General News of Thursday, 12 April 2018
An Accra High Court hearing the case of Dr. Stephen Kwabena Opuni, former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD) and businessman Seidu Agongo, has adjourned the matter to April 30, 2018.
This is to allow the Supreme Court to interpret Article 19 Clauses 2E and G of the 1992 Constitution to determine whether an accused person in a criminal trial has the right to be given all the documents the prosecution intends to rely on days before the trial.
Although the court did not refer the matter to the Supreme Court for interpretation, it acknowledged the fact that a similar suit is before the court, hence adjourned the matter, hoping that the interpretation would be ready by the next sitting date.
Lawyers for the embattled former CEO of COCOBOD, under the erstwhile John Mahama administration, filed a motion praying the court to order the prosecution to furnish their client with the documents, including statements of all prosecution witnesses, who would be called to testify in the case.
Moving the motion, Samuel Cudjoe, the lawyer, leading the defence team, said on a true and proper interpretation of the Article, his client was entitled to all the documents “which have come into the possession, custody and knowledge of the prosecution in the course of their investigation,” leading to the prosecution of Dr Opuni.
He averred that Dr Opuni was an official of COCOBOD and never acted in his private capacity, but does not have a copy of the letters and documents referred to by the prosecution in their facts to the court.
Some of the documents include all certificates issued by CRIG for all fertilizers, including Lithovit Foliar fertilizer from 2008 till March 2018, as well as renewals of all such certificates.
“All letters written by COCOBOD through 1st accused, (Dr Opuni) to the Public Procurement Authority (PPA) for permission to sole-source contracts for all fertilizers.”
The Deputy Attorney General Godfred Yeboah Dame, in his affidavit in opposition to the application, accused Dr Opuni’s lawyers of shadow-boxing – avoiding the substantive case and rather employing delay tactics.
He said it is in the interest of Dr. Opuni that the matter is tried expeditiously to protect his fundamental human right.
He described as “needless, speculative and illegitimate” some of the documents Dr. Opuni was requesting for, saying they are not relevant or related to the trial.
For instance, he averred that the request by the defence team that the AG furnishes Dr. Opuni with all witness statements of Seidu Agongo and Agricult Ghana Limited is utterly unfounded because the two are not witnesses and so cannot give witness statements.
He said the trial has a specific reference of time, which is between 2013 and 2018, and therefore, irrelevant for the lawyers to be requesting for documents from as far back as 2008 when Dr. Opuni was not at COCOBOD as CEO.
Mr Yeboah Dame expressed the readiness of the AG’s Office to provide the accused person with all relevant documents, including letters and contracts he signed during his time as COCOBOD boss.
He added that referring the Article to the Supreme Court for interpretation would be a violation of the human rights of Dr. Opuni as far as judicious trial is concerned.
The court, presided over by Justice Clemence Honyegah – a Court of Appeal judge sitting as an additional High Court judge – after listening to the arguments of both counsels, decided to adjourn the matter to April 30, 2018 to wait for the Supreme Court’s interpretation of Article 19 Clause 2E and G.
He said he would not rule in favour or against either the defence lawyers or the prosecution in order not to go against the apex court.
He noted that the interpretation of the said Article had become a thorny issue in Ghana and that since a similar matter is before the Supreme Court, he would not refer this to the court again.
Justice Honyegah held that the interpretation of the Article would determine the matter once and for all.
Dr Stephen Kwabena Opuni and businessman Seidu Agongo are before the court for causing financial loss to the state to the tune of GH?217,370,289.22.
The two are facing a total of 27 charges, including defrauding by false pretense, willfully causing financial loss to the state, money laundering, corruption by a public officer and contravention of the Public Procurement Act.
They have each been granted a GH?300,000 self-cognizance bail by the court, having pleaded not guilty to all the 27 charges proffered against them.