Opuni’s trial resumes; Lawyers demand for more documents

BY: Emmanuel Ebo Hawkson

The embattled former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), Dr Stephen Kwabena Opuni, and the Attorney-General (A-G) have renewed their legal battle over certain prosecution documents in relation to a court case against the former CEO.

Dr Opuni and a businessman, Seidu Agongo, were dragged to court by the A-G for allegedly causing financial loss of GH¢271.3 million to the state in a series of fertiliser deals.

It is the case of the A-G that between 2014 and 2016, Opuni and Agongo allegedly engaged in various illegalities which resulted in the supply and distribution of substandard fertilisers to cocoa farmers and caused a financial loss of GH¢271.3m to the state.

The legal team of the accused and the A-G had been at loggerheads over what sort of prosecution documents should be handed over to the defence counsel to facilitate the defence of the accused.

The disagreement had stalled the trial which commenced on March 27, 2018.

In order to ensure expeditious trial, the Accra High Court on Wednesday ordered the A-G to do everything within its power to hand over whatever documents the accused had requested.

“I order that the prosecution do its outmost best to contact the relevant institutions under its control and furnish the defence counsel with the rest of the documents so that this case can be expeditiously tried,’’ the presiding judge, Mr Justice Clemence Honyenuga, a justice of the Court of Appeal, with additional responsibility as a High Court judge, ordered.

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Fight over documents

Lawyers for the accused, since the start of the case, had been battling with the A-G to gain access to certain prosecution documents, which they argued would facilitate the effective defence of  their clients.

The documents included all the witness statements against the accused, letters written by Dr Opuni to the Public Procurement Authority seeking permission to sole-source for all fertilisers, including Lithovit Foliar Fertiliser, which is the fertiliser at the centre of the court case.

They also wanted certain documents issued by the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG) to Dr Opuni in connection with Lithovit Foliar Fertiliser.

The legal wrangling over whether or not the A-G should hand over documents in its possession to the accused ended up at the Supreme Court and virtually halted the case at the High Court.

On June 7, 2018, a seven-member panel of the Supreme Court ordered all prosecutors to furnish the accused persons, irrespective of the charges levelled against them, with prosecution documents to enable them to defend themselves effectively.

Opuni needs more documents

As a result of the Supreme Court decision, Mr Justice Honyenuga ordered the A-G to furnish Dr Opuni and Agongo with the documents they requested.

However, at yesterday’s hearing, the lead counsel for Dr Opuni, Mr Samuel Cudjoe, stated that although the A-G had handed over certain documents to him, he still needed access to other documents.

According to him, documents such as the reports issued by CRIG to COCOBOD on all fertilisers and documents signed by certain officials of COCOBOD which were in the custody of investigating bodies had not been handed over to him.

Such documents, he argued, were crucial to his client’s case as it would show that Dr Opuni committed no wrong.

A-G’s response

In her response, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Mrs Yvonne Atakora Obuobisa, said the A-G did not have the documents that the counsel was requesting and as far as she was concerned, the A-G had handed over all documents to the accused.

“We have given them what we have and anytime we get new information in the course of the trial, we will release it to them. We cant give them what we don’t have,’’ she submitted.

The DPP further argued that it was not the duty of the A-G to defend the accused.

“If there are documents that will help the case of the accused, it is his (Mr Cudjoe) responsibility to fish them,’’ she added.

However, Mr Cudjoe disagreed with the DPP and argued that some of the documents were in the possession of investigating bodies such as the Economic and Organised Crime Office (EOCO), which were under the control of the A-G.

“We know some of the documents are in the possession of EOCO because we saw them during the investigations. If the A-G wants to give those documents to us, they can request it from such bodies,’’ he said.

After the numerous back and forth arguments, Mr Justice Honyenuga ordered the A-G to do everything within its power to furnish the accused with the documents.

Hearing continues on July 9, 2018.