Judge Cancels Magistrate’s Bail Orders in Money Laundering, Drug Case

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By Kemeseng Sanneh (Kexx)

Justice Francis A. Achibonga has overturned the decision of Principal Magistrate Omar Jabang of the Kanifing Magistrate’s Court in granting bail to Paulo Djibi, Nadine Pereira, MamaduNetoDjibi, and SecunaJabi standing trial on 15 criminal counts of drug-related charges and money laundering.

The case initially began in the Kanifing Magistrate Court before Principal Magistrate Jabang. The accused persons pleaded not guilty to the charges and were admitted on bail. The prosecution then applied for the case to be transferred to the High Court arguing that money laundering cases can only be tried there. It was the contention of the State that the magistrate lacked powers to hear cases of money laundering.

Senior Counsels Lamin S. Camara and SheriffoTambadou opposed the prosecution’s submissions. The two defence lawyers contended that the magistrate had the power to hear the case. They also applied for bail on behalf of the accused persons.

Principal Magistrate Jabang on 14 September 2023 delivered his ruling and granted bail to the accused persons. He also transferred the case to the high court.

Unsatisfied with the magistrate’s ruling, the State filed an appeal on 15 September 2023 asserting that the Principal Magistrate erred by asserting jurisdiction over money laundering offences and then granted bail to the accused persons. The state argued that the offences in question fell outside the jurisdiction of the Magistrate’s Court. The State relied on Section 2 of the Anti-Money Laundering and Combating of Terrorist Financing Act 2012. The State argued that the High Court is the court that has the authority to interpret and enforce the Anti-Money Laundering Act. The State asked the high court to quash the ruling of the Principal Magistrate.

The state also argued that the accused, being foreign nationals, posed a flight risk, and the bail granted was insufficient to ensure their presence during proceedings.

In his judgement on the appeal filed by the State against the ruling of Magistrate Jabang, Justice Achibonga made reference to the  Halsbury’s Laws of England, which defines jurisdiction as ‘the authority granted to a court to decide matters and imposes limits determined by statutes, charters, or commissions.’

Justice Achibonga cited the Ghana Supreme Court case of Ghana Football Association v. Apaade Lodge Ltd (2009) were the judges emphasised that a court cannot confer jurisdiction upon itself if not granted by the relevant statutes or laws.

On whether the magistrate has jurisdiction or not, Justice Achibonga said Sections 2 and 24 of the Anti-Money Laundering provides that the High Court retains exclusive original jurisdiction to try offences under the Act. Furthermore, the Judge pointed out that section 88  subsection 4 of the Act enables the High Court to exercise additional powers, including imposing a ban on persons convicted under the Act. He held that the Principal Magistrate lacked the jurisdiction to try offences under the Anti-Money Laundering and Combating of Terrorist Financing Act.

Regarding the granting of bail, the Judge emphasised that a court can only grant bail after assuming jurisdiction over a case.

“Since the Principal Magistrate lacked jurisdiction, the bail granted to the accused was deemed invalid,” Justice Achibonga said.

The Judge clarified that the granting of bail is tied to the jurisdiction of the court to hear the case. As a result, the Principal Magistrate erred in law when he granted bail to the accused persons.

Lastly, the Judge stated that since the Principal Magistrate lacked jurisdiction to hear the case and grant bail, the issue of whether the Principal Magistrate exercised his discretion properly in admitting the accused to bail became moot.

The Judge set aside the ruling of the Kanifing Magistrate Court.