Court dismisses Opuni's application to defreeze accounts

BY: Emmanuel Ebo Hawkson
Dr Stephen Opuni
Dr Stephen Opuni

A former Chief Executive Officer of the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), Dr Stephen Kwabena Opuni, has failed to convince the Accra High Court to unfreeze his bank accounts which are currently under the control of the Economic and Organised Crime Office (EOCO).

The embattled former COCOBOD boss, who is standing trial for allegedly causing financial loss of Gh¢ 217.3 million to the state in a fertiliser deal, wanted the court to reverse its earlier decision on April 24, 2018 that gave EOCO the green light to freeze his accounts.

But in a ruling last Monday, the court,  presided over by Mrs Justice Georgina Mensah–Datsa, dismissed Dr Opuni’s application to have access to his bank accounts.

“The application to set aside the April 24, 2018 order for confirmation to freeze bank accounts is refused and dismissed,’’ she said

 Justice Mensah-Datsa did not give the detailed reasons for dismissing the application but rather informed the parties to apply for the full ruling.

She, however, said she took into consideration the balance between EOCO’s mandate in protecting state funds vis-à-vis Dr Opuni’s rights under the law.

The presiding judge also stated that the legal battle over Dr Opuni’s accounts could have been avoided if EOCO had fully acted in accordance with the Economic and Organised Crime  Act, 2010 (Act 804).

Opuni’s next move 

A member of Dr Opuni’s legal team, Mr Victor Kojoga Adawudu, who spoke to the media after the court’s decision, said the lawyers would apply for the ruling and decide on the next line of action.

He, however, indicated that the ruling did not surprise Dr Opuni or his legal team.

“We are not surprised because this same court has made two different orders, so which one will the court validate or say it is not right?’’ he asked.

But another source close to Dr Opuni said the former COCOBOD CEO would soon march to the Supreme Court for an interpretation of the EOCO Act.

Accounts frozen

EOCO froze Dr Opuni’s accounts during investigations into the fertiliser deal for which Dr Opuni is currently standing trial together with businessman Seidu Agongo.

It is the case of the Attorney-General (A-G) that between 2014 and 2016, Opuni and Agongo allegedly engaged in various illegalities which resulted in the supply and distribution of substandard fertilisers to cocoa farmers and caused a financial loss of Gh¢271.3m to the state.

After months of having his bank accounts under the control of EOCO, Dr Opuni’s lawyers obtained a High Court order on April 23, 2018 for the accounts to be defrozen.

But the victory was short-lived, as EOCO filed an ex-parte motion the following day, April 24, 2018, and obtained another order from the same court for the accounts to be frozen again.

“Accounts not tainted”

Not happy with EOCO’s action, Dr Opuni filed another application at the same High Court seeking to get access to his accounts. His lawyers were of the view that EOCO acted in bad faith and also abused the court process.

His lead counsel, Mr Samuel Cudjoe, among others argued that EOCO had failed to show that the accounts had been tainted by any proceeds of crime and also wondered why the anti-graft body did not oppose his client’s first application for the accounts to be defrozen.

He argued that apart from GH¢25,000 which the Attorney-General claimed was paid to his client as bribe, there was no alleged tainted money being held by his client.

“EOCO acted lawfully”

EOCO, however, vehemently denied the assertions by Dr Opuni and defended its actions that led to the freezing of the accounts.

The lawyer for EOCO, Ms Jacqueline Avotri, argued before the court that EOCO’s actions were lawful and meant to ensure that the state would be able to recover money in the event Dr Opuni was convicted.

She argued that EOCO did not oppose Dr Opuni’s first application because at that time the freezing order had expired and EOCO had no legal basis to extend it.

“The old order has been dealt with and it was for investigation. The new order is to safeguard the accounts in case there is a successful conviction,” she contended.

Counsel also submitted that per the EOCO Act, it was only the office that had the power to confiscate assets of proceeds of crime before a trial, during a trial and after a trial on behalf of other state agencies.