The trial of former CEO of COCOBOD, Dr. Stephen Kwabena Opuni and two others took an interesting turn on Wednesday, when the state vehemently objected to the tendering of documents filed in court by its own witness.
The Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG) had on December 19, 2018 filed that documents at the court’s registrar, following a court order.
Counsel for the defendants decided to cross examine the second prosecution witness, Dr. Alfred Arthur using these same documents, but the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Mrs Yvonne Atakora Obuobisa would not allow that.
Dr Stephen Opuni and Seidu Agongo who is the CEO of Agricult Ghana Limited are on trial for allegedly engaging in a series of fertiliser deals.
In March 2018, the Attorney-General charged Dr Opuni and Agongo with 27 counts, including wilfully causing financial loss to the state, contravention of the Public Procurement Act, defrauding by false pretence, money laundering and corruption of a public officer. The accused persons have denied any wrongdoing and have pleaded not guilty to all the 27 charges.
Meanwhile, what has been a major bone of contention since the case started is whether or not the Lithovit Foliar Fertiliser (LFF), which is the subject matter of the trial, was liquid or powdery in nature.
The documents which CRIG submitted to the Accra High Court on Wednesday, which counsel for the defendants consider critical to the case included handing-over notes, letters, field tests and invoices, which they said proved that at all material times the correspondence among Agricult, CRIG and COCOBOD showed that the LFF was liquid in nature.
Counsel for Agongo, Mr Benson Nutsukpui had wanted to lay a foundation before tendering the documents by getting the prosecution witness to identify portions of the documents, which the state prosecutor strenuously tried to scuttle.
Mrs Atakora Obuobisa insisted that counsel for the defendants was cross examining the witness on documents not in evidence, but Mr. Justice Clemence Honyenuga, a justice of the Court of Appeal with additional responsibility as a High Court judge, who presided over the case did not side with her and asked the counsel to continue.
However, Mr. Nutsukpui tendered the documents in evidence, but not after successfully getting the witness, Dr Alfred Arthur who works at the Soil Science Division of CRIG, and was the scientist who tested the LFF, to identify an invoice dated 19th November 2014 and a letter signed by Dr Opoku Ameyaw a former Deputy Executive Director of CRIG dated dated 20th November, 2014 to Agricult Company for renewal of certificate on Litovit Liquid Fertilizer.
Dr Opoku Ameyaw has since retired from the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana.
A similar document dated July 2017 from CRIG’s Accounts Department with attached Invoice (stated therein Lithovit Liquid Fertilizer) to Agricult Company which payment was made is already in evidence. It was signed on behalf of first prosecution witness Dr. Franklin Manu Amoah.
But immediately, Mr Nutsukpui tendered in the letter dated 20th November, 2014 which legal luminaries argue would technically exonerates Dr Opuni as it dismisses the charges against him, Mrs. Atakora Obuobisa rose on her feet to object to it being tendered in evidence.
She told the court the documents cannot be tendered through the second prosecution witness, although she admitted the “document is coming from CRIG alright but the witness is not the author of the documents. The witness has not said he knows anything about this document. He has never said he has seen it before in his evidence in chief, he made no reference to this document… The fact that he knows the declarant and also works at CRIG does not make him the right person to answer questions on them.”
Mr. Nutsukpui brought to the attention of the court that the documents were brought to court through its orders and the “authenticity of the documents is also not in doubt”.
He argued that the witness has shown knowledge of the processes at CRIG and recalled him saying there was no re-evaluation at 2015 and 2016.
After both sides have advanced their augments, Justice Clemence Honyenuga begun to read out his judgement. But midway through, Mr. Nutsukpui withdrew the documents conceding to suggestion by Mrs Atakora Obuobisa that the “document must be tendered at the appropriate time through the right witness who can testify to matters contained in the documents”.
Prosecution deferred her position on that to the judge who then allowed the documents to be withdrawn.
The case was adjourned to January 16, 21 and 25, 2019 respectively.
The two accused persons have denied any wrongdoing and have pleaded not guilty to all the 27 charges and have each been granted a GHS300,000.00 self-recognisance bail by the court.