Two British girls found guilty of cocaine smuggling in Ghana now await sentencing of up to three years in jail. Their lawyers and supporters say they will appeal, saying the girls were victims, rather than traffickers. As VOA's Nico Colombant reports from our regional bureau in Dakar, the case has garnered lots of media attention amid a surging drug trade through West Africa.
After the guilty verdict was read in a juvenile court, onlookers say the two teenagers were bundled into a waiting car, their heads covered by scarves, amid a throng of journalists.
Ghanaian reporter Roland Walker says many in Ghana initially thought the girls would be treated with a light hand after their arrest in July.
"It was perceived that because they are British girls and because of the extreme relations between Ghana and the United Kingdom, it would mean they would be treated lightly," said Walkers.
"Initially, when the case was heard, the British High Commission tried to handle the case their own way, but the Attorney General's department, the Justice Ministry, that we have in this country, and the police administration have not relented in the last few months since the case was heard in court," he added.
Sentencing has been scheduled for December 5.
Walker says both local and foreign media have been very interested in the case.
"There has been interest, quite a lot actually, because of trade relations with the U.K. and especially since it has been Ghana's colonial master in the past," he said.
The growing drug trade from South America to euro-bolstered, cash-rich Europe through badly policed West Africa also fascinates media, Walker says, whenever there is a story that can be found.
"In media circles, this case about drug trafficking is a very big one," said Walker. "Over the last two, three years we have had some high profile arrests when it comes to drug smuggling in this country, particularly, we have a case, currently, involving some officials and then some suspected drug barons."
The two British 16-year-old girls from north London were caught July 2 at the Accra airport with about six kilos of cocaine worth more than $600,000 hidden inside laptop bags.
They say they were tricked into the deal by men in London and Ghana who promised them an all-expenses paid vacation, not knowing what they were doing. This argument has been rejected by Ghana's court system.
Anti-drug agents estimate about 20 so-called drug mules travel from West Africa to Britain every week. The arrests in July were carried out by Ghanaian narcotic control board officers working as part of a joint British-Ghanaian anti-drug drive called Operation Westbridge.