BELLA CIAO: AN EXPOSITION ON THE LAW OF CONSPIRACY THROUGH THE LENS OF HEIST MOVIES by Nana Kweku Bosompem

For any movie lover, including myself, a successful getaway coupled with explosive action scenes are must haves for any decent heist movie. I often find myself wondering what would happen to my favourite movie characters if they were unable to pull off audacious heists but instead found themselves facing the full wrath of the law. They would most likely be charged with inter alia, conspiracy to commit robbery. This essay shall therefore examine the Ghanaian law on conspiracy through the lens of one of my favourite heist movies: La Casa De Papel (Money Heist).

Money Heist is a Spanish heist television series that revolves around a character known as “The Professor” who recruits a group of thieves to rob the largest bank in Spain. The first two seasons follow the group’s attempt to rob the bank and the events surrounding the robbery, while the remaining two seasons are based on the aftermath of the first robbery and a subsequent heist pulled off by the group. The focus of this essay is on the first two seasons.

From the plot, it can be gleaned that there was an agreement to perpetrate a crime and this agreement was among a group of individuals. Per Section 23 of the Criminal Act, 1960 (Act 29), the crime of conspiracy can be committed under any of the following permutations:

  • agreement by two or more persons to commit a crime
  • agreement by two or more persons to abet a crime (that is providing assistance for the facilitation of a crime)
  • two or more persons acting together to commit a crime
  • two or more persons acting together to abet the commission of a crime

Section 23 provides that : ‘ if two or more persons agree or act together with a common purpose for or in committing or abetting a crime, whether with or without any previous concert or deliberation, each of them is guilty of conspiracy to commit or abet that crime, as the case may be.’ Although the types of conspiracy may differ, the common elements running through them are: plurality of minds and an agreement to commit a crime.

With regards to plurality of minds, a close reading of section 23(1) would reveal that there must be at least two conspirators for a charge to be proffered. This is illustrated in the case of Blay v The Republic. In that case, the appellant represented to another that he could double money by spiritual means. He took his victim’s money and performed certain rituals in the victim’s presence. During the rituals, the victim said he overheard the appellant having a conversation with a disembodied voice. The rituals did not yield the desired result and the appellant was convicted of inter alia, conspiracy to defraud. On appeal, it was held that the offence of conspiracy involves an agreement between two or more persons. Thus an individual cannot conspire with a spirit. As such, the appellant’s conviction on the conspiracy charge could not stand. It is rather obvious that in a heist, there is a plurality of minds since there are different individuals who agree to partake in the heist.

In addition to proving plurality of minds, any prosecutor seeking to ‘bring down’ The Professor, Berlin and the rest of the gang, must prove that they expressly agreed to act together to rob the bank or acted together to commit the robbery. In the latter instance, the agreement is inferred. Therefore, Monica, a character who later fell in love with one of the robbers and partook in the robbery, can also be inculpated with criminal liability for conspiracy even though she was not a part of the initial deliberations to rob the bank. Judicial backing for this is to be found in the case of State v Otchere. In that case, a plot to overthrow President Nkrumah was hatched by certain individuals of the main opposition party who were in Togo living in exile. One of the architects of the plot hatched in Lomé, Obetsebi Lamptey, returned to Ghana to put it into execution. He recruited other individuals to participate in the execution of the plot hatched in Lome when he returned to Ghana. The original plotters and those who joined the plot later were charged with inter alia, conspiracy to commit treason. With regards to the conspiracy of the accused persons who joined the plot later, the court held that a person who joins or participates in the execution of a conspiracy which had been previously planned would be equally as guilty as the planners even though he did not take part in the formulation of the plan or did not know when or who originated the conspiracy. So that if the prosecution proved that the accused persons who joined Obetsebi Lamptey in Accra participated in the execution of the plans agreed to at Lomé, they would be just as guilty as the original planners of the conspiracy.

Another notable feature of most heist movies is that 90% of the time, nothing goes according to plan. In Money Heist, the gang was averse to violence and had strict instructions from the Professor to not kill any one that stood in their way. There were, however, several instances where Denver, one of the robbers, was incensed to the point that he could have killed the most annoying character in the show, Arturo. To most fans’ disappointment, Denver never went through with it. However, should Denver have gone through with the killing, there would be legal ramifications that would be felt by the entire gang.

Section 21 of Act 29 provides that where a person abets a particular criminal offense and the person being abetted actually commits a different offense or commits the offense agreed upon in a manner different from what was intended and

a)It appears that the offense which was actually committed was not a probable consequence of the offense that was originally agreed upon,nor was it within the scope of the offense that was originally to be committed, nor was it substantially the same as the offense originally agreed upon, then the abettor is liable to be punished for his abetment of the original criminal offense which he intended to abet.

b)In any other case, the abettor shall be deemed to have abetted the criminal offense which was actually committed, and is liable to punishment accordingly.

This basically means, where a group of individuals agree to act together to commit a crime, they would be liable for all the acts done pursuant to the commission of the crime. Where, however, one of them goes beyond what was agreed upon, he alone would be liable provided that what he does is not substantially different from what was originally agreed upon or that he was not authorized to do what he did. This is illustrated in the case of Teye v The Republic. In that case, the first, second and third appellants together with two other persons, agreed on a joint enterprise to break into and enter the deceased’s house to steal therefrom. In the course of the execution of the joint enterprise, the third appellant went beyond what had been agreed upon, by killing the deceased because the deceased had recognized him and mentioned his name. It was held that he alone should be responsible for the death of the deceased.

Relating the case law and statutory provisions to the plot, it would seem that, if Denver let his anger get the better of him and he killed Arturo, he alone would be criminally liable for his death. Hopefully, Denver isn’t privy to the provisions on conspiracy and would just decide to kill Arturo in season 5.