In a dramatic turn of events, the former Chief Executive of COCOBOD, Dr. Stephen Kwabena Opuni, has opted not to testify in the ongoing high-profile COCOBOD criminal trial, closing his case today Monday, February 12, 2024.
Dr. Opuni’s decision follows a series of compelling testimonies presented by 11 credible witnesses he had assembled for his defense.
Legal experts and observers widely acknowledge that these witnesses have effectively dismantled the prosecution’s case, absolving Dr Opuni of any alleged misconduct during his tenure at COCOBOD.
Exercising his rights under Article 19 (10) of the 1992 constitution, Dr Opuni’s counsel, Samuel Codjoe, officially communicated the decision to the court.
“The first accused is content with the evidence presented by his witnesses and the overall evidence before the court; therefore, he will not personally testify,” Codjoe informed Justice Aboagye Tandoh, the presiding High Court judge.
Among the notable witnesses were cocoa farmers who attested to the positive impact of Lithovit Foliar Fertilizer on their farms, scientists, including former and current senior technical and management staff of COCOBOD, and an ex-board chairman, Ambassador Daniel Ohene Agyekum actively involved in the product’s certification, procurement, payment, and field observation.
Farmers hailed Lithovit as a “messiah” and “saviour,” describing its effects as magical on their farms. The witnesses collectively presented a compelling case for the efficacy and legitimacy of the fertilizer.
Dr Opuni, alongside businessman Seidu Agongo and Agricult Ghana Ltd, is facing a combined 24 charges, including abetment of crime, defrauding by false pretense, contravention of the Public Procurement Act, willfully causing financial loss to the state, manufacturing fertilizer without registration, selling misbranded fertilizer, selling adulterated fertilizer, and corruption by a public officer.
Seidu Agongo and Agricult Ghana Ltd were, however, acquitted of additional charges related to money laundering.
All three defendants have pleaded not guilty and are currently on a GH¢300,000.00 self-recognizance bail each.
The trial, which commenced in March 2018, saw the state pressing 27 charges against the accused. The case took a controversial turn with a ruling on the submission of no case, leading to the accused being asked to open their defense. The proceedings have been marked by legal complexities, including a change in the presiding judge.
Despite the prosecution’s attempts, not a single farmer testified in court for the state, leaving the defense’s witnesses unchallenged.
Dr Opuni’s defense presented a robust lineup, including farmers, former COCOBOD officials, and experts, each providing valuable insights into the legitimacy and efficacy of Lithovit Foliar Fertilizer.
As the trial unfolds, legal observers anticipate a resolution to this protracted case, with the defense’s strong evidence casting doubt on the prosecution’s claims. The current presiding judge, Justice Aboagye Tandoh, is expected to navigate the remaining proceedings in this complex and politically charged trial.
The trial started in March 2018 after the state pressed 27 charges against the accused persons. The charge sheet was signed by Chief State Attorney Evelyn Keelson on behalf of the then Attorney General.
This was after the uncle of the Chief State Attorney, then a Senior Minister in the Akufo-Addo government, Yaw Osafo Marfo had ordered the CID of the Ghana Police Service to take over the case from the Economic and Organised Crime Office (EOCO) that refused to take any legal action after months of investigations found the accused blameless.
Mr. Osafo Marfo was later indicted and surcharged by the Auditor-General for paying Kroll and Associates a whopping US$1 million for no work done. It was revealed that the payment was made for a forensic investigation into possible cases of corruption during Dr Opuni’s tenure at COCOBOD.
The Auditor-General, Daniel Yaw Domelevo, was eventually sent packing out of the Auditor-General Service.