As He Rejects Key Evidence From Defense
Justice Clemence Jackson Honyenugah, the trial judge in the ongoing criminal case against Dr. Stephen Kwabena Opuni, a former Chief Executive of COCOBOD and SeiduAgongo, the CEO of Agricult Ghana Limited on Monday, shocked the court by rejecting a vital evidence bothering on the nature of fertilizer tested, approved and procured by the Ghana Cocoa Board.
The court rejected attempt to tender into evidence the report written by the committee set up by the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG) to investigate a missing documents which the defense says is germane to their case.
The court had on previous occasion instructed COCOBOD to complete investigation into the missing documents and those tampered with in the custody of the CRIG in two weeks.
On Monday, January 21, 2019, the Accra High Court, had directed that COCOBOD files the report of the committee in court on February 5.
Dr. Opuni and Agongo, are on trial for allegedly engaging in acts that incurred financial loss of GH¢271.3 million in the procurement of some fertilizer for COCOBOD.
However, 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, that have been a subject of interest to the court, 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 the 24th of October 2016 by a letter with reference number CRG39/14Vol22/5577. There is also another letter dated October 21, 2014.
Deputy Director of Legal at COCOBOD, Mr Johannes Velba, had told the High Court on December 17, 2018 that COCOBOD, has set up a committee to investigate the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of the documents.
Sometime in January, this year, Mr Velba informed the court that the committee was yet to “finish its work”.
“Even though they are about to complete their work, they have not been able to find the document and they are not able to unravel the circumstances leading to its disappearance; my lord we await the final report,” he said.
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.
At trial on Monday, Benson Nutsukpui, the lawyer for Mr Agongo, asked to tender the committees’ final report on its investigation into evidence through Dr. Alfred Arthur, who is a soil scientist at the Soil Science Division of CRIG and a witness for the Prosecution.
But the Prosecution, led by Mrs. Yvonne AttakoraObuobisa, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) objected the tendering, saying that the investigative committee was not set up by an order of the court. Its investigation was to locate a missing document which has nothing to do with the substantive matters of the trial.
She added that the report by its nature is only a hearsay statement under section 116 of evidence act because it was written by persons other than Dr. Alfred Arthur. He was also not part of the committee nor called to testify before it, hence, he doesn’t know about the work of the committee and cannot be asked to speak on matters contained in the report.
The DPP concluded her objection by saying that the Defense had failed to establish enough foundation to tender the report into evidence.
Justice Honyenugah, the presiding judge, agreed with and upheld the objection raised by the Prosecution, thereby rejecting that report which the Defense sought to tender into evidence.
He said it is indeed the case that the CRIG committee, whose report is in contention, was not set up by a court order but by CRIG and it will be unfair for it to be admitted through Dr. Alfred Arthur. What the defense should have done was to tender the report into evidence through one of the three members of the committee so that the Prosecution will have a fair opportunity to cross-examine that committee member.
He ended by saying that the fact that a document had been filled before the court did not mean they could be admitted into evidence without regard to the rules on how to properly do so. I’ll allow the objection, he said, and decline to allow the tendered through Dr. Alfred Arthur. The objection is therefore upheld.
The missing document in question, which warranted the formation of a committee at CRIG is a letter, supposedly written by CRIG and sent to Agricult Ghana Limited to partner with CRIG in providing a training programme for farmers and extension officers on the use of Lithovitfertiliser.
The main issue of contention between the two sides in the trial is whether the fertilizer used for the training programme was the same one tested in 2013 by Dr. Alfred Arthur, and more importantly, whether it was liquid or powdery in form.
The defense has maintained that, that singular missing document will prove that the fertilizer in question is liquid despite the testimony given by Dr. Alfred Arthur that what he tested was in powdery form.
After months of investigations, the CRIG committee concluded that the supposed document could not be found and filled its final report at the court.
Meanwhile, the court had had to adjourn sitting on a number of occasions at the request of the defense on grounds they (the defense) were waiting for the committee to finish its work, which they argued is key to their case, only to have the court reject the report.