Per the curriculum vitae submitted to Parliament’s Appointments Committee during his vetting, the judge turned 70 on September 4, 2022, which is the retirement age for superior court judges according Article 145(2) (a) of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana.
Justice Honyenuga, in July, was categorical that he will be back on the case, even as a retiree, after the legal break in October.
The judge, has been presiding over the case at the High Court for over four years. The trial actually started in March 2018, after the state pressed 27 charges against the accused, including Agricult Ghana Ltd, signed by Chief State Attorney Evelyn Keelson on behalf of the then Attorney General Madam Gloria Akuffo.
This was after the uncle of the Chief State Attorney, the then Senior Minister, Yaw Osafo Marfo, ordered the CID of the Ghana police to take over the case from the Economic and Organised Crime Office (EOCO).
Same Osafo-Marfo, was found by the sacked Auditor-General (A-G), Daniel Yaw Domelevo to have through the Ministry of Finance (MoF) dished out payments to third-party organizations, even though no work was executed to warrant such payments.
The payment was made to Kroll Associates shortly after Akufo-Addo took over power, to investigate the tenure of Dr Opuni as the CEO of COCOBOD, but the Auditor General discovered that no work was executed to warrant such payments.
The ministry acquired the services of Kroll Associates in 2017, to recover assets from identified wrongdoers, investigate allegations of wrongdoing, provide evidence for assets recoveries, build capacity for the transfer of skills, give advice on preventative techniques and structures to detect and forestall future corruption.
However, in its annual report on Public Accounts of Ghana (PAG) as of December 31, 2018 on the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), the Auditor-General stated: “During our review of the contract with Kroll Associates, we noted that though there was no evidence of work done, the ministry, in 2018, paid an amount of US$1 million (equivalent of GH¢4,890,000) to the company”.
The report added that there were inconsistencies in some of the documentation. It said, for instance, “Though the contract was signed in September 2017, some of the invoices attached to the payment vouchers predated the award of the contract”.
The revelation and attempt by Mr. Domelevo to surcharge Mr. Osafo-Marfo, infuriated the Presidency, leading to his forceful retirement over claims by the Akufo-Addo government that he had falsified his age to remain in office.
Justice Honyenuga has on a number of occasions appeared to be antagonistic towards the first accused, Dr. Opuni, giving cause to the lawyers to cite him for exhibiting “hatred and bias” towards their client.
For instance, Justice Honyenuga, in December 2021, whilst delivery his ruling on an application for his recusal asserted:
“I think that the first accused must have been hallucinating when DW1 gave evidence because no such thing happened as the first accused has stated in paragraph 17 in his affidavit in support,” the judge said whilst reading his written ruling.
He also accused Dr. Opuni of spewing lies.
“Further, the averment in paragraph 11 is the imagination of the first accused and a blatant lie calculated to throw dust in the eyes of everyone.”
Dr. Opuni, Justice Honyenuga said, “must learn to speak the truth because his ocular observation is different from the majority of us who were in the court room.”
Justice Honyenuga further ruled that claims by Dr. Opuni that he the judge had said that the evidence of the accused’s witness cannot exonerate him is “most disgusting” and an effort to underrate his “intelligence and integrity”.
Meanwhile, the case has been cited by analysts as a politically motivated trial, which has seen several, albeit unsuccessful, applications asking for the recusal of the trial judge for being hostile against Dr. Opuni.
His insistence to sit on the case, empowered by the numerous times the Chief Justice had rejected petitions to remove him from the case has left tongues wagging, after other identical applications against other judges were granted.
But as Justice Honyenuga was expected to retire on September 4, it appears the Chief Justice wants him to stay on a bit longer.
“In pursuance to Article 144 (11) of the constitution, 1992, the Chief Justice has granted me a limited time to conclude this case. In the circumstances, this court shall in addition [to Monday, Wednesday and Thursday] sits on Tuesdays at 11 am for early disposal of this four year old case. In view of the pending vacation the case is adjourned to October 3, 2022 at 10:am for continuation,” Justice Clemence Honyenuga announced in court on July 28, 2022, a clear month to his retirement.
The announcement has left many wondering if the court is willing to dispense justice as the trial judge with the support of the Chief Justice is setting a time line to finish a criminal case.
Justice Honyenuga was handed the case, then as an Appeal’s Court judge, sitting with additional responsibility as a high court judge, before his dramatic elevation to the Supreme Court by President Nana Akufo-Addo in 2020 after endorsing the president’s re-election bid at a durbar he the judge presided over in his capacity as a chief.
STATE CLOSED CASE
The state in March 2021 closed its case after calling seven witnesses. It however failed to call a single farmer, as the end user, to testify to the efficacy or otherwise of Lithovit liquid fertilizer, which is at the center of the trial, after it was applied on their farms.
The First prosecution witness was Dr. Franklin Manu Amoah, a former Executive Director of Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG), followed by a a soil scientist at CRIG, Mr. Alfred Arthur. The Third witness Dr. Yaw Adu-Ampomah who is a former Deputy Chief Executive at COCOBOD is facing a suspended perjury charge. Dr. Felicia Ansah-Amprofi, who is the National Director of the Plant Protection and Regulatory Services Directorate was called as the Fourth witness. A scientist at the Chemistry Department of the University of Ghana, Dr. Emmanuel Osei-Twum who is the Fifth prosecution witness told the court under cross-examination that the challenged scientific report of the University tendered through him by prosecution was doctored. The Sixth witness was Mr. Peter Osei Amoako who is the current Director of Finance at COCOBOD. The last and Seventh witness was Chief Inspector Thomas Mercer Prempeh.
SUBMISSION OF NO CASE
After the state has closed its case, the accused persons then filed for submission of no case in April 2021.
But Justice Clemence Honyenuga in an 89-page ruling dismissed the applications on the submission of no case by counsel for the accused persons and ordered the three to open their defence because a prima facie has been established against them.
The judge in arriving at that decision expunged, in his closet, as many as 18 evidential documents that were tendered in an open court without any objection. According to counsel for the accused persons these 18 exhibits exonerate their clients.
The judge however acquitted Seidu Agongo and Agricult Ghana Ltd on the charges of money laundering which is count 22, 23 and 24 on the charge sheet.
OPUNI OPENS DEFENCE
The first accused person, Dr. Stephen Opuni following the Supreme Court’s decision on a reviewed application opened his defence in December 2021, and has since called seven (7) witnesses including three farmers.
The First defence witness was former Director of Finance at COCOBOD, Mr. Charles Tetteh Dodoo. Then Assin Fosu-based cocoa farmer Samuel Torbi and Amo Amankwaa, a cocoa farmer from Berekum as the Second and Third witnesses respectively. A former Board Chairman of COCOBOD Ambassador Daniel Ohene Agyekum was the Fourth witness followed by a retired District Cocoa Officer of CHED Samuel Adigler as the Fifth witness. Then the 2017 National Best Farmer Philip Kweku Agyemang. Currently in the witness box is the Seventh defence witness Peter Okyere Boateng who retired from COCOBOD in 2017 as the Deputy Executive Director of Cocoa Health and Extension Division (CHED) of COCOBOD.
Dr. Stephen Opuni, Seidu Agongo and Agricult Ghana Ltd are currently facing 24 combined charges: Abetment of crime, defrauding by false pretence, contravention of the Public Procurement Act, willfully causing financial loss to the state, manufacturing fertilizer without registration, selling misbranded fertilizer and selling adulterated fertilizer.