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Opuni’s lawyer grills ‘hired’ prosecution witness

Executive Director of the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG) casted doubts on himself at the ongoing trial of the former Chief Executive Officer of COCOBOD, Dr. Stephen Opuni, under cross examination on Monday at an Accra Fast Track High Court.

The encounter between Dr. Franklin Manu Amoah and Dr. Opuni’s lead lawyer, Samuel Cudjoe, drew several bouts of laughter from the heavily-packed courtroom, including senior lawyers when he admitted authoring scientific reports submitted to COCOBOD, yet had doubts about the findings submitted to him by his subordinates who he has described as highly “competent”.

Interestingly, on the same report submitted to the COCOBOD, Dr. Amoah, had issued certificates of approval to Seidu Agongo’s Agricult Ghana Limited; the importers and sellers of Lithovit fertilizer.

Lawyer Cudjoe, who at a point drew a surprised look from the state attorneys led by the Director of Public Prosecutions, Yvonne Attakorah Obuobisa remarked “I will show you, your witness is not credible”.

Soon after, the case was adjourned to October due to the legal vacation, Dr. Amoah, was seen visibly running from TV and newspaper cameramen, while hiding his face.

Firstly, CRIG, has six scientific divisions namely; Agronomy Division, Plant Breeding Division, Entomology Division, Plant Pathology Division, Soil Science Division, Physiology and Biochemical Division which each of these divisions had worked on the fertilizer and submitted their findings to Dr. Amoah in the report he submitted to COCOBOD.

Dr. Amoah, who was brought back from 3-year retirement by the Akufo-Addo government, also admitted under cross-examination that he signed the scientific report done on Lithovit fertilizer, because he believed in the competence of the scientists at CRIG, who conducted the research into the product, but claimed he interrogated their report before appending his signature.

The CRIG boss’ claim that a subordinate by name A.A Afrifa, acted on a verbal instruction from Dr. Opuni to truncate a four-year investigation into the fertilizer, and submit the findings of the six CRIG divisions to COCOBOD was disputed by the lawyers of Dr. Opuni, because verbal instructions are not permissible in the public service.

Interestingly, although Dr. Amoah, had said that Dr. Opuni also gave the verbal instructions at several management meetings, he could not recall details of the officers who attended the said meetings.

Furthermore, it was also suggested to Dr. Amoah, that he lied by claiming that Dr. Opuni influenced the testing and approval process the Lithovit fertilizer, because per his reports and other cover letters on the fertilizer tested by CRIG, he had overwhelmingly shown that he believed in the efficacy of the agrochemical, therefore, issued a certificate of approval for its purchase and use by COCOBOD.

Dr. Amoah, also admitted that CRIG, had long be testing the efficacy of Lithovit fertilizer before, Dr. Opuni, was appointed in December 2013 as Chief Executive Officer of COCOBOD, meaning he had no knowledge of the testing until the report from CRIG signed by Dr. Amoah, was brought to his attention.

Additionally, doubts were casted on his PhD in Horticulture obtained in 1986 from Wye College an Agricultural school which ceased to exist in 2009, but Dr. Amoah, admitted that the school indeed, does not exist anymore, but explained that it had been absorbed by the Imperial College also based in UK.

Dr. Opuni’s lawyers, insisted the CRIG boss, who was part of the Akufo-Addo transition team in 2016 to 2017, had misled COCOBOD to procure a fertilizer that had not been tested properly by CRIG.

Dr. Amoah, who testified in the case last week, claimed that his outfit, did not approve the Lithovit fertilizer, because it was untested and uncertified.

Lawyer Codjoe during cross-examination, confronted Dr. Amoah with letters, reports and certificates bearing his signature, he had given to both COCOBOD and Agricult Ghana Limited, approving the results of the fertilizers tested by CRIG, which the witness had earlier testified was not approved, since they did not go through stipulated testing period.

In response to the letter, Dr. Amoah, admitted the letter was his, but insisted CRIG was only carrying out the verbal instructions of Dr. Opuni, and not deceiving COCOBOD into a procurement contract with Agricult Ghana Limited owned by Seidu Agongo.

Dr. Opuni, Seidu Agongo and Agricult Ghana limited, are facing a criminal trial of over twenty charges which includes; allegedly causing financial loss to the state.

Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Gloria Akuffo, proffered over 27 charges against Dr. Opuni alleging corrupt practices against the German-trained borne surgeon, during his term of office at COCOBOD.

Ms Akuffo, described as fraudulent contract worth Ghc43, 120,000 to Seidu Agongo, CEO of Agricult Ghana Limited.

The State argues that, Dr. Opuni, misled the Public Procurement Authority (PPA) to approve single-source contracts for Seidu Agongo and Agricult to provide fertilizers at a different cost.

The Attorney General, also said Seidu Agongo, acting on behalf of Agricult, submitted fertilizer to the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG) for testing.

The prosecution further said investigations established that, Seidu Agongo, deposited an amount of GHc25,000 into the account of Dr. Opuni to influence the contracts.

The prosecution also said that, between 2014 and 2016, contrary to law, Seidu Agongo and Agricult, manufactured fertilizer in commercial quantities when the Ministry, had not registered it for Food and Agriculture.

They pleaded not guilty and had earlier been granted a GH¢ 300,000 each self-recognizance bail by the court presided by Justice Clement Hoenyenuga of the Appeal Court, who is sitting as additional High Court Judge.

The investigator handling the case was two weeks ago, ordered by an Accra High court to furnish Dr. Opuni and his legal team with some documents in possession of the State.

The documents include, all letters written by the PPA in connection with Lithovit fertilizer during the tenure of Dr. Opuni, and all fertilizer contracts entered into by COCOBOD from January 2008 to 2018 among others.

The order, follows the failure of the Attorney General to make available the documents as ordered by the court.

Chief State Attorney, Evelyn Keelson, told the court that her department could not help Dr. Opuni, since the documents are not in their possession.

Dr. Opuni’s lawyer, Mr. Cudjoe, will continue the cross-examination of Executive Director of CRIG, Dr. Amoah, when the case resumes on October 8.

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Source:  Network Herald Newspaper

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