The former embattled Chief Executive Officer of the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), Dr. Stephen Kwabena Opuni verbally instructed scientists at Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG) to reduce the testing period for chemicals and fertilizers from two years to six months, an Accra High Court has heard.
The Executive Director of CRIG, Dr. Franklin Manu Amoah who is the first prosecution witness in the trial of Dr. Opuni and businessman Seidu Agongo, told the court that the former COCOBOD boss was fond of giving verbal directives since he took office and “would normally not write”.
The witness was responding to questions from Dr. Opuni’s lawyer, Samuel Codjoe who claimed that his client never gave any such directive and if indeed he did, he would have put it into writing.
But the witness who was under cross-examination for more than three hours told the court that Dr. Opuni actually gave those directives on more than one occasion and the scientists at CRIG can attest to that.
He said that was usually Dr. Opuni’s modus operandi and he knows that what he(witness) is saying is the truth and he cannot deny that he gave that verbal directive for the testing period to be reduced from two years to six months.
He said the only reason Dr. Opuni gave for the directive was that the fertilizers were very expensive and reducing the testing period would make the fertilizers readily available and affordable to farmers.
“His modus operandi is like that. He would normally not write. Other scientists were there and it was not on one occasion only. Dr. Opuni himself knows very well that he gave those directives. Other scientists who received these verbal directives can attest to that. I have explained how he gave me verbal directive through Mr. Afrifah to recommend for the purchase of Lithovit foliar fertilizer to pilot 10,000 hectares of cocoa farms”, Dr. Amoah told the court.
Dr. Opuni and the Managing Director of Agricult Ghana Limited, Seidu Agongo are before the court for defrauding by false pretenses, causing financial loss to the state and some 25 other charges on the purchase and supply of Lithovit Foliar fertilizers.
Dr. Amoah who is the first prosecution witness in the trial told the court under cross-examination that Dr. Opuni shortly after his appointment as the CEO of COCOBOD, criticised the testing period of fertilizers and called for its reduction.
He said Dr. Opuni openly accused scientists at CRIG of aiding some companies to market their products at exorbitant prices.
The cross examination of the witness by Samuel Codjoe centred on the final report and recommendation letter CRIG wrote to COCOBOD approving Lithovit Foliar Fertilizer to be applied on matured cocoa trees without any field test.
“I am saying that you as the executive director is mandatorily bound to believe the report given by your brilliant scientists before forwarding it to COCOBOD without which you will be committing fraud on your employers or guilty of falsification of the scientific report”, the lawyer queried.
But the witness rejected the claim, saying he did not generate the report neither did he generate the recommendation letter. He said the report and letter were generated by brilliant scientists and he did not doubt their competences.
“I am not a rubber stamp. When the report came I interrogated it and more so I did not add anything to the report. The scientists who submitted the report are competent in their own field and more so the report was subject to approval or otherwise by COCOBOD and it was on Lithovit powdery fertilizer”, the witness said.
Subsequently, the lawyer accused Dr. Amoah of deceiving COCOBOD into believing the content of the recommendation letter.
“No. My explanation is that reports sent to COCOBOD are subject to the approval or otherwise of COCOBOD and there are occasions that such test reports have been rejected by COCOBOD. So whatever report went to COCOBOD the final decision came from COCOBOD.”
Liquid Lithovit Fertilizer
The witness also told the court that CRIG at the time he was the Executive Director did not receive any sample or tested any liquid Lithovit Foliar fertilizer.
Even when the defence lawyer insisted that the certificate issued to Agricult Ghana Limited did not indicate whether it was for a powdery or liquid fertilizer, the witness stated that the test report issued by CRIG was specific to Lithovit powder fertilizer.
Below is the give-and-take from the lawyer and the witness
Lawyer: What is the name of the fertilizer for which you have signed that certificate?
Witness: Lithovit with the trademark R. That trademark is very significant containing the content analysis as has been indicated in the report. So we need not write whether it is liquid or powdery. It is foliar.
Lawyer: From the certificate that you issued it is for Lithovit foliar fertilizer and nothing else, not liquid or powdery.
Witness: The certificate is specific to the test report only and not any other foliar fertilizer because the test report states the content analysis and this has been stated clearly.
Meanwhile, the court has rejected a document the defence lawyer intended to tender in evidence. The document is a letter signed by the witness in respect of a recommendation for a fertilizer prior to the appointment of Dr. Opuni.
The court’s decision follows an objection by the prosecution led by Yvonne Attakora Obuobisa, Director of Public Prosecution who stated that the document was not relevant to the trial as it has nothing to with the testing and purchase of Lithovit Foliar Fertilizer for which Dr. Opuni is in court.
The court presided over by Justice Clemence Honyenugh in view of the legal vacation which begins on August 1, 2018, adjourned the matter to October 8, 2018 for the cross-examination to continue.