The ongoing trial of ex-Chief Executive Officer of the Ghana Cocoa Board, Dr. Stephen Kwabena Opuni and two others, on Monday, reordered another interesting moment with the Attorney General’s Department, tendering two 5-years old exhibits.
First, was a whitish receptacle said to contain a greyish, odorless powdered substance which one Dr. Alfred Arthur, claimed was specifically handed over to him in July 2013 for testing by the then head of Soil Science Division at the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG), Alex Asante Afrifah.
The exhibit was to prove the prosecution’s claim that, Lithovit Foliar Fertilizer, was a powdery substance and not liquid as has been maintained by Dr. Opuni, Alhaji Seidu Agongo, and the Agricut Company Limited, who are the defendants in the criminal trial.
The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Yvonne Atakora Obuobisa, had through Dr. Arthur, who is the second prosecution witness, submitted to the court that the product which was tested by CRIG in 2013, was powdered fertilizer.
Dr. Arthur, a soil scientist is currently the Acting Head of the Soil Science Division of CRIG, after the removal of his boss; Mr Afrifah by the CRIG management headed by Dr. Franklin Manu Amoah, the first prosecution witness.
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Secondly, Dr. Arthur, submitted a 5-year document to the court as the report he prepared and submitted to his former boss; Mr Afrifa, when Lithovit Foliar Fertilizer from the Agricut Company Limited, was handed to him by senior officers at CRIG in July 2013, to work on.
It is not clear, whether the Attorney-General’s Department, plans to call any of Dr. Arthur’s superior officers, who handled his report to testify in the trial by confirming what they gave him to be tested and the content of the scientific report they received from him.
He told the court that in July 2013, “a letter introducing Lithovit foliar fertilizer and signed by the former deputy director of agronomy and quality control of Ghana Cocoa Board was minuted to me by my head of division Mr. A.A Afrifah to go for a sample of Lithovit foliar fertilizer from the chairman of the committee for testing chemicals and machines, Mr. Andrews Yaw Akrofi. I went for the sample which was in a whitish cylindrical container with a green lid in a brown paper”. According to Dr. Arthur, his boss, Dr. Afrifah, had in desperation recalled him from an assignment in Sefwi Wiaso in the Western Regiont o CRIG in Tafo in the Eastern Region, and immediately submit his scientific report on the Lithovit Foliar Fertilizer because Dr. Opuni had asked for the document. The witness stated that he told Mr Afrifa he could not immediately return to Tafo as they were having a re-evaluation of agrochemicals and spraying machines for renewal of 2014 certificates. He said they had even gone there with just one vehicle and he could not have returned to Tafo with that car because it was needed by another senior officer for the work there but a vehicle was dispatched from Tafo to SefwiWiaso to pick him to release the report. The witness also disclosed that literature available also revealed that Lithovit foliar fertilizer has been tested on tomato by a team of the scientists at the University of Ghana, after it was submitted to them by Agricut Company Limited, adding he came across this while gathering literature on the product. He said the report of the experts was dated December 2013.
The two exhibits drew objections from Samuel Cudjoe and Benson Nutsu Kpuifor lawyers for Dr. Opuni, Alhaji Seidu Agongo and Agricut Company Limited, but Justice Clemence Honyenuga, overruled their objections, saying he would evaluate both exhibits in his judgement. Lawyer Cudjoe, had objected to admission of the substance raising doubts about the originality of the container and the content explaining that, the claim by the witness could not be true as the container seemed sealed, full and not used. Dr. Opuni’s lawyer also objected to the report, saying it has no name of the author, except a signature and no cover letter, and might have been manufacture ahead of Monday’s proceedings to outsmart the court since it had no date to confirm the day Dr. Arthur submitted it to his officers, including Mr Afrifah, adding this could prejudice the case. However, these were rejected by the DPP, who told the court the reasons for the objection were baseless, especially as the witness was still giving testimony about what the fertilizer sample was used for, adding the fact that the defence lawyers claimed the product in the container appears unused, cannot be grounds for rejecting the sample.
On the document, Mrs. Atakora Obuobisa told the court that the report was at the heart of the trial and ignoring it will lead to a miscarriage of justice. The case has been adjourned to November 2, 2018 for Dr. Arthur to end his evidence-in-chief and for the defense teams to cross-examine him. In March 2018, the Attorney-General charged Dr. Opuni and Mr 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. 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. They are currently on bail in the sum of GH¢300,000 each.
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