The trial of the former CEO of Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), Dr. Stephen Kwabena Opuni and businessman, Seidu Agongo, has come to a halt once again ,after lawyers for Dr. Opuni, filed a motion on notice for a stay of proceedings.
This is to allow the Court of Appeal hear an application on the rejection of a vital document which according to Dr. Opuni’s lawyers, will further clear their client of the criminal charges.
The Accra High Court, hearing the criminal case against ex-COCOBOD boss, stunned the defense team, when it rejected another vital document which supports their case that Lithovic Fertilizer, which is at the heart of the trial, had at all material times, been in a liquid form, and not a greyish powdery substance as claimed by the prosecution.
The document dated November 20, 2014, was authored by Dr. K Opoku-Ameyaw, then a Deputy Executive Director of the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG) to the Managing Director of Agricult Limited, a fertilizer manufacturing company, reminding it of CRIG’s policy of renewing certificates for all recommended pesticides, spraying machines and fertilizers, including “Lithovic Liquid Fertilizer”.
Dr. Opoku-Ameyaw in his 2014 letter said “the cost of the activities for the re-assessment and evaluation exercise is estimated at One hundred and twenty-nine thousand, eight hundred and forty-nine Ghana Cedis, fifty pesewas (GH¢129,849.50) and we should be grateful for your kind contribution of 5.0% (GH¢649.50) in respect of Lithovic Liquid Fertilizer”.
The document titled “renewal of CRIG certificate for pesticides, fertilizers and spraying machines for January-December 2015”, was filed in court by both COCOBOD and CRIG upon demand from the defense team for more documents on the case.
Samuel Codjoe, counsel for Dr. Opuni, wanted to tender the document during cross-examination of Dr. Yaw Adu-Ampomah, the third prosecution witness to support their case that, the Lithovit Fertilizer, had always been liquid, but the prosecution led by a senior state attorney, Asiamah Sampong, objected to the tendering of the document and the trial judge, shockingly upheld the objection.
Dr. Opoku-Ameyaw, who had since retired from CRIG, in his capacity as the chairman of the Committee for Testing of Chemicals and Machines (CTCM), had written to Agricult, saying “we wish to remind you of the policy of the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana to renew certificates for all recommended pesticides, fertilizer and spraying machines on annual basis. This policy is to ensure that the efficacy and performance of product(s) supplied at all times remain the same as the original product recommended”.
Dr. Opoku-Ameyaw, who the witness reveals currently lives in Koforidua in the Eastern Region, stated in the document bearing his signature that “….a rapid re-assessment and evaluation of the pesticides, fertilizers and spraying machines is required as basis for renewal of the certificates”.
He added that “the re-evolution exercise will cover samples collected from the depots or warehouses, markets and farmers, and will assess storability, packaging and labeling of product. Efficacy and performance of the products will be re-assessed in the laboratory, CRIG experimental plots, and through information gathered from end users and other stakeholders”.
Dr. Opoku-Ameyaw in his 2014 letter concluded “The cost of the activities for the re-assessment and evaluation exercise is estimated at One hundred and twenty-nine thousand, eight hundred and forty-nine Ghana Cedis, fifty pesewas (GH¢129,849.50) and we should be grateful for your kind contribution of 5.0% (GH¢649.50) in respect of Lithovil Liquid Fertilizer”.
But Justice Clemence Honyenugah, rejected the document saying after “having heard the objections by DPP and the argument by defense counsel, for the admissibility of this document, sufficient foundation should have been laid. The witness should have been asked if he is familiar with the signature of Dr. Opoku-Ameyaw, who is on retirement. Further, I think if the witness had answered in the affirmative that he is familiar with the signature of the retiree, then it could have been granted.
The Court of Appeal judge, sitting with additional responsibility as a high court judge went on to say “…also PW3 is not the successor of Dr. Opoku-Ameyaw.
I must state that documents being ordered to be filed in this court, does not mean it can be tended without question” adding “the matter of Zamrama vs. Segbedziis irrelevant to this case. It can only be relevant in civil trial and therefore irrelevant.
He further stated that “now with the document being official document as per section 106 of the evidence act, I am not convinced since its relevance is dependent on the admissibility of the document.I will therefore uphold the objection and reject the document”.
Mr Codjoe, had argued that the letter was an official document from CRIG and that witness can answer questions on it, but the judge, stated that sufficient foundation ought to have been laid by the defense counsel before the document could be tendered, insisting that the authority counsel relied on was only applicable in a civil trial and not in criminal trial.
Dr. Adu-Ampomah during evidence –in chief had claimed during their investigation into procurements of the fertilizers and agrochemical, they had “…… requested for the MSDS because the report that had been submitted by three scientists described the product as greyish powder, but documents at Cocobod indicated that barely 9 months after submission of the product for testing, specifically on the 25th of February, 2014 the Chief Executive had written a letter to Agricult Ghana Ltd. requesting the company to quote for 700,000 litres of liquid Lithovit Fertilizer and on the next day 26th of February, 2014 Agricult had quoted in a letter to Cocobod that a litre of the Lithovit Liquid Fertilizer was US$27.50. Then on the 5th of March, 2014 Cocobod awarded a contract to Agricult Ghana Ltd to supply 700,000 litres of the Lithovit Liquid Fertilizer at a total cost of US$19,250,000. Then in 2015, the Chief Executive also awarded a contract to Agricult Ghana Ltd. to supply 1,000,000 litres of the Lithovit Liquid Fertilizer at a total cost of US$ 27,500,000, and then in 2016 the Chief Executive also order from Agricult 700,000 litres of Lithovit Fertilizer at a total cost of US$19,250,000 and then in the end of 2016 had also order 1,000,000 litres of Lithovit Liquid Fertilizer from the same company at a total cost of US$27,500,000 but there was no record at Cocoboard indicating that any of such Liquid Lithovit Fertilizer had been tested by CRIG that is why we requested for the MSDMS”.
But Dr. Opuni’s lawyers on 12th July 2019 filed an appeal against the ruling and filed a motion on notice for a stay of proceedings on 16 July 2019, pending the determination of the appeal slated for 25 July 2019.
Mr Codjoe informed the court about the motion during the hearing on Wednesday, 17 July 2019. The Director of Public Prosecutions, Yvonne Atakora Obuobisa, who appeared surprised at the move, said she had not been served with the motion for the notice of appeal. She said: “…If we had been served earlier, we would have presented an application for abridgement of time”.
The presiding judge, who also revealed he had not been served with a copy of the motion, asked that the date for the hearing of the stay of proceedings motion be abridged to 24 July 2019 – the date already fixed for the continuation of proceedings.
MrCodjoe assented to the request, saying: “My lord, the 24th was our preferred date and, therefore, we agree. It is more convenient for us than the 25th which the registry gave on their own. So, my lord, we agree”.
This is the second motion of stay of proceedings that has hit the ongoing trial. The first one was filed on 1 March 2019 by Mr Benson Nutsukpui, the lead counsel for Mr Agongo.
During the court’s sitting on 25 February 2019, Mr Nutsukpui wanted to tender a document through the second prosecution witness, Dr Alfred Arthur, a scientist at the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG).
The document in question was a report by a committee set up by CRIG and the Cocoa Health and Extension Division (CHED) of COCOBOD to investigate the disappearance of a document requested by Mr Agongo’s lawyers. But in his ruling, Justice Clemence Honyenuga held that it would be against the rules of court and also unfair for the counsel to tender the document through Dr. Arthur, who was not the author and also had no knowledge about the document.