The Koforidua Circuit Court (B), presided over by Mercy Adei Kotei, has sentenced 26 foreigners and three Ghanaians, who invaded and mined in the Atiwa Forest Reserve in the Atiwa District of the Eastern Region on January 26 without licence, to pay a total fine of GH¢1,560,000.
The illegal miners are mainly Nigeriens while the others are from Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali and Togo.
The court found Abdulai Umaru, Zibo Alidu and Haruna Mumuni, who are Ghanaians, guilty of conspiracy to mine without licence in violation of Section 23(1) of Act 29-1960.
They were ordered to pay 2,500 penalty units, equivalent to GH¢30,000 each or in default serve three years’ imprisonment.
The 26 foreigners were found guilty of conspiracy to mine without licence and mining without licence in violation of Section 99(2) and 99(3) of the Minerals and Mining Act 2015.
They were ordered to pay a fine of 50,000 penalty units each or in default serve five years’ imprisonment.
They were arrested by the Forestry Department in an operation led by Palmer Akins Amponsah upon a tip-off.
In the court, Hausa and French interpreters were provided for some of the accused, who told the court they were on a hunting expedition.
Some of them claimed they were praying in the forest, although the Forestry Department found sophisticated mining equipment at the scene of the arrest.
The judge, while delivering the verdict, said claims of the accused persons of hunting for grass cutter and birds in the forest reserve could not be backed by evidence, adding that no weapons were found on the accused to buttress their point.
The court said that the convicts provided conflicting evidence indicating they attempted to deceive the court.
The Deputy Eastern Regional State Attorney, Cyril Boateng Keteku, told the court that the complainants in the case are members of the Forestry Taskforce made up of police, military and personnel of the Forestry Services Division, while the accused persons are nationals mainly from Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali.
According to the prosecutor, on January 26, 2017, the complainants, on their routine patrols in the forest, chanced upon the accused persons at about 5:00am using sophisticated mining equipment to prospect for gold and other minerals in the forest reserve without licence.
The prosecutor further explained that the team succeeded in arresting the accused persons.
He noted that sophisticated mining equipment were retrieved, adding that a search in the forest revealed that the illegal miners had destroyed a large portion of the forest reserve and also created death traps.
The prosecutor noted that they were escorted to the regional police headquarters in Koforidua for interrogations.
Mr Boateng added that the accused persons could not produce any licence and were properly charged.
He however asked the court to impose the maximum sentence to serve a deterrent to others, stressing that the verdict of the court would boost the government’s fight against ‘galamsey’.