General News of Thursday, 20 December 2018
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 answer a few questions an invoice dated 19th November 2014 and a letter signed by Dr Opoku Ameyaw a former Deputy executive director of CRIG in 2014 under the subject renewal of certificate for pesticides, fertilizer and machines for 2015.
This was to add to a document already in evidence signed on behalf of first prosecution witness Dr. Franklin Amoah. In that document, CRIG in July 2017 wrote to Agricult in the heat of the brouhaha which culminated into this trial to renew their license to render services to COCOBOD.
But immediately, Mr Nutsukpui tendered in the documents, 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, which defendants are hopeful would exonerate them, to be withdrawn.
The case was adjourned to January 16, 21 and 21, 2019 respectively.