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Opuni trial: Counsel, witness in heated disagreement in court

BY: Justice Agbenorsi
Dr Stephen Kwabena Opuni, former Chief Executive Officer, COCOBOD

A statement from a farmer regarding the efficacy of the lithovit fertiliser became a bone of contention between state prosecutors and counsel yesterday during the cross-examination of the seventh prosecution witness in the trial of Dr Stephen Kwabena Opuni, former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), and businessman Mr Seidu Agongo.

Counsel for Mr Agongo, Mr Nutifafa Nutsukpui, who held brief for Mr Benson Nutsukpui, was cross-examining the seventh prosecution witness, Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Prempeh Mercer, on a statement from one of the two farmers interrogated by the police as part of investigations into the lithovit fertiliser.

Detective Mercer had testified under cross-examination in court that in his statement to the police which was not in evidence before the court, the farmer, whose name was given as Nana Obeng Akrofi, said the lithovit that was introduced to farmers by the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG) to double their yield at the end of the season “produced nothing”.

Seeking clarification from the statement by the witness, Mr Nutsukpui, in his cross examination of the witness, said: “I put it to you that what Nana Obeng Akrofi actually said in his statement was that he (Nana Obeng Akrofi) used to harvest 50 bags of cocoa from his 10 acre farm but after the application of lithovit he harvested only 52 bags of cocoa from the same 10 acre farm”.

Clash

This became a bone of contention. The Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), Yvonne Attakorah Obuobisah, interrupted the cross-examination arguing that counsel was putting to the winess facts from a statement which was not in evidence.

According to her, the statement in question was not before the court and, therefore, asking questions concerning it could create doubts.

“My Lord, what this does is to create a lot of doubts about this statement purported to have been made by Nana Obeng Akrofi.

“My Lord, portions of this statement are just lifted when the court does not have the benefit of the statements. My lord, if counsel seeks to put portions of the statements out then he must tender them so that the court will be fed about everything that this particular person has said,” she argued.

Mr Nutsukpui, on the other hand, argued that it was the witness who introduced the statement under cross-examination and that he could not leave out the purported statement made by Nana Obeng Akrofi against his client.

After a series of arguments the court, presided over by Justice Clemence Honyenuga, a Justice of the Supreme Court, sitting also as a High Court judge, ordered Mr Nutsukpui to reframe his question.

Reframed question

Mr Nutsukpui: I am putting it to you that Nana Obeng Akrofi did not say what you attributed to him in respect of the Lithovit liquid fertiliser but what he did say was that he used to harvest 50 bags of cocoa from his 10-acre farm but after the application of Lithovit liquid fertiliser, he harvested only 52 bags of the cocoa from the same acre of farm. That is correct?

Detective Mercer : “No My Lord. I am saying so because according to Nana Akrofi, the Lithovit introduced to them was to double the yield but it did not turn out so.

Charges

Dr Opuni was the CEO of the COCOBOD between November 2013 and January 2017, while Agongo is the CEO of Agricult Ghana Limited, an agrochemicals company.

Agongo is alleged to have used fraudulent means to sell substandard fertiliser to COCOBOD for onward distribution to cocoa farmers, while Dr Opuni is accused of facilitating the act by allowing Agongo's products to go untested but certified as required by law.

The two accused persons have pleaded not guilty to all the 27 charges, and are on self-recognisance bail in the sum of GH¢300,000 each.