Missing COCOBOD Documents Causing Headache In Opuni Trial

Vital documents in the custody of the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG), but have gone missing with some others obliterated, have become a major point of controversy in the ongoing criminal trial of Dr.  Stephen Opuni, a former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD) and Seidu Agongo, the CEO of Agricult Ghana Limited

The two are on trial for allegedly engaging in acts that according to the Akufo-Addo government, incurred financial loss of GH¢271.3m in a series of fertiliser deals, and their lawyers have said the documents some of which have tampered with are “germane” to a free and fair criminal trial.

The documents, include an invoice attached to the letter of  November 20, 2014, an evaluation report on Codapec/Hitec products submitted to COCOBOD per CRIG letter CRG27/118/4643 dated  August 31, 2016.

The other is a report on the analysis of two granular fertiliser samples in a rice sack submitted to the Chief Executive on October 24, 2016 by a letter with reference number CRG39/14Vol22/5577. There is also another letter dated October 21, 2014.

These documents are to prove whether or not the Lithovit Foliar Fertiliser (LFF), which is the subject matter of the trial, was liquid or powdery in nature.

In this regard, the court has ordered COCOBOD to complete its promised investigation into the missing documents and those tampered within two weeks and furnish it with the report.

The Accra High Court that gave the directive on Monday, January 21, 2019 insisted that COCOBOD files the report of the committee in court on 5th February.

This was after the Deputy Director in-charge of legal affairs at COCOBOD, Johannes Wegba had told the court that the crucial letters and documents are yet to be found more than two months since their existence popped up at the ongoing.

About a month after they mentioned in courtroom, the court, on 17 December 2018 ordered the management of CRIG to furnish it with the documents after Mr Benson Nutsukpui, the lawyer for Mr Agongo, told the hearing that CRIG had failed to fully comply with an earlier order to that effect.
Mr Wegba had informed the High Court on December 17, 2018 that COCOBOD has set up a committee to investigate the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of the documents.

Before the trial commenced last Monday at the court, both Mr Nutsukpui and counsel for Dr. Opuni, Mr Samuel Cudjoe requested for an update on the committee’s report.

Mr Wegba informed the court presided over by Justice Clemence Honyenuga, a justice of the Court of Appeal with additional responsibility as a High Court judge that the committee was yet to “finish its work” adding “Even though they are about to complete their work, they have not been able to find the documents and they are not able to unravel the circumstances leading to its disappearance; my lord we await the final report.”

When asked how soon he thinks the report would be ready, he said he believes it would be ready in two weeks’ time, noting that the committee is sitting in Tafo in the Eastern region where CRIG is based.

Though the case proceeded with the cross-examination of the third prosecution witness, Dr. Alfred Arthur, a soil scientist at the Soil Science Division of CRIG, Mr Nutsukpui pointed out that since the committee’s report on the tampered document was not ready, it will be unfair to the court “if we close the cross examination without it”.

The case was adjourned to February 6 with explicit instruction from Justice Honyenuga to Mr Wegba to ensure that the committee “speeds up” its work and complete investigation into the matter latest by February 4.

The CRIG was therefore directed to file the report before the court on February 5 before the next adjournment date.

Mr Nutsukpui in the course of the cross-examination accused the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Yvonne Atakora Obuobisa of “interestingly” trying to “gag” a state witness from “answering questions on official documents”.

The witness, Dr. Arthur, had been presented with a set of documents filed by COCOBOD on 19th December 2018.

Dr. Arthur has given witness to back prosecution’s case that the fertilizer in question was not liquid.

He was therefore asked to examine the documents and confirm to the court on his earlier position that CRIG never described lithovite as lithovite liquid fertilizer.

He maintained his position that CRIG never tested any fertilizer as lithovite liquid fertilizer.

The witness also admitted knowing Dr Anim Kwapong whom he said was the Executive Director of CRIG from September 2014 to February 2017. But when his attention was drawn to the fact that in Dr. Kwapong’s handing over notes, it was stated that during his tenure, renewal of certificate and agrochemicals were done, he said he was not aware.

He further maintained his position that he was unaware that certificates of lithovite fertilizer were renewed in 2016 for the 2017 season.

Dr. Arthur later admitted appearing for the Adu Ampomah committee that was set up in 2017 to investigate the case which is now in court, but said he never saw the report of the committee.

He said he was therefore not in position to tell if the report is different from his assertion that Mr A.A Afrifa, the former Head of the Soil Science Division of CRIG and one J.H Dogbatse said Duapa fertilizer was not tested.

On documents filed by CRIG on 11th December 2018 pursuant to the orders of the court, the witness acknowledged that they were filed by COCOBOD with the stamp of its legal department.

When asked by lawyer Nutsukpui that the first, among a pile of documents, has its last paragraph quoting “Lithovit liquid fertilizer”, Dr. Arthur responded in the affirmative, however the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Yvonne Atakora Obuobisa stood up and objected to the line of questioning and demanded it is expunged.

She argued that the documents were authored by other scientist and not the witness, therefore he cannot testify to matters he knows nothing about and cannot answer questions on, accusing the defence counsel of trying to “smuggle” in the documents.

Mr Nutsukpui, however, clarified that it was not stated that the witness authored the documents, but after his ability to identify the documents, the question was only to show the relevance of the documents.

The function of the prosecutor is a public duty; Mr Nutsukpui averred in reference to a Supreme Court ruling, pointing out that it is the duty of the prosecution to provide any necessary documents to confirm the quilt or innocence of the accused.

But the judge noted that since the witness denied that the fertilizer was liquid, counsel for the 2nd and 3rd accused should have tendered the documents in evidence so as to be fair and just to the witness who did not author the documents.

After laying foundation for his ruling, Justice Honyenuga, disallowed the question and expunged it “on grounds of fairness”.

The two accused persons – Dr. Opuni and Agongo – 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.

 

source: theheraldghana.com