Court rejects evidence of Opuni’s witness

BY: Mary Anane-Amponsah and Justice Agbenorsi
Dr Stephen Opuni
Dr Stephen Opuni

The Accra High Court hearing the case of the former Chief Executive of the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), Dr Stephen Kwabena Opuni, has rejected an evidence given by the first defence witness on the value for money analysis of agro chemicals procured by the state company.

The court sustained the objection by the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), Mrs Yvonne Atakora Obuobisa, to questions on a letter that bordered on the value for money analysis by the witness.

The defence counsel, Mr Samuel Cudjoe, who was leading the evidence of the witness, Mr Charles Duodu, had requested from the witness the purpose of the letter dated February 26, 2014, by COCOBOD.

The letter, written by the Procurement Unit of COCOBOD, sought to address the value for money analysis of a fungicide and insecticide items to be procured by COCOBOD.

The said letter was part of series of exhibits tendered through the witness during his evidence-in-chief.

Objection

However, the DPP drew the court’s attention to the fact that the said letter had already been objected to by the court on May 7 this year, and, therefore, counsel could not ask the witness questions on it.

“My Lord this exhibit no more exists before this court and he cannot be eliciting responses on a non-existent document,” the DPP said.

In his response, Mr Cudjoe said since the prosecution did not oppose to the letter at the time it was being tendered through witness, he should be allowed to answer questions on it.

In his ruling, the trial judge, Justice Clemence Honyenuga, a Supreme Court Judge sitting with additional responsibility as a High Court judge, upheld prosecution’s arguments and expunged the question, together with the document from the court records.

Dr Opuni and businessman, Seidu Agongo, are standing trial over accusations of causing financial loss of more than GH¢271.3 million to the state in a series of fertiliser deals.

Earlier, the witness had told the court that it was not Dr Opuni who wrote a letter addressed to the CEO of the Public Procurement Authority (PPA) seeking approval to sole-source a number of fertilisers, including the lithovit fertiliser which is in dispute before the court.

He explained that it was rather the Procurement Unit that wrote the letter with an input from the Cocoa Disease and Pest Control Programme (CODAPEC) and HI-TECH — both said to be “crucial units” at COCOBOD — for the approval of the sole sourcing of the agro chemicals.

He added that Dr Opuni only signed the document, saying “the CEO, from my personal knowledge, does not write letters, and this particular one that I am holding falls in the same vein”.

Background

Dr Opuni was the CEO of the COCOBOD between November 2013 and January 2017, while Agongo is the CEO of Agricult Ghana Limited, an agrochemicals company.

The two were dragged to court by the Attorney-General (A-G) in March 2017 on 27 charges for allegedly engaging in illegalities in a series of fertiliser transactions, which the A-G says caused a financial loss of GH¢271.3 million to the state.

Agongo is alleged to have used fraudulent means to sell substandard fertiliser to the COCOBOD for onward distribution to cocoa farmers, while Dr Opuni is accused of facilitating the act by allowing Agongo’s products not to be tested and certified as required by law.