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Jailing of Ghana's Opposition MP Raises Political Tension

In Ghana, Monday's sentencing of an opposition member of parliament to 10 years in prison for fraud has raised political tension between the government and the biggest opposition party. The National Democratic Congress has accused President John Kufuor's government of carrying out selective justice and has declared an indefinite boycott of parliamentary proceedings in solidarity with their colleague. From the capital Accra, Efam Dovi reports that the Ghanaian public is divided on the controversy.

The member of parliament, Dan Akpodakpi, was given the maximum sentence after he was convicted for conspiring, defrauding and willfully causing financial loss of $400,000 U.S. to Ghana, when he was the minister of trade and industry in the previous government.

Opposition NDC party officials and supporters sung songs at a press conference Tuesday, where party chairman, Kwabena Adjei, announced that the boycott was effective immediately.

"The party has directed the parliamentary caucus not to participate in the work of parliament commencing today in solidarity with our imprisoned colleague, Dan Agbodakpi, for obvious miscarriage of justice," said Kwabena Adjei.

Victor Serlomey, a deputy minister of finance in the previous NDC government who was tried along with Akpodakpi died during the trial. He and his former boss, Kwame Preprah, served prison terms on similar charges in another case.

Other former government officials and former first lady, NanaKonadu Agyeman-Rawlings, are also being tried on similar charges in separate cases.

The NDC says it is against the use of the criminal justice system to persecute political opponents.

"We believe that justice must be blind, and that the sword of justice must cut in any direction notwithstanding political or ethnic affiliation," he said.

The party said there have been several allegations of corruption made against members of President Kufuor's government, but they are yet to be prosecuted. It says this violates the president's own "zero tolerance" policy on corruption.

Government spokesman, Frank Agyekum, says the government is not carrying out selective justice.

"We are not being partial we are not being selective and if they do really have a case against any minister or any member of government they should make a strong case for it, after all Ghana is a free society," said Frank Agyekum.

He describes the opposition's boycott of the legislature as unfortunate.

"The important thing is that the due process of the law was followed," he said. "So I think their boycott is very unfortunate and to me I think is uncalled for. When we do that we debase the institutions of democracy, and what they are trying to do is to try and belittle the work of the judiciary."

Ghanaians interviewed on the street of the capital, Accra, are divided on the issue. This building contractor, Joe Lartey, says he believes the trial was politically motivated.

"It is political motivation because the thing [trial] has kept long, this thing started I think started about five years ago, this thing [should have] been worked on for long time, but not five years back before you were able to sentence this guy for 10 good years. I think it's too much," said Joe Lartey.

This taxi driver, Yeboah, says the sentence was too harsh. He says the MP has served Ghana for a long time and that if he erred, the nation should take his service into consideration.

But this public service worker disagrees.

"It's the law which has taken its cause. If you do any mistake the law will deal with you because we are in the rule of law. The velocity [weight] of the offense has to go with the sentence," he said.

The jailed MP had been a member of parliament since Ghana returned to constitutional rule in 1992. He was part of the then majority NDC, which passed the law under which he has been jailed.