After more than two years of trial, the prosecution in the case of former Chief Executive Officer of Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD) Dr Stephen Kwabena Opuni and the businessman, Seidu Agongo, yesterday closed its case.
The accused persons have been on trial at an Accra High Court since March 2018, charged with 27 counts, including causing financial loss.
The prosecution led by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Yvonne Atakora Obuobisa, called seven witnesses to prove the charges against the accused persons who were extensively cross-examined by defence lawyers, some spanning about six months.
The prosecution, at the end of the cross-examination of Chief Inspector Thomas Prempeh Mercer, the investigator, said it had ended its case.
Immediately, the prosecution said it had ended its case, the defence counsel quickly moved to make a submission of no case, but the court presided over by Justice Clemence Jackson Honyenuga, a Supreme Court judge sitting with additional responsibilities as a High Court judge, asked them to “come” officially by filing their applications before the court.
The court gave the defence lawyers up to April 19, 2021 to file their submissions of no case, while the prosecution had up to May 3, 2021 to file their responses to the applications.
The court will resume sitting on May 6, 2021 to determine the submission of no case which paves the way for the next step in the trial.
If the accused persons are successful with their submissions of no case application, the trial will be terminated at that stage.
However, if they are not successful, they will have to open their respective defences.
Dr. Opuni and Seidu Agongo, Managing Director of Agricult Ghana Limited, are on trial for allegedly causing financial loss to the state to the tune of GH¢217,370,289.22.
They are being accused over the purchase and supply of Lithovit fertilizer, which the state submitted was done in contravention of several laws.
The two are facing a total of 27 charges including defrauding by false pretense, willfully causing financial loss to the state, money laundering, corruption by a public officer and contravention of the Public Procurement Act.
The two pleaded not guilty to all the charges and were admitted to a bail of GH¢300,000 self-recognizance bail each by the court at the beginning of the trial.
According to the facts of the case, Dr. Opuni on October 10, 2014 whiles he was the CEO of COCOBOD agreed to permit his conduct to be influenced by an amount of GH₵25,000.
His co-accused, Mr. Agongo, has also been accused of “endeavouring to influence the conduct of Stephen Kwabena Opuni in the performance of his duties as the CEO of COCOBOD by offering him an amount of GH₵25,000” on October 10, 2014.
One of the main issues in the trial is the nature and form of the Lithovit fertilizer that was introduced to COCOBOD, what was tested by the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG) and what was later supplied to COCOBOD for distribution to farmers.
While witnesses of the prosecution have all insisted that the product that was tested and certified was powder in form, there are records pointing to the fact that COCOBOD under the management of Dr. Opuni procured Lithovit liquid fertilizer which was never tested by CRIG, according to the prosecution.
The investigator during his evidence in chief told the court that investigations by the FFU revealed that in 2013, Agricult Ghana Limited through its CEO introduced Lithovit foliar fertilizer which was in powdered form together with its Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) to COCOBOD.
He said on May 15, 2013, COCOBOD forwarded the fertilizer together with its MSDS to CRIG for testing.
The court heard that during discussions with scientists at CRIG, investigations revealed that agrochemicals that were sent to CRIG for testing must go through a minimum testing period of two years and a maximum of three years.
Detective Chief Inspector Mercer told the court that Dr. Opuni, upon assuming office, had a meeting in his office at Cocoa House in Accra with some senior scientists at CRIG where he directed the scientist present to shorten the test period of agrochemicals and fertilizers with reasons that suppliers took undue advantage of the monopoly they enjoyed and charged high prices on their products.
It was against this backdrop that Lithovit fertilizer after its laboratory testing was applied to two months old cocoa seedlings for only six months and a report issued for it to be applied on mature cocoa plants.
The witness told the court that although CRIG tested a powdered Lithovit foliar fertilizer, Agricult Ghana Limited between 2014 and 2016 “supplied quantities of Lithovit liquid fertilizer to COCOBOD for use on cocoa, which was not tested because the Lithovit foliar fertilizer sent to CRIG for testing was powder.”
The Executive Director of CRIG, Dr. Franklin Manu Amoah, who was the first prosecution witness in the trial, had stated also that Dr. Opuni had shortened the testing period for fertilizers and told the court that the former COCOBOD boss was fond of giving verbal directives since he took office and “would normally not write.”
He told the court that Dr. Opuni verbally instructed scientists at CRIG to reduce the testing period for chemicals and fertilizers from two years to six months.
$64.5m OnUntested Fertilizer
During the trial, the court heard how Dr. Opuni spent $64.5 million on the Lithovit Liquid Fertilizer which was never tested.
The amount represents 2.4 million litres of the liquid fertilizer COCOBOD purchased from Agricult Ghana Limited between 2014 and 2016.
The court was also told how the contract for the 2016/17 cocoa season awarded to Agricult Ghana Limited by Dr. Opuni was abrogated when investigations commenced and it revealed that the Lithovit liquid fertilizer supplied to COCOBOD by Mr. Agongo and Agricult Ghana limited from 2014 to 2016 was not tested because the only Lithovit foliar fertilizer sent to CRIG for testing by Seidu Agongo and Agricult Ghana Ltd. on May 15, 2013, remained the only Lithovit sent to CRIG for testing which was in powdered form.
The prosecution through its witnesses also held that Dr. Opuni during his time as CEO of COCOBOD administration allegedly signed a contract for the supply of Lithovit fertilizer for the 2014/2015 crop season with an expired certificate from Agricult Ghana Ltd.
Director of Finance at COCOBOD, Peter Osei Amoako, in his evidence in chief, told the court about Dr. Opuni’s letter to the Public Procurement Authority (PPA) to single source the purchase of 700,000 litres of Lithovit liquid fertilizer at an estimated price of $19.25 million.
The witness told the court that the basic requirement of awarding a contract to a supplier was a valid certificate issued by CRIG for the fertilizer.
But for the contact that was entered into by Dr. Opuni and Agricult Ghana Limited for the supply of 700,000 litres of Lithovit fertilizer on February 6, 2015, the certificate that was attached to the contract had expired on December 31, 2014, according to the prosecution.
During the trial, a soil scientist at CRIG, Dr. Alfred Arthur, who tested the Lithovit foliar fertilizer in 2013 when it was submitted to CRIG for testing and recommendation tendered in evidence a sample of the product that was tested.
Dr. Arthur who is the Acting Head of the Soil Science Division at CRIG, in his evidence-in-chief said that the product which was handed over to him for testing by the then head of the division, Alex Asante Afrifah, was a grey, odourless powdered Lithovit fertilizer.
The defence lawyers vehemently opposed the tendering of the powdered sampled but the court after listening to the arguments and opposition of the prosecution admitted it into evidence.
Dr. Arthur was asked by the DPP to open the sample which was sealed and when he did, it was a grey powdered substance that was in the container.
No Expiry Date
There were also claims by the prosecution that a sample of the Lithovit fertilizer which was picked from the Tafo Cocoa Research Station of COCOBOD for testing had no information on the manufacturer, the date of manufacture or an expiry date.
Dr. Arthur had told the court that the labeling on the product only read “made in Germany for Agricult Ghana Limited” with no further information regarding the company that manufactured the product.
He said the original Lithovit Foliar Fertilizer, which was tested and approved by CIRG, was manufactured by Geovita GMBH, a German company, which is a patented trademark.
“…However, there was no manufacturer, no manufacturing date and expiry date. So on the basis of this information we advised management not to renew the certificate for Lithovit foliar fertilizer for 2018,” the witness said.
Dr. Opuni and Mr. Agongo’s lawyers over the period grilled the prosecution witnesses and based on the answers given, they pushed that their clients did not have any case to answer and are filing for Applications of Submission of No Case.
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