Former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of COCOCOD, Dr. Stephen Opuni together with businessman, Siedu Agongo, the CEO of Zeera Group of Companies, and Agricult Ghana, are cumulatively facing 27 charges including causing financial loss to the state, abetment of crime and conspiracy to commit a crime.
Seidu Agongo is said to have been a beneficiary of the supposed fraudulent fertilizer contract worth over GH¢43 million.
Dr. Stephen Opuni and Agongo, alongside Agricult limited’s representatives, have pleaded not guilty to all 27 charges brought against them.
But the Attorney General’s department is bent on ensuring that the country’s laws deal with the two if they are found culpable by the court. The case was heard for the first time today, [Monday], March 26, 2018 in an Accra High Court.
Prior to the hearing, top officials of the opposition National Democratic Congress throng the court to support to Dr. Opuni who was appointed under the NDC government.
Dr. Opuni and Agongo were subsequently granted self-cognizance bail to the tune of Ghc300,000 each, with the case adjourned to April 11, 2018.
Facts of the case
While delivering the facts of the case today [Monday], the prosecution told the court that Dr. Opuni misled the Public Procurement Authority (PPA) into awarding a fertilizer contract to Seidu Agongo and his company, Agricult Ghana Limited.
The prosecution further accused Dr. Opuni of also truncating the time period of testing of the fertilizer brought into the country by the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG).
The prosecution said Agongo acting on behalf of Agricult submitted to the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG), fertilizer for testing.
According to the prosecution, the testing was supposed to be in two phases – to be applied to seedlings and applied to matured plants for at least two planting seasons before it could be certified for use in Ghana.
But the prosecution said the testing was done for only phase one after which a report recommending its use was given without second phase testing.
The prosecution said the investigations revealed that the former COCOBOD CEO, Dr. Stephen Opuni wrote to CRIG asking that the testing period should be shortened, and also wrote to Seidu Agongo that his fertilizer had been certified for use on cocoa after which a certificate was issued by CRIG.
The prosecution also said despite not applying for renewal of certificate for 2015 and 2016 as required, Agricult upon the instance of Dr. Stephen Opuni had the license renewed without any further testing.
Dr. Opuni, the prosecution said applied to the Public Procurement Authority for approval for Agricult Ghana Limited to be single-sourced to procure 700,000 litres of the fertilizer although conditions for single sourcing had not been satisfied.
According to the prosecution, the letter directing the PPA to single source the project quoted an amount of $19,250,000.
The nature of the product was captured as liquid despite it being powdery form.
The prosecution further told the court that as at the time of writing to PPA, Agricult had not written to COCOBOD stating any price as required by law.
The Public Procurement Authority according to the prosecution, subsequently wrote to the COCOBOD boss requesting for value for money analysis.
Dr. Opuni, according to the prosecution, did not provide this, but rather misrepresented to PPA that in compliance with advice from PPA Board in 2008, Agricult Ghana Limited had been pre-qualified for the supply of the fertilizer although Dr. Opuni knew this was not true.
On that basis, the PPA board approved COCOBOD’s request for single-sourcing of 700,000 litres of the fertilizer.
Dr. Opuni, in 2014, according to the facts of the case, once again wrote to PPA requesting approval to hand Agricult contract to supply liquid form of fertilizer through sole-sourcing even though conditions had not been met, the AG said.
The AG said the PPA approved the request, adding that Dr. Opuni then put in another request which was also approved.
In November 2015, the PPA approved the application for single-source procurement.
The prosecution said three separate agreements were signed and executed by Seidu Agongo’s Agricult Ghana Limited.
The prosecution said investigations had revealed that the contracts were executed when the company did not have a valid certificate to supply the fertilizer.
Whereas the material safety data sheet accompanying the fertilizer that was originally submitted to CRIG for testing described the substance as powdery, Dr. Opuni in requesting quotations for supply and delivery under the three contracts referred to the fertilizer as liquid and quoted in litres, the AG said
The prosecution continued that when the products arrived in Ghana, COCOBOD was required to notify CRIG for testing to ensure it corresponded with what was tested by CRIG. No such testing was carried out.
In 2017, COCOBOD carried out audit into testing of fertilizers after which it referred the matter for criminal investigations. The investigations the AG said, established that the product supplied by Agricult Ghana Ltd was different from the sample submitted to CRIG for testing.
Further tests the prosecution said, revealed variously that the fertilizer supplied had been adulterated and did not meet the specified standard, and that the product could not be used as nutrient on cocoa.
Furthermore, the test indicated that the fertilizer could be harmful to humans and animals as well hazardous to water.
Even though COCOBOD had spent a sum of $55million on the fertilizer, COCOBOD’s records shows there was no significant increase in the cocoa yield during the period, the Ag stated.
The prosecution further said investigations established that Seidu Agongo deposited an amount of 25,000 cedis into the account of Dr. Stephen Kwabena Opuni to influence the award of contracts.
It has been established that between 2014 and 2016, contrary to law, Seidu Agongo and Agricult manufactured fertilizer in commercial quantities when it had not been registered by the Ministry for food and Agriculture.