Opuni, Agongo trial: Court rejects tendering of document by defence
Attempts by lawyers for Seidu Agongo, the man standing trial with Dr Stephen Kwabena Opuni, for their alleged cause of financial loss to the state in series of fertiliser deals to tender a document as evidence has been rejected by the Accra High Court.
Lead counsel for Agongo, Mr Benson Nutsukpui, wanted to tender the document through the second prosecution witness, Dr Alfred Arthur, a scientist at the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG), during cross-examination yesterday.
But in a ruling, the court, presided over by Mr Justice Clemence Honyenuga, held that it would be against the rules of court and also unfair for counsel to tender the document through Dr Arthur, who was not the author and had also no knowledge about it.
The ruling of the court followed an objection raised by the prosecution, led by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Mrs Yvonne Atakora Obuobisa.
“It will be most unfair to tender a document through a witness who does not know anything about it. Consequently, I will allow the objection and decline to allow the document to be tendered through PW2 (Dr Arthur),” Mr Justice Honyenuga held.
The said document, which was not admitted into evidence by the court, was a report by a committee set up by CRIG and the Cocoa Health and Extension Division (CHED) of COCOBOD to investigate the disappearance of a document requested by Agongo’s lawyers.
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Following an application by Agongo’s lawyers for some documents from CRIG to aid their client’s defence, the court on December 3, 2018, ordered CRIG and CHED to make those documents available.
Although CRIG and CHED provided most of the documents on December 17, 2018, lawyer for COCOBOD, Mr Johannes Velba, informed the court that a letter dated October 21, 2014, which formed part of the documents, was missing.
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.
He further told the court that COCOBOD had formed a committee to investigate the disappearance of the said letter.
The committee came out with its report on January 31, 2019 and it was subsequently filed at the court on February 1, 2019.
Raising an objection against the tendering of the document through Dr Arthur, the DPP argued that per the Evidence Act, the report should not be admitted into evidence.
According to her, the committee’s report had nothing to do with the trial neither was the witness invited to appear before the committee or had anything to do with the committee’s work.
“He (Dr Arthur) does not know anything about the report and, therefore, cannot speak to matters within it,” she said.
In response, Mr Nutsukpui argued that the report came about due to the court’s order and, therefore, it should be admitted into evidence.
Mr Justice Honyenuga rejected the arguments of Mr Nutsukpui and held that the committee was not set up by an order of the court.
Also, he was of the view that the right procedure was for counsel to apply for an order from the court to invite the authors of the report who were the members of the committee to appear before the court.
“The committee report was written by officials of CRIG and CHED, who are still in their official employment and would have been better witnesses to tender it as evidence,” he held.
Hearing continues on March 4, 2019.
Case against Opuni and Agongo
Dr Opuni, a former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), and Mr Agongo, the CEO of Agricult Ghana Limited, are on trial for their alleged engagement in acts that incurred financial loss of GH¢271.3m to the state in a series of fertiliser deals.
They have been charged 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.
The two have pleaded not guilty to all the charges and are on self-recognisance bail of GH¢300,000 each.