The name En Huang may not sound familiar as its popularity is shadowed by what the public knows so well. But when you mention Aisha Huang in Ghana, there are no two feelings about it. The name is synonymous with illegal mining, known in Ghana as galamsey. And if you are wondering if this is a mistake that a name that sounds Chinese is popular in faraway West Africa for illegal mining, then stop right here. The name doesn’t just sound Chinese, but the bearer of it is Chinese through and through and yes, she is famed in the mineral-rich West African country for illegal mining.
On Monday, December 4, 2023, the Criminal Division of the Accra High Court presided by Justice Lydia Osei Marfo sentenced En Huang to a four-and-half-year jail term for crimes she committed between 2015 and 2017. She was also fined GHS48,000.00. By the court’s decision, Aisha Huang as she is known in Ghana would be deported after she had paid the fine and served her sentence in the Ghanaian prisons.
The sentencing brings to a conclusion the 14-month-long trial that started in October 2022 following her re-arrest. Counsel for Aisha Huang appealed to the court to order her deportation since she has been in custody since her arrest in October 2022.
Arrest, trial and deportation of Aisha Huang
Aisha Huang was first arrested in 2017 and stood trial on three counts of undertaking small-scale mining operations, contrary to Section 99 (1) of the Minerals and Mining Act, 2006 (Act 703); providing mining support services without valid registration with the Minerals Commission, contrary to the Minerals and Mining Act, 2006 (Act 703), and the illegal employment of foreign nationals, contrary to the Immigration Act, 2000 (Act 573).
The case was however discontinued by the state and the Chinese national was deported on December 19, 2018, amid a public uproar. Among the groups and individuals that expressed concern included the Media Coalition Against Galamsey. The group petitioned the Attorney General demanding clarity on why the state filed nolle prosequi in the case.
At that time, the then Secretary for the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Illegal Mining, Charles Bissue, a man who was later fingered for condoling corruption and lost his position as a result said discontinuing the case was in the good interest of Ghana, financially. In an interaction with Citi News, Charles Bissue said, “Prosecution is good. But once you are prosecuting you are using the taxpayers’ money and I don’t think we have to be burdened with that.”
Godfred Yeboah Dame, the current Attorney General during his vetting said his former boss Gloria Akuffo was not obliged to give reasons for deciding to discontinue the case. “I was not the Attorney General, it is only Madam Gloria Akuffo, my former boss, who will know and indeed she is not bound, as I said, even to disclose the reasons to the court and so the reason for the entry of the Nolle prosequi has not been published and I wouldn’t know why,” he told the Appointment Committee of Parliament.
Re-entry into Ghana, her arrest and the additional charge
As the matter cooled down following her deportation, Aisha Huang emerged in the news again. She had re-entered the country. According to facts from the state prosecutors, Miss Huang upon her deportation changed her identity to Huang Ruixia, applied for a Togolese visa and then entered Ghana through land borders. She then moved to Kumasi in the Ashanti Region where she along with three other Chinese nationals Jong Li Hua; Huang Jei and Huiad Hiahu engaged in the sale and purchase of minerals without a license.
They were arrested by National Security Operatives on September 2, 2022, and arraigned before court.
Following her second day in court on September 5, during which she was absent, the Attorney General’s office on September 6, 2022, announced that it had requested a new docket on Aisha Huang and pledged to fully prosecute her. “The Attorney-General has called for the new docket on En Huang a.k.a. Aisha, regarding offences she is suspected to have recently committed. The A-G will also re-initiate prosecution in respect of the old offences for which she was standing trial before her deportation in 2018.”
For her crimes between 2015 and 2017, she was labelled with the following charges:
- One count of undertaking a mining operation without a licence between February 2015 and May 2017;
- One count of facilitating the participation of persons engaged in a mining operation without a licence between February 2015 and May 2017;
- One count of illegal employment of foreign nationals contrary to section 24 of the Immigration Act, 2000, Act 573;
- One count of entering Ghana while prohibited from re-entry contrary to section 20(4) of the Immigration Act, 2000, Act 573.
After the 14-month-long trial, the court was near its concluding mark. Miss Huang’s counsel tried to intervene and get her deported instead of a custodial sentence which was imminent.
Miracle Attachey told the court that “a custodial sentence to the accused would exert another financial burden on the state, particularly the prison service”. He added that En Huang “made the work of the prosecution and court move expeditiously regarding her re-entry charge”.
But his plea was sharply rebutted. The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Yvonne Atakora Obuobisa said the weight of the crimes committed by Aisha Huang deserved a maximum custodial sentence for the accused.
Sentencing and call for reform
Justice Lydia Osei Marfo handed out her sentence, condemning Miss Huang to a four-and-half-year jail term under the old Minerals and Mining Act, 2006 (Act 703). However, Justice Osei Marfo added her piece of mind, a call for the laws to expand to cover people who gave out lands for illegal mining as the miners do not work alone but with the land owners.
According to Justice Osei Marfo, foreigners like Aisha Huang may not know what is happening in the country so it is the landowners who help them start the business. She called for reforms so the law can catch up with landowners including chiefs whose actions are contributing to the pollution of water bodies and destruction of lands in the country.
In her opinion, if the laws are hard on landowners and chiefs “they won’t have the effrontery to give out the lands”. Based on that, she said until the law looks in that direction “ the kingpins who benefit will never show their heads. They will continue hiding until we end up bathing ‘pure water’ which is too expensive for us, especially those in the rural areas”
Public reaction and A-G’s resolve to appeal
The sentencing of Aisha Huang, a case that has been on the lips of Ghanaians since 2017 has caused multiple reactions from the public. Notable are the Deputy Attorney General, the Attorney General and private citizens including Martin Kpebu, a lawyer.
For Alfred Tuah Yeboah, the Deputy A-G, Aisha Huang’s sentencing “should be a lesson to the others that you may be engaged in illegal mining but when your time comes, the law will deal with you”.
Godfred Yeboah Dame, the A-G released a statement announcing the decision of his office to appeal the sentence. The office wants Aisha Huang to be sentenced under the new Minerals and Mining Act, 2019 (Act 995). Contrary to Act 703 under which Miss Huang was sentenced which carries a maximum of a five-year term for illegal miners, Act 995 imposes a minimum of 15 years and a maximum of 25 years for culprits.
Narrating the sequence of events in a statement, the A-G said, “In 2017, Aisha Huang had been charged with illegal mining offences committed between 2015 and May 2017. On 19th December 2018, the Attorney-General entered nolle prosequi and terminated the trial. The Comptroller-General of Ghana Immigration Service revoked her permit to remain in Ghana indefinitely and ordered her immediate repatriation to China pursuant to section 20 (2) of the Immigration Act, 2000, Act 573.”
Building on the grounds to appeal the case which will possibly see Aisha Huang handed a minimum of 20 years and a minimum fine of GHS1.2 million, the A-G said the presiding judge considered the fact that the crimes were committed before the passage of the new Act into law.
Part of the statement said, the judge “considered the fact that the offences of undertaking a mining operation without a licence and facilitating the participation of persons engaged in a mining operation without a licence with which the accused was charged, were committed between February 2015 and May 2017, at a time that the Minerals and Mining (Amendment) Act, 2019 (Act 995), which imposes a punishment of a minimum of twenty (20) years in prison for a non-Ghanaian together with a fine of between one hundred thousand penalty units and three hundred and fifty thousand penalty units, had not been passed.”
Joining the support team for an appeal, Martin Kpebu, a private legal practitioner said the decision is in the right direction as it will provide good grounds to test the law. According to Mr Kpebu, “There is no harm in trying”.
“It’s good that the Attorney General is going on appeal, it will strengthen our jurisprudence so that is good. Let’s not forget that justice emanates from the people so where there is a groundswell of disappointment with the sentence and citizens are asking why can’t we use the new law, it’s good to test the law. There is no harm in trying. So it is good the Attorney General is saying that he is going to go on appeal. That is good. Let’s test the law,” he told Accra-based Joy FM.
Meanwhile, Deputy A-G, Alfred Tuah Yeboah following the conclusion of the trial said the judge did what was required based on the law. Commenting on the seemingly small number of years handed to Aisha Huang, he said “When we arrested her last year , there was no evidence that when she came back to Ghana, she committed illegal mining offences. We probed into it and we didn’t find any evidence. If there had been, it would have been another matter.”
He added “If you have a new law that has reduced the punishment under the old law, use it. But if the old law is lesser than the new law, use the old law; that is the law.”
Reacting to the Deputy A-G’s comments when asked if there might be contrary views from the A-G’s office, Godfred Dame said, he and his deputy were on the same page. He said the judge used the old law because when Aisha was arrested there was no evidence that she committed illegal mining offences after 2019 so the charges were based on the old Act 703 under which she committed the offences in 2015 and 2017.