COCOBOD GH¢217m financial loss case: Defence lawyers, A-G clash over missing document

Dr Stephen Kwabena Opuni

Dr Stephen Kwabena Opuni

There was heated argument between lawyers for businessman, Seidu Agongo, and Dr Stephen Opuni, former Chief Executive Officer of Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD) and the Attorney-General at Accra High court yesterday.

The disagreement was over a missing document, which accused requested for, to enable them to defend themselves in a case in which they have been accused of causing GH¢217 million financial loss to the state.

Messrs Benson Nutsupkui and Samuel Codjoe, counsel for Agongo and Opuni asked for time to study the report of a committee set up to investigate the circumstance leading to the disappearance of the document.

However, Mrs Yvonne Atakora Obuobisa, the prosecutor, told the court that adjourning the case would “delay the trial needlessly.”

The accused, who pleaded not guilty to 29 charges of conspiracy to commit crime, abetment of crime, contravention of Public Procurement Authority regulation, among others, had already been granted self-recognisance bail of GH¢300,000 each.

The prosecution filed the committee’s findings on the missing document, on February 1, but same was served on counsel few minutes before proceedings began yesterday.

Canvassing his argument for an adjournment, Mr Codjoe told the court presided by Justice Clement Hoyenugah, a Court of Appeal Judge, sitting with additional responsibility, that he needed time to study the report because it concerned a criminal trial for which the sanctions could be severe.

Counsel reminded the court that in the Republic vrs Eugene Baffoe Bonnie and four others, the Supreme Court stated that every accused should be given time to study documents.

His colleague, Nutsupkui, contended that the document they requested for was different from the one contained in the report.

He said the order of the court, requesting the document, a letter and attachments dated October 21, 2014, is titled “Budget for Agrciult/CRIG/Training/Sensitisation programme for extension officers and farmers on the use of Lithovit Liquid Fertiliser.”

Mr Nutsukpui said he did not want to believe there was a deliberate effort by CRIG to obliterate liquid from its report, adding that the request for the document arose from controversy over whether Lithovit was a powdery or liquid fertiliser.

Ruling on the application for adjournment to enable defendants’ counsel to study the report, Justice Honyenugah held: “It is trite that service of documents is fundamental to trials. In this circumstance and in order that justice should be real, I would order that time be given to the defence to look at the report to enable us to continue the hearing of this case.”

On December 16, 2018, Mr Johannes Velba, the Director of Legal Service at COCOBOD told the court that the documents Dr Opuni, the first accused, and businessman, Mr Agongo, requested had been tampered with.

The facts according to Mrs Obuobisa, the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), are that on May 15, 2015, COCOBOD took a sample of Lithovit fertiliser to CRIG for testing and certification.

She said a draft report on the “effect” of Lithovit on cocoa seedlings was submitted to the head of Soil Science Division, upon which a final report recommended Lithovit to be applied to mature cocoa even though no field test had been conducted on the product.

Mrs Obuobisa revealed that Dr Opuni upon assumption of office as the Chief Executive of COCOBOD, directed contrary to established policy and standard practice that, the period for testing which takes six months be shortened.

She said on February 19, 2014, Dr Opuni applied to the Public Procurement Authority for Agricult Limited to be single sourced to procure 700,000 litres of Lithovit foliar fertiliser although conditions for single source had not been satisfied.

In addition, Dr Opuni was alleged to have stated the price for the 700,000 litres at $19,250,000 (GH¢43,120,000) though the substance sent for testing was in powdery form not liquid.

The case has been adjourned to February 12, 2019.

BY MALIK SULLEMANA    

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