In 2016, following his release from prison after serving half of his seven-year jail sentence for causing a $2.3bn unauthorised trading loss, the UK immigration authorities sought to deport him back to Ghana. He mounted a rather spirited challenge against the deportation but finally, he exhausted all his options and was deported.
For about 10 years of my life during my stay in the UK, I worked in various immigration law firms and deportation and removal cases featured regularly in my caseload. I argued regularly before immigration judges why a client should not be removed or deported. Of course, I won some and lost others. I, therefore, took particular interest in this case and I was not surprised when Mr Adoboli was finally deported.
Before I share my thoughts further, let me emphasise that in the UK, there is an important distinction between removal and deportation. Removal is when a person has merely breached a condition of his or her visa and is sent back to his or her home country, whilst deportation is being sent back home following a criminal conviction and the serving of one’s sentence.
Even if the foreign national possesses a valid resident permit, where he is convicted of an offence, the permit can be revoked and the deportation effected.
To better understand the context of Kweku’s deportation, it is important to understand what UK law says.
The starting point, for the purposes of Kweku's case, is that if a person in the UK who is not a British or EU national commits an offence and is sentenced to more than four years in prison, he must automatically be deported.
The immigration officer has no discretion here at this stage and shall serve a ‘Notice of Intention to Deport’ on the convict just before his or her release.
It is then for the would-be deportee to appeal against the notice by showing ‘very compelling reasons’ why the deportation should not take place. Kweku was sentenced to seven years in prison, so he was liable to automatic deportation.
What then are ‘very compelling’ reasons? It is a very high threshold. UK case law provides a helpful guide. Usually, in my experience, in situations where one’s home country was unsafe (say, due to a war situation), or one had a terminal or serious medical condition and was likely to die if deported because of an inadequate medical system, or one was married to a British national and/or had young British children, these would be helpful in trying to meet that threshold.
Other factors apply and are arguable.
Kweku argued that he had been in the UK since the age of 12 and did not know any other country as his home, and further that he had reformed and was remorseful following his conviction. The courts, however, would be unlikely to accept these as sufficient, and the Home Office would usually argue that with his good health and good education, he would not struggle to settle in back in Ghana, and in any case, he had some family here.
They would argue further that whatever relationships that he enjoyed with other adults in the UK could be continued by those persons visiting him regularly in Ghana or by modern communication methods, an argument they make regularly even in respect of appellants who have young children in the UK with British nationality.
They would refer to the seriousness of his offence, such that it earned him a seven-year custodial sentence, and argue the need to send a strong message and to protect the interests of the British public.
Their argument would usually be that just because being back home would make one’s life difficult was not enough to meet the ‘very compelling’ threshold, and, therefore, the decision to remove was rather proportionate to the interests of the British public and outweighed his length of stay in the UK. The courts would have in all likelihood agreed.
For these reasons, I was not surprised at the outcome of this case. Statistically, only a few appeals against automatic deportations in the UK succeed, and I have on many occasions had the undesirable burden of breaking news to a client that the end of the road had come and that finally, deportation was going to take place, leaving behind friends and family (including wives and children) that one had known for many years. Cue floods of heart-wrenching tears.
In all of this, what I found particularly curious was the fact that in all the years he lived in the UK, Kweku did not seek and obtain naturalisation as a British national, which of course would have saved him all this headache because he would then not have been liable to deportation, however long his prison sentence was.
It probably did not occur to him to do so or perhaps it was something he procrastinated, engrossed in his busy, high-flier job in the City of London, and he most probably felt British anyway. But then as our elders say, however long a log lies in the river, it does not become a crocodile. As it were, it turned out to be his nemesis.
There is no doubt that this has been a traumatic experience for Kweku. Being yanked away from a life you have known for almost three decades and planted rather unceremoniously in a country that by any definition is quite alien to you must be unsettling.
Of course, I felt quite sorry for him, as did many other Ghanaians when he finally was deported, even if I completely understood why he had been removed. But my spirits were lifted when I saw photographs of him with his family in Ghana, with white powder sprinkled on him and a hearty meal set before him. And this was for two reasons.
First, was the bottle of Club Beer set before him with his meal. Clearly, he has good taste and this shows he will make it far in his bid to settle in. But secondly, and more importantly, is the wider point of the importance of family. I do not know the particular circumstances, but I am willing to bet my last pesewa on the fact that many of his family members who gathered to celebrate his arrival had not set eyes on him since he left for England at the age of 12.
I do not know if he stayed regularly in touch with them or sent them money from time to time, but the blood of kinship is strong, particularly in our extended family system, where each is the other’s keeper, and whilst they would not be proud of what he did or the fact that he went to prison, he is one of their own, and as our elders say, you cannot remove your intestines and replace them with grass.
The Prodigal Son was back, and that was all that mattered. Sadly, we are losing this important institution of the extended family to the ravages of western culture and its isolationist, silo mentality. I am sure he will bounce back. I know many people who returned home voluntarily or were removed or deported.
They decided to brighten the corner where they found themselves, and against all odds, pulled themselves up by the bootlaces and forged ahead. Today, the idea of moving back to the UK is faintly repulsive to them.
Akwaaba, Kweku my brother. Let’s get together soon over some bottles of our favourite Club Beer (a.k.a 1931) and talk about settling back in. Perhaps I could show you the ropes on how a returned is to survive, non?
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