Retirees took over key positions in COCOBOD — Agongo’s lawyer

BY: Emmanuel Ebo Hawkson

Lawyer for Seidu Agongo, the businessman standing trial together with Dr Stephen Kwabena Opuni, has made a case that in 2017 some retired officials of Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD) were made to return to the company to take up key positions.

Although Mr Benson Nutsupkui did not categorically say that the return of the retirees was bad, he sought to make a case that they were put at the right place at the right time in relation to the case against his client and Dr Opuni.

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Most of the said retirees, counsel said, were also made members of the transitional team on COCOBOD during the transitional period after the 2016 elections.

Mr Nutsupkui made the submissions at the Accra High Court yesterday when he cross-examined the second prosecution witness, Dr Alfred Arthur, a scientist at the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG).

 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 the financial loss of GH¢ 271.3 million in a series of fertiliser deals.


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Cross-examination

Counsel asked the witness if he was aware that Dr Adu Ampomah, Dr William Mensah and Dr Franklin Manu Amoah, who were all on retirement, were recalled back to COCOBOD as a Deputy CEO in charge of Agronomy and Quality Control, a Deputy CEO of Finance and Administration, and the Executive Director of CRIG, respectively.

He further asked if he was aware that all the officers were members of the transitional team.

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The witness answered that all the mentioned retired officers were recalled back to COCOBOD, but he was not aware of they being members of the transition team.

Suspension

During a previous cross-examination by Dr Opuni’s lawyer, Mr Samuel Cudjoe, it was revealed that Dr Arthur was suspended by CRIG in 2017 for presenting a scientific report recommending the use of Cocoa Nti fertiliser in 2013, although samples of the said fertiliser were presented for testing to CRIG by COCOBOD in 2016.

At today’s cross-examination, Mr Nutsupkui asked the witness if it was just not convenient that he (Dr Arthur) was asked to stay on at the soil science division of CRIG even though he was suspended.

Below is what transpired between the two

Mr Nutsupkui: Your good self - Dr Alfred Arthur was asked by CRIG to stay at the soil science division after your suspension

Dr Arthur: Yes, the letter was signed by Rev. Fr E.O.A. Odoi, Deputy Executive Director of CRIG

Mr Nutsupkui: Was the letter not signed on behalf of the Executive Director of CRIG, who at the time, was Dr Franklin Manu Amoah

Dr Arthur:  Yes

Hearing will continue on December 3, 2018 at the court, presided over by Justice Clemence Honyenuga, a justice of the Court of Appeal with additional responsibility as a High Court judge.

Case against Opuni & Agongo

In March, 2018, the Attorney-General (A-G) charged Dr Opuni and Agongo, the CEO of Agricult Ghana Limited, with 27 counts, including willfully causing financial loss to the state, contravention of the Public Procurement Act, defrauding by false pretence, money laundering and corruption of a public officer.

It is the contention of the A-G that Dr Opuni, during his tenure as COCOBOD CEO (November 2013 to January 2017), breached laid down procedures in procurement and other laws that led the state to lose GH¢271.3 million in the alleged fertiliser scandal and the distribution of substandard fertiliser to cocoa farmers

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.