Saturday, February 27, 2010 (Page 3 Lead)
THE Financial Division of the High Court, in a Biblical manner, tempered justice with mercy and spared the Editor of the Enquirer newspaper, Mr Raymond Archer, of imprisonment after he was convicted last Wednesday for contempt of court.
The presiding judge, Mr Bright Mensah, after quoting Proverbs 28:13, which states, “He who covers his sins will not prosper but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy”, fined Mr Archer and his newspaper 200 penalty units or in default face two weeks’ imprisonment.
Each penalty unit is worth GH¢12. Mr Archer has since paid the total GH¢2,400 fine.
Mr Archer, who was accompanied to the courtroom by his lawyer, Mr Tony Lithur, walked out of the court premises after he had paid the fine.
Mr Lithur told the court that his client had retracted and apologised for publishing stories which had imputed that a former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Akwasi Osei-Adjei, and a former Managing Director of the National Investment Bank (NIB), Charles Daniel Gyimah, who are standing trial for allegedly causing financial loss to the state, had influenced prosecution witnesses to testify in their favour.
The publications, with headlines: “Trial of Ricemasters — Osei-Adjei and Dan Gyimah Boxed. Secret Attempt to pay off witnesses uncovered” and “Ricemasters Trial Bombshell — Attempt to pay off witness uncovered. Culprits to face obstruction of Justice charge”, were published in the first and second weeks of December 2009 and that prompted counsel for Osei-Adjei, Mr Godfred Yeboah Dame, to sue Mr Archer for contempt.
Mr Archer has, accordingly, apologised to the accused persons as ordered by the court and retracted the stories in yesterday’s edition of the newspaper.
About 100 people wearing red apparel, with matching red armbands, thronged the court premises to support Mr Archer, who wore a brown suit.
The court held that after taking the submissions of both counsel in the case into consideration, it had accepted Mr Archer’s apology and, accordingly, tempered justice with mercy.
Mr Justice Mensah advised Mr Archer to be a “very good child” and not repeat his actions in future.
He reminded Mr Archer that Ghana was a governed country and for that reason the court would not condone any action that would put the country into flames, adding, “I would like to stay in the country after my retirement.”
On Wednesday, Mr Justice Mensah, in his ruling, described the publications as “reckless and irresponsible” and, accordingly, ordered Archer, who could not substantiate them, to retract them and apologise to the court, the applicants and the general public before Friday, February 26, 2010.
The court then granted Archer bail in the sum of GH¢50,000 with one surety and further ordered him to reappear yesterday, February 26, 2010, for sentencing.
He expressed surprise as to how Archer came by such a story which he (Archer) could not prove in court.
He said much as he believed in press freedom and recognised the media as the watchdog over the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary, the watchdog must be punished if it broke loose.
According to the court, Archer was guilty of the serious form of contempt because he had attempted to jeopardise the rights of the applicants to a fair trial, adding that the publications were intended to excite popular prejudice against the applicants and for that reason Archer’s action amounted to a media trial.
In the substantive matter, which has been adjourned to March 11, 2010, Osei-Adjei and Gyimah have been accused of wilfully causing financial loss to the state for allegedly acting together to steal 2,997 bags of rice, valued at US$1,408,590.
However, lawyers for the accused persons have argued that diplomatic efforts embarked upon by the accused persons to solve the food shortage in the country have been “criminalised”.
The two have been charged with eight counts of conspiracy, contravention of provisions of the Public Procurement Act, 2003 (Act 663), using public office for profit, stealing and wilfully causing financial loss to the state.
They have pleaded not guilty to the charges and were each admitted to bail in the sum of GH¢200,000 with two sureties each to be justified.