The trial of the former CEO of Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), Dr Stephen Kwabena Opuni and businessman Seidu Agongo has come to a halt once again after lawyers for Dr Opuni filed a motion on notice for a stay of proceedings.
Dr Opuni’s lawyers are challenging an earlier court ruling that upheld an objection to the tendering of an official letter from the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG), titled: "Renewal of CRIG certificate for pesticides, fertilisers and spraying machines for January to December 2015", through the state’s third prosecution witness, Dr Yaw Adu-Ampomah.
In the last hearing on 10 July 2019, the court, presided over by Justice Clemence Honyenuga, upheld an objection raised by Chief State Attorney Sampson Asiamah to the tendering of the said document on the basis that the document was not relevant.
But in his argument, Mr Codjoe pointed out that contrary to claims by the witness, Dr Adu-Ampomah that Lithovit liquid fertiliser was alien to CRIG, the said letter, which was filed before the court by the Directors of COCOBOD upon a court order on 10 December 2018, proves otherwise.
He added that the said letter was addressed to Agricult Ghana Limited, asking it to pay for the reassessment and re-evaluation of Lithovit Liquid Fertiliser.
After listening to both sides, the judge said: “On the relevance of this document, it is my opinion that since the respective foundation was not laid for the tendering, I do not see how the document could be relevant… On the document being an official document as required under Section 126 of the Evidence Act, I am not convinced, since its relevance depended on the admissibility of the document. In conclusion, I will uphold the objection and reject the tendering of the document to be marked as R (2)”.
But Dr Opuni’s lawyers on 12th July 2019 filed an appeal against the ruling and filed a motion on notice for a stay of proceedings on 16 July 2019, pending the determination of the appeal slated for 25 July 2019.
Mr Codjoe informed the court about the motion during the hearing on Wednesday, 17 July 2019. The Director of Public Prosecutions, Yvonne Atakora Obuobisa, who appeared surprised at the move, said she had not been served with the motion for the notice of appeal. She said: “…If we had been served earlier, we would have presented an application for abridgement of time”.
The presiding judge, who also revealed he had not been served with a copy of the motion, asked that the date for the hearing of the stay of proceedings motion be abridged to 24 July 2019 – the date already fixed for the continuation of proceedings.
Mr Codjoe assented to the request, saying: “My lord, the 24th was our preferred date and, therefore, we agree. It is more convenient for us than the 25th which the registry gave on their own. So, my lord, we agree”.
This is the second motion of stay of proceedings that has hit the ongoing trial. The first one was filed on 1 March 2019 by Mr Benson Nutsukpui, the lead counsel for Mr Agongo.
During the court’s sitting on 25 February 2019, Mr Nutsukpui wanted to tender a document through the second prosecution witness, Dr Alfred Arthur, a scientist at the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG).
The document in question 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 Mr Agongo’s lawyers. But in his ruling, Justice Clemence Honyenuga held that it would be against the rules of court and also unfair for the counsel to tender the document through Dr Arthur, who was not the author and also had no knowledge about the document.