A former Chief Executive Officer of the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), Dr Stephen Kwabena Opuni, who is standing trial for allegedly causing financial loss of GH¢271.3 million to the state, wants all the documents that the Attorney-General (A-G) will use to prosecute him.
His lawyers have, subsequently, filed a motion praying the Accra High Court to order the A-G’s Department to give them access to all the documents in its custody related to their client and even those that are not in the A-G’s custody but about which it has knowledge.
Dr Opuni and a businessman, Seidu Agongo, were dragged to court in March 2018 for allegedly indulging in acts that cost the state GH¢271.3 million in a fertiliser deal.
It is the case of the A-G that between 2013 and 2016, Opuni and Agongo engaged in various illegalities which resulted in the supply and distribution of substandard fertiliser to cocoa farmers and caused a financial loss of GH¢271.3m to the state.
The accused persons have pleaded not guilty to 27 charges, including wilfully causing financial loss to the state, defrauding by false pretence, abetment of crime, money laundering, contravention of the Public Procurement Act, 2003 (Act 663) and corruption of a public officer.
According to Dr Opuni’s lawyers, the motion to get access to the prosecution’s documents was premised on their client’s rights, as stipulated by Article 19 Clause 2 (e) and (g) of the 1992 Constitution, which bordered on fair trial.
Article 19 (2) (e) of the 1992 Constitution states that a person charged with a criminal offence shall “be given adequate time and facilities for the preparation of this defence”.
Article 19 (2) (g) further states that a person charged with a criminal offence shall “be afforded facilities to examine, in person or by his lawyer, the witnesses called by the prosecution before the court and to obtain the attendance and carry out the examination of witnesses to testify on the same conditions as those applicable to witnesses called by the prosecution”.
Dr Opuni’s lawyers are, therefore, seeking access to documents such as all the statements of all the prosecution witnesses who will testify in the trial, all witness statements of persons obtained by the prosecution who will not testify at the trial and all the statements of their client and Agongo.
Other documents that the lawyers want are all letters written by Dr Opuni during his tenure as COCOBOD boss to the Public Procurement Authority (PPA) in relation to permission to sole-source contracts for all the fertiliser and all letters written by the PPA in connection to Lithovit Follar Fertiliser (LFF).
They are further seeking all letters written by the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG) to COCOBOD in connection to LFF during and after the tenure of Dr Opuni, all certificates issued by CRIG for all the fertiliser, including LFF, from 2008 to March 2018, and all contracts for fertiliser entered into by COCOBOD from January 2008 to March 2018.
Dr Opuni’s legal team also wants all contracts executed between COCOBOD and Agongo’s company, Agricult Ghana Limited, for LFF, as well as all proceedings and findings of any investigative body set up by COCOBOD in connection to LFF.
The motion is expected to be moved by Dr Opuni’s lead counsel, Mr Samuel Codjoe, on Wednesday, April 11, 2018.
The facts of the case as presented by the A-G, Ms Gloria Akuffo are that on May 15, 2013, COCOBOD forwarded Lithovit Folliar Fertiliser (LFF) samples presented by Agricult Limited to CRIG for testing.
The samples were in powdery form and supposed to go through two tests, including a field test, after which a certificate on the efficacy of the fertiliser must be issued by CRIG.
According to the A-G, the samples presented by Agricult went through the first test, after which CRIG issued a draft report, recommending that the LFF be applied to mature cocoa, even though no field test had been conducted on the samples, as required by law.
It was the case of the A-G that Dr Opuni, upon assumption of office in November 2013, directed that the testing of the fertiliser be shortened, which was against the laid down practice.
Dr Opuni, the A-G said, then wrote to Agricult in January 2014 that its LFF had been certified for use on cocoa.
“This happened even though Agricult never applied for a renewal of its initial certificate, as required by law. Its certificates were renewed repeatedly at the instance of the 1st accused (Opuni), without the necessary field tests,’’ she said.