Dr. Stephen Opuni
The ongoing trial of former Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD) Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Dr. Stephen Opuni and businessman, Seidu Agongo, on Monday heard shocking news that, vital documents on the case, have either gone missing or had been tempered with, while in the custody of COCOBOD.
Serial numbers, dates, references and other vital details on these documents, have been erased, while others have their attachments strangely missing, although records show they had earlier been filed.
It is not clear, what the perpetrators were seeking to achieve with the move, but the legal department of COCOBOD according to the Deputy Director of Legal; Johaness Velba, has set up a committee to investigate who obliterated the crucial documents, as well as the whereabouts of the missing ones, including an October 21, 2014 dated letter.
According to him, not only was the letter missing; the file in which the letter was expected to be placed, had also been tampered with.
“The letter is not on the file, even though its folio number was supposed to be somewhere in the middle. COCOBOD has set up a committee to investigate the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of the letter,” he said.
Benson Nutsukpui, lawyer for Seidu Agongo and his company, Agricult Ghana Ltd, mentioned the first document is an invoice attached to the letter of 20th November 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.
This shocking development came up, when Mr Nutsukpui, informed the court that although some of the documents have been produced by the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG), some key attachments have been missing.
Mr Nutsukpui, had requested for the documents, pointing out that the missing documents were “germane” to his cross-examination of the state’s witnesses in the case.
The document prepared by senior scientists at the CRIG at various times mentioned Lithovic Fertilizer as a liquid and not a powdery substance as claimed by the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Gloria Akuffo and two state witnesses; Dr. Franklin Manu Amoah and Dr. Francis Arthur, who have appeared before the court.
Mr Nutsukpui also want the report on the analysis of two granular fertilizer samples in rice sack submitted to the CEO on October 24, 2016 by a letter with reference number CRG39/14Vol22/5577.
According to him, these documents are very vital and germane for the defense team in the trial and therefore, the documents should be traced and provided to them as ordered by the court.
However, the Deputy Director of Legal at COCOBOD, who was in court as legal representative for COCOBOD, openly admitted that indeed, management is finding it difficult to locate the said documents, because they may either be “tempered with” or “misfiled”.
He told the court, “My Lord our explanations regarding our inability to produce the said document is that our efforts to get the said documents took us to the file that contains letter but upon going through, we realized that from folio 44 to 47, which should contain the said letter was not available.”
The Deputy Director of Legal also explained that due to the development, COCOBOD has set up a committee to investigate the circumstances under which the documents have been tempered with and why some cannot be found among others.
“So it is either the files have been tempered with or maybe it was misfiled. My Lord we have then set a Committee to investigate why the documents are unavailable”, he told the court.
This was after the trial Judge, Justice Clemence Honyenugah, an Appeal Court Judge, sitting as an additional High Court Judge, had invited both defense and prosecution counsels, as well as the COCOBOB legal representative into his chambers over the issue on the request of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Mrs. Yvonne Atakora Obuobisa.
With COCOBOD admitting that the letter was missing and, therefore, it needed time to unravel the mystery behind its disappearance, Mr Nutsukpui, prayed the court to postpone his cross-examination of the third prosecution witness, Dr Alfred Arthur.
The request by counsel was objected to by the DPP, saying “so is counsel saying that with all the documents that have been provided, he cannot go on with the cross-examination without the said letter?’’ she asked.
Mr Nutsukpui, responded that the letter was germane and crucial to the defence of his client and, therefore, he would be unable to finish the cross-examination without the availability of the letter and other missing invoices that he had requested.
The judge later ruled that, per argument from Defense Counsel and Prosecution, it is my ruling that the above mentioned documents should be furnished to this court by the next adjourned day which is Wednesday, December 19.
Both counsels agreed on the judge’s ruling and sitting has been adjourned to Wednesday, December 19, at 11 AM.
It would be the Accra High Court directed COCOBOD to furnish it with some vital letters and other documents to assist in the trial.
The court gave the directive to the Board’s Solicitor during the previous sitting and asked that the documents, the letters and their attachments in the custody of the Executive Director of CRIG, be filed before the next session on Monday, December 10, 2018.
The order said, they should include its attachments and also a handing over notes of Dr. Anim Kwapong, an ex-Executive Director of CRIG, together with its attachment and its report on the testing of agro-chemicals and spraying machine with all the pages signed.
Below is what transpired in court on Monday:
Mr Nutsukpui: My Lord, some of the documents are so germane for the determination of this matter. One is the invoice that has not been attached. Also attached to this document are two documents referred to at page five of the documents.
- a) Evaluation Report on Codapec and Hitec product address to Cocoa Board per CRIG number 2711/6483 and dated 24th August 2016.
Report on two granular fertiliser samples in rice sacks submitted to the CEO on 23rd October 2016.
So, my Lord, we will be grateful if we can be assured on the effort of CRIG to get us those documents.
Prosecution: My Lord, the order was not directed at us but CRIG.
Judge: So, where is the legal representative of Cocoa Board?
Mr Johanes Veba: My Lord I am here.
Judge: What is your position?
Johanes Velpa: My Lord I am Deputy Director of Legal Affairs.
Judge: So, what is your difficulty in filing the attachments l ordered?
Johanes Velpa: My Lord, we were finding it difficult to trace it from the various files but I have been able to find them now but I couldn’t file them. My Lord, I have shown it to the Defence Counsel.
Judge: So, the documents are with you now right?
Johanes Velpa: Yes, my Lord.
Judge: Then let all of us get to the chamber and sort it out.
Judge: We are breaking for 10 minutes.
Judge: Per the argument from the Defence Counsel and Prosecution, it is my ruling that the above-mentioned documents should be furnished to this court by the next adjourned day which is 19th December, however, there are difficulties with regard to letter dated 21st October 2016 which cannot be traced. At this stage, the Deputy Director, Legal of Cocobod, is to explain to this court the circumstances leading to the unavailability of the said documents.
Judge: Tell us your name too.
Johanes Velpa: My Lord, our explanations regarding our inability to produce the said document is that our efforts to get the said documents took us to the file that contains the letter but upon going through, we realised that from folio 45 to 80, which should contain the said letter, was not available.
So, it is either the files have been tampered with or maybe it was misfiled. My Lord, we have then set up a committee to investigate why the documents are unavailable.
Mr Nutsukpui: My Lord, we are grateful to you and CRIG for that and, therefore, we will give them all the time to produce the said tampered documents.
But my Lord, we want [him] to tell us about the erasing and tampering of the files and the removal of some letters as well.
Johanes Velpa: My Lord, we submit to what the first and second accused counsel are saying.
Mr Nutsukpui: My Lord, the said documents are so germane that without it, I cannot finish my cross-examination.
Judge: Listening to the arguments from Counsel for the first and second accused, I think it is fair to adjourn the proceedings to Wednesday, 19th December and also I ask the Deputy Director, Legal to do his best to furnish the court with the said document.
In March 2018, the Attorney General charged former COCOBOD CEO Dr Stephen Opuni and Mr Agongo, the CEO of Agricult Ghana Limited, with 27 counts.
It is the contention of the AG that Dr Opuni, during his tenure as COCOBOD CEO (November 2013 to January 2017), breached laid-down procedures in procurement and other laws that led the state to lose GHS271.3 million in the alleged fertiliser scandal and the distribution of substandard fertiliser to cocoa farmers.
Mr Agongo is also alleged to have used fraudulent means to sell substandard fertiliser to COCOBOD for onward distribution to cocoa farmers.
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.