By John Bediako
The Tarkwa Divisional Police Command is investigating circumstances leading to the burning of an exhibit excavator valued at GH¢500,000 which was in the custody of GALAMSTOP, a taskforce set up by the Small Scale Mining Association to fight illegal mining.
The excavator, CAT 330 BL, was among a number of earthmoving equipment seized at mining sites in the Western Region, and supposedly transported to Accra for safe keeping, only for it to disappear.
According to highly placed police source at the Headquarters in Accra, an intensive search mounted by the owners led to the location of the excavator at the Kutukrom Forest Reserve (Nsuta Forest Reserve) in the Prestea Huni Valley Municipality of the Western Region, whilst engaged in illegal mining activities resulting in its burning.
Also featuring in the raging scandal is an allegation of extortion of GH¢100,000 the owners are levelling against some members of GALAMSTOP who reportedly assured the release on the spot of the seized equipment, but failed to honour that promise.
Allegedly linked to the scandal and assisting the police in their investigations is a top politician and high profile security officer. The paper promises to bring out the names in due course.
The police source intimated to The Chronicle that on February 20, 2019, GALAMSTOP personnel stormed mining sites at Tumantu in the Nzema East District of the Western Region.
At one of the sites, the group intercepted and took charge of two earthmoving equipment belonging to one Opia Mensah.
The group allegedly extorted GH¢100,000 with the view to releasing the seized equipment, which Opia Mensah paid with the hope to get back his machines. But after taking the amount, the group reneged on the promise and rather brought in low loaders to cart the excavators away.
At this critical juncture, a highly respected traditional authority resident in the region was roped in who drove personally to the site to meet with the team leader popularly known as Commander.
Commander, upon enquiry by the traditional authority, reportedly denied any knowledge, but when the latter threatened to report his men to the sector minister, they confessed taking the money but claimed they took only GH¢40,000, which they had intended to use as evidence to press a charge of bribery against the givers.
With tensions at boiling point, some members of GALAMSTOP attempted to handcuff the givers of the said money, but Commander and the chief managed to calm nerves.
Meanwhile, there were no documents issued to the owners to indicate the seizure of the caterpillar machines, which were mounted on the low loaders, first to the Dompim Police Station en-route to Accra.
There is a policy that equipment sent to designated yards at Dzorwulu, Coldstore and Oyarifa – all in Accra – attract heavy penalties the longer they remain in the custody, hence the owners immediately made follow-ups to these facilities.
At Oyarifa, only one of the two evacuated excavators was seen, but this particular brand new unregistered CAT 330BL was nowhere to be found.
According to the police source, the owners’ intensive search paid off when the excavator was located at a place behind the Kasoa Police Station in the Central Region.
The caterpillar excavator again disappeared under bizarre circumstances, but the search continued unabated. On September 5, 2019, information led to the sighting of the machine in the Kutukrom Forest Reserve near Prestea involved in illegal mining.
Some yet to be identified Forest Guards allegedly set the excavator ablaze.
On the September 6, 2019, Opia Mensah went to lodge a complaint to the police in Prestea for action.
In the process of investigations, one Reuben Attah, aka Kalusha, who sent the excavator to mine in the forest reserve, was arrested to assist with the investigation.
The police managed to locate the chassis number 6DRO4090 on the burnt machine, which corresponded with the document the owner provided to aid the investigation.
The police source intimated to the paper that Kalusha allegedly mentioned the name of the said top politician as the person who gave him the excavator. An invitation the police in Prestea extended to him (politician) was not honoured. A few days later, the Tarkwa Divisional Police Command called for the docket to continue with the investigation.
This time the said politician responded to the invitation by the Divisional Crime Officer when Opia Mensah was present. It was at this meeting that a top security official’s name was dropped. Opia, in a telephone conversation with The Chronicle, stated his unflinching confidence in the police to investigate the case without fear or favour.
The Tarkwa Divisional Commander, Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Mr Dennis Adade, when contacted to officially deny or confirm the story, referred the reporter to his Crime Officer, Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Mr Kusi Appiah, who was evasive when reached on telephone.
DSP Kusi Appiah told The Chronicle that he preferred a one on one interview, and that he wouldn’t like to grant the interview on phone. But when the reporter told him that he was calling from Accra, he directed him (reporter) to speak to the Head of their Public Affairs Department in Sekondi, DSP Olivia Adiku.
When Olivia Adiku was contacted on phone, she said she was on a short leave and also not abreast with the issue at stake.