Free Press Editor jailed
By Paul Awortwi-Mensah
AN Accra High Court presided over by Mr. Justice R. K. Apaloo yesterday sentenced the Editor of the Free Press, an Accra private newspaper to a day?s imprisonment for publishing a story whose substance is the subject matter of a legal battle currently before the court.
The court also fined the editor the sum of ?1 million or in default he will serve additional 21 days in prison.
Mr. Stephen Owusu, the editor, is said to have made comments and formed opinion in the case in which four shareholders of Ashanti Goldfields Company Limited (AGC) are seeking to unseat its Board of Directors.
A front page story in the January 26 to February 1 issue of the Free Press said the announcement that two more shareholders had joined the suit filed by the four shareholders against the AGC reinforces the level of disaffection among shareholders towards the board and management of the company.
Captioned ?More on AGC Crisis?, the story went on to say among other things that investigations had shown that whiles the company?s fortunes decline, the board members and other top management had a field day securing juicy and lucrative AGC contracts for companies in which they had personal interests.
Passing judgement, the court said the editor?s conduct was reprehensible since he mentioned in his publication that the paper conducted its own investigations in the matter pending before the court of law.
The court ordered the editor not to publish any further comments or opinions on the case until the final determination of the case but he is at liberty to publish proceedings on the matter in court.
It said the court hopes that the sentence will serve as a deterrent to the editor.
Captain Nkrabea Effah Dartey, counsel for Mr. Owusu told the court that his client has shown remorse and pleaded with the court to deal leniently with him.
In his submissions yesterday, counsel for AGC, Mr. Kwame Tetteh told the court that the Chief Executive of Adryx Mining and Metals Limited, Mr. Jean Claude Gandur, who incidentally is the first applicant in the case had a hidden agenda for filing the suit against AGC.
Mr. Tetteh said Mr. Gandur served on the board and only tended in his resignation letter on October 4, 1999, in which he complained that he would not allow himself to be used as a rubber stamp anymore on the board.
Counsel said the time of Mr. Gandur?s resignation is significant because it was at the same time when AGC started facing financial problems and the company had started some talks with other agents to help find solutions to the crisis.
?His resignation and the discussions was around the same time and it would be seen that his resignation was for him to get out of the board and force AGC to dispose off some of its assets?, he said.
According to Mr. Tetteh, Mr. Gandur found an ally in Dr. Michael Martineau, who worked for Cluff resources, owners of half of the Geita Mine owned by the company in Tanzania.
Mr. Tetteh said it was through these two people that AGC acquired Geita and noted that the same two people want to take back Geita and sell it to other people.
Counsel, however, told the court that these two people have a hidden agenda and prayed the court not to grant their application.
Adryx and Metals Limited and three other shareholders are seeking a declaration from the court to compel AGC to convene an extra-ordinary general meeting of shareholders to propose resolutions to unseat the present board of directors.
In addition, they seek in the meantime to restrain the present board of directors of the company from entering into any agreement, contract or understanding, which may impair or substantially reduce the ability of any new board which may be elected at the extra-ordinary general meeting to deal with the company?s affairs as it might otherwise chose.