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    30 witnesses lineup for Agongo defence in COCOBOD trial as satisfied Opuni declines box

    The former Chief Executive of COCOBOD, Dr. Stephen Kwabena Opuni, opted not to testify in the ongoing high-profile COCOBOD criminal trial, closing his case on Monday, February 12, 2024.

    This, thus, leaves the field open for Alhaji Seidu Agongo, a businessman and CEO of Agricult Ghana Limited, to also respond to the charges slapped on him and his company by the Akufo-Addo government.

    Dr. Opuni’s decision, according to his lawyer, Samuel Codjo, is because he was satisfied with the evidence of his 11 witnesses, who gave a series of compelling testimonies in his defence.

    Agongo, who starts giving his evidence tomorrow, Thursday, February 15, 2024, has promised to make available 30 witnesses to the court to prove his not-guilty plea.

    Dr. Opuni, Seidu Agongo, and his Agricult Ghana Ltd are facing a combined 24 charges, including abetment of crime, defrauding by false pretence, contravention of the Public Procurement Act, willfully causing financial loss to the state, manufacturing fertilizer without registration, among others. All three defendants have pleaded not guilty and are currently on a GH¢300,000.00 self-recognizance bail each.

    Seidu Agongo and Agricult Ghana Ltd. were, however, acquitted of additional charges related to money laundering.

    Among the witnesses, the businessman intends to speak to his innocence through a subpoena. The witnesses are Dr. Francis Baah from the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG) at Bunso, Paul Adjei Gyan, EOCO Head Office, and Madam Fiona Gyamfi of the Ghana Standards Authority.

    Others are Madam Bernice Debra Ashong of COCOBOD, Jerome Dogbatse, CRIG-Tafo, and Reverend Father Odei.

    Legal experts and observers widely acknowledge that Opuni’s witnesses have effectively dismantled the prosecution’s case, absolving Dr. Opuni of any alleged misconduct during his tenure at COCOBOD.

    Samuel Codjo officially communicated Dr. Opuni’s decision to the High Court, presided over by Justice Aboagye Tandoh, citing his rights under Article 19 (10) of the 1992 Constitution.

    “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,” counsel said.

    Among Opuni’s witnesses were cocoa farmers who attested to the positive impact of Lithovit Foliar Fertilizer on their farms, top scientists, including former and current senior technical and management staff of COCOBOD, and an ex-board chairman actively involved in the product’s certification, procurement, payment, and field observation.

    The 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.

    The trial, which commenced in March 2018, has been marked by legal complexities, including stoppages, a change in presiding judges, and other dramas. The case took a controversial turn with a ruling on the submission of no case, leading to the accused being asked to open their defence.

    Despite the prosecution’s attempts to discredit the Lithovit Ferlizer, not a single farmer testified in court for the state, leaving the defence’s witnesses unchallenged.

    Dr. Opuni’s defence included two farmers, former COCOBOD officials, and experts, each providing valuable insights into the legitimacy and efficacy of Lithovit Foliar Fertilizer, agrochemical and equipment testing protocol at COCOBOD, as well as their procurement processes.

    As the trial unfolds, legal observers anticipate a resolution to this protracted case, with the defence’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 after the charge sheet was signed by the 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), which 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 Service of Ghana.

    After two years, the state closed its case in March 2021, calling seven witnesses, and there was a ruling after a submission of no case, which became a subject of legal gymnastics at the Supreme Court.

    This was because the trial judge at the time, now retired Justice Clemence Jackson Honyenuga, had, according to Agongo’s lawyers, sat in his “closet” and discarded 18 exhibits which both defence teams insist were exonerating evidence, and asked the three accused persons to open their defence. The Supreme Court readmitted the exhibits.

    Justice Honyenuga was also once barred by his peers in the Supreme Court from sitting on the case for being biased. However, Attorney-General Godfred Dame rushed to the Supreme Court with a review and had him reinstated.

    Unlike Dr. Opuni, not a single farmer with firsthand experience on the efficacy or otherwise of Lithovit Foliar Fertilizer made it to the court to testify for the prosecution.

    One of the two farmers the state was able to persuade ended at EOCO, where they gave interesting written statements.

    Nana Obeng Akrofi, who happens to be a board member of COCOBOD, said he harvested just two extra bags of cocoa after he applied the product on his farm, whilst the other farmer, Emmanuel Obeng, said he had a bumper harvest when he applied Lithovit. They were not brought to court by the prosecution to speak to their claims in the witness box.

    Interestingly, Dr Opuni called three farmers out of his 11 witnesses, including a one-time National Best Farmer, who testified about the efficacy of lithovit fertilizer when they applied it on their farms, discrediting claims that the fertilizer was worthless, drinkable, let alone causing financial loss to the state.

    The first defence witness was a former Director of Finance at COCOBOD, Charles Tetteh Dodoo. He testified to the fact that he was actively involved in the procurement process and purchase of Lithovit, as well as authorizing payments, and insisted on the integrity of the whole process from start to finish.

    Assin Fosu-based Samuel Torbi, the 2013 National Most Promising Young Cocoa Farmer and Amo Amankwaa, a cocoa farmer from Berekum, as the second and third witnesses, respectively, testified about the efficacy of Lithovit fertilizer.

    A former Board Chairman of COCOBOD, Ambassador Daniel Ohene Agyekum, who was the fourth witness, pointed out that the Board, as well as the Entity Tender Committee, were fully aware of the nature, quality and everything about Lithovit and duly approved it for purchase by management of COCOBOD, meaning Dr. Opuni did not act unilaterally.

    He was followed by a retired District Cocoa Officer of CHED, Samuel Adigler, as the fifth witness who had direct interactions with farmers who applied lithovit and testified to how farmers lobbied him for the product as well as personally observing the performance of the fertilizer on farms.

    Then the 2017 National Best Farmer, Philip Baffour Kweku Agyemang, entered the box and kept singing the praise of Lithovit Foliar Fertiliser in court, insisting that he could personally attest to its efficacy.

    The seventh defence witness was Peter Okyere Boateng, who retired from COCOBOD in 2017 as the Deputy Executive Director of Cocoa Health and Extension Division (CHED) of COCOBOD.

    He testified to seeing, for himself, how farms that applied the Lithovit were doing well compared to others that used different fertilizers, explaining why farmers lobbied him for Lithovit fertilizer.

    The former Executive Director of Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG), Dr. Gilbert Anim Kwapong, the eighth witness established following due process in issuing and renewing a certificate for Lithovit after confirming its efficacy as well as being liquid in substance.

    He was followed by a banker, Reginald Adukwa, then with ECOBANK, who confirmed to the court that the GH¢25,000 deposited into Dr. Opuni’s account by Seidu Agongo was Dr. Opuni’s own money.

    Dr. Richard Adu-Acheampong, the current Deputy Executive Director at CRIG, mounted the box as the tenth defence witness, exposing the wrongdoing of the first prosecution witness, Dr. Franklin Manu Amoah, Executive Director of the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG).

    He disclosed that Dr. Amoah signed the first certificate for Lithovit without getting authorization from COCOBOD’s management nor the CTCM of CRIG, yet placed the blame on Dr. Opuni.

    Dr. Adu-Acheampong justified his claim with a document with various minutes on it including that of Dr. Amoah and others. Dr Amoah, in the document, was advised not to sign any certificate authorizing the purchase of Lithovit until Agricult made a request.

    However, the advice was of no use because Dr. Amoah had already circumvented the process several days before asking for technical advice from the CTCM and also failed to inform them that he had already signed the certificate without their input.

    Samuel Amponsah, a former Deputy Executive Director of CHED who retired in 2019, closed Dr. Opuni’s case as the eleventh defence witness.

    He was deeply involved in the training of farmers on the use of fertilizer, among others, and educated the court about the two types of fertilizers – granular and foliar – noting that the name foliar attached to Lithovit is a straightforward indication that the fertilizer is liquid.

    He explained that the granular are solid ones, like pebble size, and others, like sugar, and foliar is in liquid form. Judging by the sterling performance of his witnesses, many, including legal luminaries, believe there is no need for Dr. Opuni to mount the witness box after the overwhelming evidence, both verbal and documentary.

    Justice Aboagye Tandoh has kept a sturdy grip over the case so far. He had taken over the case from Justice Kwasi A. Gyimah, who was controversially transferred to Kumasi in the Ashanti Region after he decided to restart the highly politicised case de novo, saying it had suffered too much controversy in the hands of Justice Honyenuga.

    Source: theheraldghana.com

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