The Criminal High Court in Accra yesterday adjourned the case involving the former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of COCOBOD, Dr Stephen Kwabena Opuni, and a businessman, Mr Seidu Agongo, who are standing trial for allegedly causing financial loss to the state amounting to Gh¢271.3m.
The case is adjourned to allow the defence team to study the report of a committee established by the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG), that was filed in court and which is at the centre of the trial.
The court said though the report was filed in the court on February 1, 2019, Dr Opuni and the CEO of Agricult Ghana Limited, Mr Agongo’s defence teams were unfortunately “short served with the report.”
‘Justice should prevail’
“Service of document is so fundamental to trials. In this circumstances and in order that justice should prevail, I would order that time be given to defence counsels to look at the report in order to facilitate hearing of this case,” the court stated and adjourned hearing to February 12, 2019.
The court, presided over by Mr Justice C.J Honyenuga, recalled that on December 3, 2019, it made an order that certain documents be provided by CRIG upon an application by the counsel for the accused persons.
It said on December 11, 2018, the lawyer for the directors of CRIG and Cocoa Health and Extension Division (CHED) of COCOBOD filed the requested documents in the court.
“While the documents were before this court, it was detected that a document dated October 21, 2014 with reference number CRIG 39/14 volume 19/6448 was missing from the documents filed.
“When the lawyer for the directors of CRIG and CHED were invited by the court to explain why that particular document was not included together with those provided, his explanation was that those documents could not be traced,” the court said.
Furthermore, it stated that the lawyer assured the court that a committee would be set up by CRIG to investigate the circumstances leading to missing of the document.
The major bone of contention in the case is whether or not the Lithovit Foliar Fertiliser (LFF), which is the subject matter of the trial, was liquid or powdery in nature.
It is the case of the prosecution that CRIG, the body with the mandate to test agrochemicals and machinery used in cocoa production in the country, never tested any liquid LFF the Dr Opuni-led COCOBOD bought from Mr Agongo’s Agricult Ghana Limited.
Rather, it says, the fertiliser that was presented to CRIG from COCOBOD for testing was powdery in nature and that the Dr Opuni-led COCOBOD bought substandard liquid LFF from Agricult.
The defence, on the other hand, had always maintained that the LFF that was tested by CRIG was liquid in nature and it was that LFF that CRIG certified for use on cocoa farms.
It is the case of the defence that the said missing document, which include handing-over notes, letters, field tests and invoices, prove that at all material times, the correspondence among Agricult, CRIG and COCOBOD showed that the LFF was liquid in nature.
Earlier in her submission, Mrs Yvonne Attakora Obuobisa, the Director of Public Prosecutions had prayed the court that the missing document with reference number CRIG 39/14 Volume 19/6448 being requested for by the defence team was filed in court except a letter dated December 21, 2014 and for which CRIG, on its own, had set up a committee to investigate.
“CRIG has presented its report and it says it cannot find the documents and it is its report that we have to go by.
What is relevant is the reference number which is accurate and not the title of the report which is irrelevant,” she said.
She, therefore, questioned why the defence team would need time when the document they had requested for from CRIG was said to be missing.
She argued that since the counsel for Dr Opuni had finished his cross examination, requesting for an adjournment to study the report would “serve no purpose at all as it will delay the trial needlessly.”
She prayed the court, therefore, to allow counsel for Mr Agongo to continue his cross examination as he had been furnished with all the documents he asked for except the missing document.
‘We need time to study report’
In his response, counsel for Dr Opuni, Mr Samuel Cudjoe, told the court that he received the report few minutes before hearing and had, therefore, not had the opportunity to study it.
“Because this is a criminal trial for which the sanctions can be severe, we will want an opportunity to have time to study the document”, he said.
He referred to the case of the Republic vrs Eugene Baffoe Bonney and four others where the Supreme Court stated that “every accused person should be given time to study documents”, and therefore, prayed the court to adjourn the trial for the defence to have the time to study the report.
Backing his counterpart, Counsel for Mr Agongo, Mr Benson Nutsukpui, told the court that though his client received the CRIG report on Monday, February 4, 2019, they were not able to study it thoroughly and believed that “there is some mix up or something is wrong with the report”.
According to him, while the defence team requested for a document titled “Budget for Agricult/CRIG training/sensitisation programme for extension officers and farmers on the use of Agricult liquid Lithovit fertilizer on cocoa”, the report filled in the court was different with the title “Budget for the training and sensitisation of farmers use of Lithovit fertiliser.”
Insisting that the document made available to the court had liquid omitted, he said “we do not want to believe that there is a deliberate effort by CRIG to obliterate the word liquid that the court ordered them to produce”.
He, therefore, described the DPP’s argument that the application for time to study the report would delay the trial as “totally and absolutely unfair to the accused persons and their counsels.”
“We can review all the dates in this matter and will find that we have never asked for adjournment and so what is the purpose of imputing further delay to us?
“The DPP’s position that she has read the report and then to say that the letter cannot be found and as such there is nothing the court can do and so must go on is not a language of justice.
“At the last adjourned date, the court was clear that the report should be filed early for counsels to be served so that they could go through it,” he added.