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Is anything wrong with spending miracle money?

BY: Mirror Lawyer

Dear Mirror Lawyer, I read as part of my daily devotion in Our Daily Bread recently that a bank accidentally deposited $120,000 into the account of a couple.

The couple went on a shopping spree and purchased vehicles and other luxurious items with the money. Realising the error, the bank requested the couple return the money but they had spent it.

I have also heard some Christians praying to God for miracle money which eventually landed in their account. One Christian actually told me he was on admission to the hospital and called his pastor to pray with him for money to pay his medical bills.  Forty-eight hours after the prayer his phone alerted him of the transfer of Gh ₵5,000 into his MOMO account.

He immediately used the money to pay the hospital. An hour after, he received a call from the service providers that the transfer into his MOMO account was a mistake and that he should return the money.

Is anything wrong with spending such miracle money found in a person’s account? Ama George, Kasoa. 

Dear Ama,  Miracle money referred to by you is also known in some countries as finder’s keepers. In actual fact, there is nothing like miracle money recognised by the law.  Either you have worked for and own the money or you do not.

By law, when money in your account is yours, you can spend it without offending any law. Again, when you find an item in a public place which is not yours, you can only take and use it after you have made a diligent effort to find the owner and return the item without success or no person came up to claim the item after the passage of time.

The provision of the law that deals with items found which do not belong to the finder is section 127 of the Criminal and Other Offences Act 1960, (Act 29) as amended by NLCD 398.

The section provides as follows: "127. A person who appropriates a thing which appears to have been lost by another is not guilty of stealing it, unless (a) At the time of appropriating it, he knows who is the owner of the thing or by whom it has been lost; or (b) The character or situation of the thing, or the marks upon it or any other circumstances is or are such as to indicate the owner of the thing or the person by whom it has been lost; or (c) The character or situation of the thing, or the marks upon it, or any other circumstances is or are such as that the person who has lost the thing appears likely to be able to recover it by reasonable search and enquiry, if it were not removed or concealed by any other person."

In the case of Kramo Wala v. The Republic   [1973] 1 GLR 287, the accused was found in the possession of an accordion, the missing property of another person whose room was allegedly broken into during the night and some of his property stolen. 

When the accused was challenged, he said that he had picked up the accordion from the ground on his way to the lavatory. He was accordingly taken to the police station and there charged with stealing the accordion. He was subsequently convicted by a Kumasi Circuit Court and sentenced to two years imprisonment with hard labour. 

On appeal to the High Court against his conviction, Owusu-Addo J held, allowing the appeal that “if a man found goods that had actually been lost or were reasonably suspected by him to have been lost, and appropriated them really believing when he took them that the owner could not be found, that was not stealing; but if he took them with a felonious intent and reasonably believed that the owner could be found, he committed the offence of stealing.

In the instant case, there was no evidence on the record to show that the accused at the time he picked up the accordion knew or believed he could ascertain who the owner was. It was not sufficient that if he had taken pains the owner might be found because he was not bound to do that.”

Similarly in Ali v The Republic   [1992] 1 GLR 570, Adinyira J (as she then was) dealing with a blind man who had come into possession of lost earrings and sold them and was later charged and convicted of stealing held, allowing the appeal that since there was no evidence that the blind man who had to rely on the second appellant to ascertain the nature and value of the earrings which had no identifying marks knew who their owner was, and besides, he had waited for two weeks when no one reported their loss before selling them, a charge of stealing could not be sustained against him.

The implication of these cases is described in a scenario in the Act as follows. A. finds a ring by the highway. If the ring has an owner's or maker's name engraved upon it or is of great value, A. will be guilty of stealing it if he appropriates it without making reasonable enquiry. 

Again A. buys an old chest of drawers at the sale of a deceased personal effects. He finds a banknote in a secret drawer of the chest. A. is guilty of stealing if he appropriates the note unless he either expressly bought the right to whatever he might find in the chest or makes a reasonable enquiry and fails to discover the owner.

Applying these principles to your question, the couple and the sick Christian should have known that they did not earn the $120,000 and GH ₵5,000 from their toil and labour. 

Finding the ‘miracle money’ transferred into their bank and MOMO accounts should have put them on an inquiry with their bankers and service providers to confirm the source of the funds before dipping their fingers in and making use of the money. 

They ought to know that the real owners would likely follow up and inquire about the monies mistakenly transferred. The speed with which they spent the monies is enough proof of a deliberate act on their part to frustrate and deny the actual owners of any plans to trace the lost funds.  They will all be guilty of stealing the monies under the prevailing law.