In Ghana, the sensitive case of Aisha Huang, Chinese “queen” of clandestine gold laundering

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A clandestine gold mine in Nsuaem-Top, Ghana, in November 2018.

Mixing clandestine gold mines, suspected sextape blackmail and diplomatic tensions, it’s an incredible affair that has fascinated, and revolted, Ghanaians since early September. That of the mining tycoon Aisha Huang, dubbed by the local press the “Queen Galamsey » (in French, the “queen of illegal mining”) and tried this fall before the Special Criminal Court in Accra along with three other Chinese nationals. Arrested in September in Kumasi, this 47-year-old woman is accused of illegal exploitation of gold and wood in Bepotenten, in the central district of Amansie, in the Ashanti region.

It is not the first time that she has appeared for this reason: arrested and tried between 2017 and 2018, Aisha Huang was able to return to China in 2019 under unclear circumstances. The previous trial, opened in May 2017, ended in confusion after the Ministry of Justice withdrew his charges in December 2018. In the ranks of the government, called to account, a certain cacophony reigned in the ‘era. Some officials told reporters that Aisha Huang had been expelled, others that she had fled the country. President Nana Akufo-Addo himself finally admitted to the press that he did not know.

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It was the Minister of State Yaw Osafo-Maafo who ended up talking about an extradition to Beijing, justifying this decision by “excellent diplomatic relations between Ghana and China”, leader in foreign direct investment in the country. “The main company contributing to the development of the infrastructure system in Ghana is Sinohydro, a Chinese company, later recalled in the local press. It is she who will help us process our bauxite and who will provide us with 2 billion dollars. » And to conclude: “Behind these arrangements, other things are going on behind the scenes. Put [Aisha Huang] in prison will not solve our economic problems. »

“Our state is afraid of him”

These laborious justifications have been unearthed in recent weeks by Ghanaian netizens, furious at the return of the “Queen of Galamsey” to their soil. How was she able to obtain a visa and return to Ghana? A rumor circulates in the press and on social networks that the businesswoman has sextapes at her disposal that involve several members of the government, whom she would extort. Or that she had married a mysterious Ghanaian who might have provided her with papers.

It is rumored that he has sex videos involving various members of the government at his disposal.

“The Attorney General is no longer the same as in 2018, so we hope that he will do his job until the end, A ministerial fountain blows near the file. But I really don’t believe in that. The Attorney General is appointed by the government… and the government has not changed. “Our state is afraid of him, says activist and cartoonist Bright Ackwerh, who criticizes Chinese and Ghanaian pundits with the same scathing pen. Our leaders are in a depression of their own making. They lost the trust of the people with their blatant lies in 2018, the same people who witness firsthand the environmental damage of illegal mining. »

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Because the latter, exerted without control, pollutes the soil and water of the exploited regions, in particular in the case of gold mines, which use huge amounts of mercury that are then dumped into rivers. Repercussions of which Chinese gold miners are accused of being at best ignorant and at worst indifferent, and which are at the origin of a growing anti-Chinese sentiment in the most affected regions of Ghana.

expelled residents

“It is not only the issue of respecting our lands, there is also respecting our human rights, says Professor Raymond A. Atuguba, Dean of the University of Ghana Law School, who has been researching the issue since 2017. In Galamsey, but also in other sectors of activity in Ghana, the Chinese are often criticized for the way they treat local workers. » In 2020, the NGO Environmental Justice Foundation raised concerns about the working conditions of Ghanaian crews employed on Chinese trawlers, forced to work at unsustainable speeds, deprived of drinking water, and sometimes even beaten.

Latest examples: the alleged assassination attempt on a certain Isaac Boateng, on September 29, allegedly massacred by his Chinese employer, director of the Paulichenda Engineering construction company, for having claimed unpaid wages for his team. Then, the next day in Talensi (north), the announcement of the eviction of Ghanaian miners who had refused to cede their land to the Shaanxi mining company, linked to the Chinese state. The Ghanaian government, which had approved plans to expand the mine, sent the army there to evict residents from disputed plots.

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So many shadows in the picture of Sino-Ghanaian friendship so often praised by the authorities. “The more anger rises, the more people demand sanctions, concludes Raymond A. Atuguba. When our leaders fail to act, their authority is compromised. And if their authority is compromised, then our sovereignty is threatened. »

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