Fresh Trial: Dr Opuni challenges Appeal Court
Lawyers of the former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), Dr Stephen Kwabena Opuni, have filed an application at the Supreme Court to overturn the Court of Appeal’s decision ordering the trial court not to start the criminal case from scratch.
Dr Opuni’s defence team, led by Samuel Codjoe, told the newly constituted court presided over by Justice Aboagye Tandoh, that they disagreed with the ruling of the Court of Appeal; hence, his client was challenging the ruling at the Supreme Court.
The notice comes after the Chief State Attorney, Evelyn Keelson, had informed the court that the state had successfully obtained a favourable decision at the Court of Appeal which ordered the High Court to rely on the record of proceedings already gathered in the case and continue the trial.
Justice Aboagye Tandoh subsequently adjourned the matter to July 25, 2023, for both parties to have the necessary documents for the trial to continue.
Dr Opuni is standing trial with Seidu Agongo, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Agricult Ghana Limited, an agrochemical company.
State prosecutors have accused the two of causing a financial loss of more than GH¢271 million to the state in a series of lithovit foliar fertiliser transactions.
It is the case of the prosecution that the fertiliser was substandard, and has accused Agongo of allegedly using fraudulent means to sell the fertiliser to COCOBOD for onward distribution to cocoa farmers.
The prosecution has further accused Dr Opuni of using his position as the CEO of COCOBOD (November 2013 to January 2017) to facilitate the alleged acts of Agongo by allowing the lithovit liquid fertiliser not to be tested and certified as required by law.
Dr Opuni and Agongo have pleaded not guilty to the charges, and are on self-recognisance bail in the sum of GH¢300,000 each.
On April 4, this year, the High Court, presided over by Justice Kwasi Anokye Gyimah, ruled that the trial, which had been ongoing for the past five years, would restart from scratch.
Justice Gyimah was a new judge assigned to the case by the Chief Justice following the retirement of Justice Clemence Honyenuga, a Justice of the Supreme Court, with additional responsibility as a High Court judge.
With the new development, the prosecution filed an application urging the High Court to adopt the previous proceedings of the case before Justice Honyenuga, which had been ongoing for five years.
However, in a ruling, Justice Gyimah said the trial must start afresh because it would be unfair for him to adopt the proceedings of Justice Honyenuga, which had been “saddled” with numerous allegations.
The A-G then filed an appeal at the Court of Appeal challenging the decision of the High Court to start the trial afresh, with a case that the decision was against the tenets of a fair trial.
It is the case of the A-G that Justice Gyimah misdirected himself by how he refused to adopt the evidence already adduced at the trial.
A three-member panel of the Court of Appeal, presided over by Justice Philip Bright Mensah, Justices Jennifer Dadzie and Dr Ernest Owusu-Dapaa, overturned Justice Gyimah’s decision and ordered the High Court not to continue the trial from scratch.
Justice Tandoh now takes over the trial at the High Court following Justice Gymah’s transfer to a different region.