Opuni’s trial: ‘Crucial letter’ missing at COCOBOD
A letter that the Accra High Court directed the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG), a division of the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), to make available in the trial of Dr Stephen Kwabena Opuni and Seidu Agongo is missing.
The letter, dated October 21, 2014, formed part of documents that the court ordered the Executive Director of CRIG to furnish the court following an application by counsel for Agongo, Mr Benson Nutsukpui.
Although most of the documents requested by counsel were made available to the court yesterday the Deputy Director of Legal at COCOBOD, Mr Johannes Velba, informed the court that the October 21, 2014 letter was nowhere to be found.
According to him, not only was the letter missing; the file in which the letter was expected to be placed had also been tampered with.
“The letter is not on the file, even though its folio number was supposed to be somewhere in the middle. COCOBOD has set up a committee to investigate the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of the letter,” he said.
Dr Opuni, a former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of COCOBOD, and Agongo, the CEO of Agricult Ghana Limited, are on trial for allegedly engaging in acts that incurred financial loss of GH¢271.3m in a series of fertiliser deals.
The major bone of contention in the case is whether or not the Lithovit Foliar Fertiliser (LFF), which is the subject matter of the trial, was liquid or powdery in nature.
It is the case of the prosecution that the LFF that the Dr Opuni-led COCOBOD bought from Agongo’s Agricult Ghana Limited was liquid in nature but was never tested by CRIG, the body with the mandate to test agrochemicals and machinery used for the production of cocoa in the country.
Rather, it says the LFF that was presented to CRIG for testing from COCOBOD was powdery in nature, but the Dr Opuni-led COCOBOD bought substandard liquid LFF from Agricult.
The defence, on the other hand, had always maintained that the LFF that was tested by CRIG was liquid in nature and it was that LFF that CRIG certified for use on cocoa.
It is the case of the defence that the said documents, which include handing-over notes, letters, field tests and invoices, proved that at all material times the correspondence among Agricult, CRIG and COCOBOD showed that the LFF was liquid in nature.
With COCOBOD admitting that the letter was missing and, therefore, it needed time to unravel the mystery behind its disappearance, Mr Nutsukpui prayed the court to postpone his cross-examination of the third prosecution witness, Dr Alfred Arthur.
Dr Arthur works at the Soil Science Division of CRIG and was the scientist who tested the LFF.
The request by counsel was objected to by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Mrs Yvonne Atakora Obuobisa.
“So is counsel saying that with all the documents that have been provided, he cannot go on with the cross-examination without the said letter?’’ she asked.
Mr Nutsukpui responded that the letter was germane and crucial to the defence of his client and, therefore, he would be unable to finish the cross-examination without the availability of the letter and other missing invoices that he had requested.
The court, presided over by Mr Justice Clemence Honyenuga, a justice of the Court of Appeal with additional responsibility as a High Court judge, agreed with Mr Nutsukpui and adjourned the case to Wednesday, December 19, 2018.
Case against Opuni and Agongo
In March 2018, the Attorney-General (A-G) charged Dr Opuni and Agongo with 27 counts, including wilfully causing financial loss to the state, contravention of the Public Procurement Act, defrauding by false pretence, money laundering and corruption of a public officer.
Agongo is also alleged to have used fraudulent means to sell substandard fertiliser to COCOBOD for onward distribution to cocoa farmers.
The two accused persons have denied any wrongdoing and have pleaded not guilty to all the 27 charges.
They are currently on bail in the sum of GH¢300,000 each.