Master of disguise brings down high level criminals

Friday August 03 2018

Anas Aremeyaw Anas was the keynote speaker at the Africa Youth Excellence Awards. PHOTO | COURTESY AFRICA YOUTH EXCELLENCE


The acclaimed multi award-winning Ghanaian undercover investigative journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas uses prosthetic masks, wigs, and hidden-cameras as he exposes corruption, organised crime and human-rights abuses in Africa.

He has dressed up as a rock to film cocoa smugglers along Ghana’s western border, has tackled prostitution and the sex trade, corruption in the Ghanaian judiciary, child adoption, abuse and trafficking, illegal gold mining, and trafficking in albino body parts, among other issues.

His controversial brand of disguised investigative journalism has attracted support from famous people like former US president Barrack Obama, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

The modern day crime fighter wears facemasks and wigs in public to protect his identity.

“Not all investigations require going undercover. Undercover is the last resort when conventional methods of investigating will not suffice. Extreme diseases call for extreme remedies. Corruption and human rights abuses are rampant in my society and the most effective way of exposing these ills and the people behind it is not with a conventional camera or sound recorder. You have to go undercover in order to do the work,” Anas said in an e-mail interview with The EastAfrican.

Anas chose his path in school. “I came of age at a time when Ghana had just adopted multiparty democracy and granted media rights. I was interested in communication, so I enrolled in school to become a journalist. When I started work, I encountered investigative journalism and realised its impact in uncovering the wrongs in society and effecting changes in a progressive way. I chose to go undercover in areas where conventional journalism cannot give me access.”


Anas Aremeyaw Anas with his body doubles in the US for the 2016 Africa Youth Excellence Awards, where he received an honorary award. PHOTO | COURTESY AFRICA YOUTH EXCELLENCE

'Betraying the Game'

The disgraced former high-ranking Ghanaian football chief Kwesi Nyantakyi, and the top Kenyan international referee Adel Range Marwa were captured among other football officials on camera taking cash gifts.

Nyantakyi and Marwa appear in a 51-minute documentary titled Betraying the Game. It was aired by the BBC in June as part of a two-year undercover investigation into African football.

Betraying the Game is Anas’s most controversial film to date. Anas and his team used hidden cameras to show more than 100 football officials — most of them West African referees — receiving money to influence the outcome of football matches.

The international football association FIFA forbids its officials from receiving gifts that create a conflict of interest, and outlaw the taking of any cash gift.

The investigation resulted in the dissolution of the entire Ghana Football Association (GFA) and in dozens of referees and officials being suspended or resigning from the game.

BBC Africa’s new investigations unit, Africa Eye, had exclusive access to dozens of hours of Anas’s footage for the documentary, which has shaken up the football world.

Marwa is shown accepting a $600 “gift” from an undercover reporter from Anas’s investigative team who posed as an official of a top Ghanaian football side. The assistant referee had met the undercover journalist for the first time a few minutes earlier at a posh hotel in Casablanca, Morocco before an African Champions League club football match.

“Thank you for the gift, but you know, the most important thing is our friendship, getting to know each other,” the 41-year-old Kenyan says after accepting the money.

Marwa was the only Kenyan among the 16 African officials selected to officiate at the just concluded 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. He resigned from his position after the airing of Anas’ film.

Nyantakyi, who had promised to fight corruption when taking charge of the GFA, is pictured gleefully placing $65,000 “shopping money” into a plastic bag from an undercover journalist pretending to be a businessman from a Middle Eastern company.

Anas’s team had invited Nyantakyi to a luxury hotel in the Middle East to meet the “wealthy businessman” interested in a sponsorship deal with the GFA.

Nyantakyi went on to both negotiate and draft the sponsorship deal on behalf of the GFA, which could have seen a percentage diverted to his own company. He could potentially have made $4.5 million from the diversion of funds.

After the screening of the documentary, Nyantakyi was fired from the presidency of GFA, and forced to resign as the first vice-president of the Confederation of African Football, and as a member of the FIFA Council.


Anas Aremeyaw Anas is the modern day crime fighter who wears facemasks and wigs in public to protect his identity. PHOTO | COURTESY AFRICA YOUTH EXCELLENCE


But Anas has not gone without criticism. His critics say that his methods are uncouth, excessive and even dangerous.

“Obviously not everyone is particularly enthused about the work I do and how I do it. The corrupt bad guys, who find themselves on the other side of my investigations, cry foul and suddenly develop consciences. I have a mantra to ‘name, shame and jail’ bad guys in my society. So after I have named and shamed those people, I leave the last leg to judges and the courts to deal with. And they usually silence those ‘critics,’” Anas said.

“However, there are others whom I am actually quite happy with when they offer constructive criticism. I listen to or read all of it and try to apply it in the next project I work on so that my work becomes better. I always want to improve, so if someone offers criticism that will help me become better, why not? I take all of it in,” he adds.

Charles Bentum, a leading lawyer in Accra, accuses Anas of both entrapment and enticement in the film.

“It is wrong to induce somebody with an enticement of something lucrative — some big money or whatever — and then turn around to say the person is corrupt,” Bentum argues.

“Indeed, in law, the giver is as guilty as the receiver. So, you cannot exonerate their enticer and condemn their victim,” Bentum adds.

In his response, Anas states: “The ethics are clear on how a referee is supposed to behave. So if you are seen tilting the scale of justice in favour of one team, it’s wholly unacceptable, let alone stretching out your arm to collect money.”

The MP for Assin Central in Ghana, Kennedy Agyapong, accused Anas of corruption and tax evasion in his private companies, accusations that his supporters describe as an attempt to soil the journalist’s image.

Speaking on a local radio station, Agyapong said: “We must confront Anas for the bad things he did to Ghanaians. He amassed wealth during his investigations.” Agyapong even urged the public to attack Anas.

Anas says he has received several threats. “The threats are diverse. Aside from the threats of death and physical violence against me and my team members, which I am sad to say we have become used to, there is the character assassination. Before the world began waking up to the phenomenon known as ‘fake news,’ I had been experiencing it for years. The dangerous thing is they use photos of innocent people claiming they are me, putting those people in real danger. Then there is the constant threat of cyberattack. They have tried to hack our computers many times but the good thing is we have been very well prepared for these kinds of attacks.”

Responding to Agyapong’s accusations, Anas said, “All one needs to do is walk to the Ghana Revenue Authority to verify these accusations. But because those people have an agenda to distract minds from the work I do, they peddle these falsehoods. And since the tax authorities have not arrested me yet, it is pretty clear to the millions of Ghanaians who are fed up with corruption that those accusations have no merit.”


Anas Aremeyaw Anas controversial brand of disguised investigative journalism has attracted both support and criticism. PHOTO | COURTESY AFRICA YOUTH EXCELLENCE

Critical acclaim

Some of Anas’s exposes have received critical acclaim over the years. His other award-winning documentaries include Inside Ghana’s Madhouse (2010), in which Anas feigned madness to infiltrate Ghana’s largest psychiatric hospital and exposed human-rights abuses of patients.

Ghana’s Mental Health Act was introduced in 2012 largely following an outcry sparked by his work.

In Torture Chamber of Bangkok Prisons (2006), Anas travelled to Thailand to infiltrate its prisons disguised as a Catholic priest. He interviewed some Ghanaian and West African prisoners about the maltreatment and deaths of foreign prisoners in jail. He thereby exposed the abuse of Ghanaians and other expatriate prisoners in Thai prisons.

As a result, the Ghanaian government successfully negotiated with the government of Thailand for the transfer of all convicted Ghanaian prisoners in Thailand back home.

In Passport Scandal (2006), Anas posed as a rich businessman to expose officials within Ghana’s passport office who provided passports to non-citizens for a fee. He made hundreds of passports using fake identities. This led to the introduction of biometric passports for Ghanaians.

As a result of his investigative work, Anas is a wanted man. At his nondescript office in downtown Accra, he has 24-hour security and during some investigations he sleeps at a different place each night.

Anas says he only uses the wigs and prosthetics to disguise himself when at public gatherings where his presence has been advertised or when appearing on camera.

“When I am undercover I don’t use disguises because I have to appear normal to gain the trust of the bad guys. I used a prosthetic arm when I did an investigation in Tanzania about the killing of albinos for money. My team made a prosthetic albino arm that I presented to a witchdoctor who claimed I would become rich. In collaboration with the Tanzanian police, he was arrested.”

He says greed and the absence of strong institutions to ensure that violations don’t happen are the factors driving corruption in Africa.

“Journalism is about results. If wrongdoers are put behind bars, I am satisfied. It tells me that the work that my team and I did has not been in vain. It also means that a corrupt police officer, a corrupt judge, an abusive social worker, or a sex trafficker can’t harm the public anymore, and serves as a strong deterrent to others involved in criminal activities. The smiles on the faces of the women and children who are freed from slavery as a result of our work, that is what keeps me inspired to carry out another investigation to make my society better.”

As to whether he has plans of retiring soon Anas, said, “Oh yes, definitely. The good thing is Anas is no longer one person. I have a strong team that will continue on the mission to rid our society of corruption.”

Anas has won more than 17 international awards in recognition for his investigative work. He holds a Diploma in Communication Studies, a BA in Political Science and Religious Studies, LLB Law, and an Attorney at Law Degree. He is a member of the Ghana Bar Association.