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Attorney-General’s witness runs from his claim against Opuni

Dr. Franklin Manu Amoah, Executive Director of the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG), the first prosecution witness in the criminal trial of ex-Chief Executive Officer of the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), Dr. Stephen K. Opuni, on Monday left the courtroom in total shock, with a series of conflicting claims as his testimony was brought to an end.

Under cross-examination, Benson Nutsukpui, lawyer for businessman, Seidu Agongo, confronted the CRIG boss with his caution statement to the Economic and Organised Crime Office (EOCO), statement he made to the Police Criminal Investigation (CID) during their investigations, as well as his testimony before the Adu Ampomah Committee; an in-house investigative committee set up by COCOBOD, the witness’ claims varied.

Mr. Nutsukpui, suggested that Dr. Amoah’s claims that Dr. Opuni, had him shorten the testing period for Lithovit Fertilizer, the subject matter for the criminal trial from two years to six months, was a new invention, as it had never featured in the witness’ statements to the police CID, the EOCO and the Adu Ampomah Committee.

Dr. Amoah, was also led to affirm his strong professional ethics and scientific values by stating he did not “succumb” to undue influence by Dr. Opuni, to shorten the testing period for Lithovit Fertilizer.

This is contrary to what the Attorney General and Minister for Justice, Gloria Akuffo, had said was done by the ex-COCOBOD CEO, leading to financial loss to the state, because an inferior fertilizer was bought.

Dr. Amoah, had earlier told the court in his evidence-in-chief that, Dr. Opuni during his time at COCOBOD gave a “verbal directive” to scientists at CRIG, which is under the control of COCOBOD, to shorten the testing period for fertilizers and this was done.

However, during cross-examination on Monday, October 22, Mr. Nustupkui, made the case that what Dr. Amoah told the court was different from what he (Dr. Amoah) had told Adu Ampomah Committee, which was set up to investigate activities of COCOBOD, when the Akufo-Addo government took over from the John Mahama administration.

The lawyer also pointed out to the Attorney-General’s witness that his testimony was different from his two handwritten statements to the Police Service, as well as EOCO.

Counsel said the witness told Dr. Yaw Adu Ampomah committee that as CRIG boss, he was never influenced by Dr. Opuni’s directives to shorten the testing period of Lithovit fertilizer and granting a certificate of approval for its purchase by COCOBOD and use by cocoa farmers.

“Have you ever been influenced by any other thing apart from your scientific knowledge and integrity in your work,’’ counsel asked to which the witness replied “no” the witness replied.

“Did you confirm to the Adu Ampomah Committee that you were not influenced by Dr. Opuni’s directive in taking your decisions,’’ counsel asked.

In his response, Dr. Amoah said Dr. Opuni was his boss and therefore the decision to reduce the testing period of agrochemicals was in compliance with Dr. Opuni’s verbal directive.

Pushed by the lawyer to state what exactly he told the committee, he retorted “I told the Adu Ampomah Committee, I didn’t succumb to the pressure from Dr. Opuni”.

Indeed, the same Dr. Amoah, had on October 12, 2018 told the court presided by Justice Clement Hoenyenugah, an Appeal Court Judge sitting as additional High Court Judge that he and his colleague scientists, decided to defy Dr. Opuni’s allege “verbal directive” and took the Lithovit Fertilizer through due process by innovatively setting up multiple sites to test it.

As result of that defiance, Dr. Amoah told the court that he referred the Lithovit sample to the Committee on Testing Chemicals and Machinery (CTCM); a body he personally set up to be responsible for the testing and evaluation of all agrochemicals and machines presented to CRIG by COCOBOD.

Dr. Amoah, said CTCM worked on the Lithovit Fertilizer sample and prepared a certificate for his signature.

The CRIG boss, also affirmed that, in his statement to the police in January 2018, he indicated that this was the same process through which all chemicals and machines, including Duapa and Lithovit passed.

Dr. Amoah, further explained that what he told the police was that, in order not to compromise the test period, they could have more replication in place.

This means in order not to shorten the test period, they could have more test locations so that at any particular time, the results they get could be averaged to get the actual effect of the fertilizer.

He added that, they adopted this approach because the directive given by Dr. Opuni to reduce the test period was not acceptable to the scientists.

On Monday, it was revealed that Dr. Amoah had told the Adu Ampomah Committee that Lithovit Fertilizer had been tested long before Dr. Opuni was appointed as CEO of COCOBOD by President Mahama and so did Metacide.

Lawyer Nutsukpui showed Dr. Amoah, his two statements to the Police and EOCO, and put it to the CRIG boss that nowhere in those statements, did he write that he had interrogated Mr. A.A Afrifa over Lithovit fertilizer before signing the CRIG and issue a certificate of approval.

But Dr. Amoah, said the statements were written mainly from questions put to him and was asked to put the answers on paper, adding not everything that transpired, was captured.

According to him, he omitted Mr. Afrifa ‘s interrogation in his testimony to Adu Ampomah committee because of the trend of questioning, but stressed that he has never doubted the competence of the scientists at CGRI.

Asked if he knew the product Rimon Star and whether it had had some negative report, Dr. Amoah responded “yes my Lord yes”. He disclosed that the cocoa farmers had complained about the product and the CRIG scientists captured this in their report as having some side effects, and this led to its withdrawal from the market by COCOBOD.

“We sent a report on the observations of the product and CRIG recommended to COCOBOD not to approve of the insecticides”, Dr. Amoah said.

Mr. Nutsupkui asked Dr. Amoah about a meeting in February 2017, where Dr. Amoah, together with two other scientists, Dr. Yaw Adu-Ampomah, and Dr. William Mensah met with Dr. Richard Adu Acheampong and Dr. Gilbert Anim Kwapong at the COCOBOD head office, but Dr. Amoah said he could not remember.

Mr. Nutsukpui told the court that at that meeting, Dr. Amoah, was questioned on the efficacy of Lithovit, Pridapod and Akate Power, but Dr. Amoah, said he could not remember.

At that same meeting, Dr. William Mensah stated that he had complaints from farmers that Lithovit was just like water, but Dr. Anim Kwapong retorted he was hearing about the complaints for the first time.

Dr. Richard Adu Acheampong, said he was also unaware of any farmer complaints against Lithovit Fertilizer, but again, Dr. Amoah insisted he could not remember any such meeting.

Mr Nutsukpui told the court that the former Head of the Cocoa Health and Extension Division (CHED), Dr. Baah stated that the farmers had very good reports about Lithovit.

Dr. Amoah, affirmed to this saying during the transition period last year, Dr. Baah told the team made of him, Dr. Adu-Ampomah, Joseph Boahen Aidoo, Dr. William Mensah, Nana Oduru Owusu and others that Lithovit induced prolific flowering and high cocoa growth.

Mr Nutsukpui then added that Dr. Baah, per interactions with farmers, said the extension officers were duly informed by the farmers that they prefer Lithovit to granular fertilizer and all these were contained in a CHED report on the field visit they made in April 2015, but the witness said he was unaware of this report.

Contrary the Attorney-General’s position, the witness also asserted that fertilizer alone cannot the determinate for high cocoa yield, adding the age of the cocoa tree, the prevailing weather condition and machinery are key factors which give high cocoa yield, adding in his caution statement he said the factors of cocoa production goes beyond chemicals and machines.

The case has been adjourned to October 29, 2018 with prosecution expected to call its second witness.

In March 2018, the Attorney-General charged Opuni and Agongo with 27 counts for allegedly engaging in illegalities that caused financial loss of GH¢271.3 million to the state and led to the distribution of substandard fertilizers to cocoa farmers.

According to the A-G, Dr. Opuni, during his tenure as COCOBOD CEO (November 2013 to January 2017), breached laid-down procedures in procurement and other laws that caused the state to lose GH¢271.3 million in the alleged fertilizer scandal.

Agongo is also alleged to have used fraudulent means to sell substandard fertilizer to COCOBOD for onward distribution to cocoa farmers.

The two accused persons have denied any wrongdoing and have pleaded not guilty to all the 27 charges and are currently on bail in the sum of GH¢300,000 each.

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