondents to appear in open court to answer contempt charges.

The matter was adjourned to Thursday, November 12, 2009 for hearing. Earlier, a Chief State Attorney, Ms Helen Kwawukume, had told the court that the operations of the respondents would be hampered if their identities were blown.

She said the respondents were involved in intelligence work for the state and for that matter it would be most appropriate if the court heard the matter in camera.

Opposing the application, counsel for the applicants, Nene Amegatcher, said the court could only sit in camera if it appeared a case in question would jeopardise national security and interest.

In this instance, counsel submitted, the case would not jeopardise national security or interest if it was heard in open court.
He further argued that the respondents should have passed information they gathered during their under-cover operations to the police, the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), among others, for action, as stipulated under the Security Agencies and Intelligence Act.

According to counsel, the respondents in this case arrogated to themselves the “powers of arrest and statement taking”, adding that BNI officials wore tags and arrested people in public.

Nene Amegatcher told the court that BNI officials had gone on board the flight which had more than 200 passengers to effect the arrest of Mr Asamoah-Boateng and his family.

The contempt action was instituted when the four applicants were prevented from travelling outside the country on June 14, 2009 without any court order or warrant, following which they filed an application seeking an injunction to restrain the BNI from further preventing them from travelling without a court order.

While the application was pending, they claimed the BNI again disregarded the action and prevented them from travelling again at a later date.

The matter had been embroiled in some confusion when, on August 18, 2009, there was controversy over direct proof of service of the contempt summons on the Director of the BNI and the two other officials of the bureau.

While the records of the court and applicants’ lawyer indicated that the three respondents had been served with the contempt summons, the A-G’s Department said otherwise.

Similarly, the records of proof of service of the court and that of applicants’ lawyer did not tally, as the two records indicated names of different bailiffs, with different dates of serving the contemnors.

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