GHC271m Trial: Give Opuni, Agongo 6 ‘crucial’ documents – Court orders CRIG boss

General News of Friday, 23 November 2018

Source: classfmonline.com

2018-11-23

Dr Stephen Opuni, former Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD) CEO

The Accra High court hearing the GHS271 million Opuni-Agongo fertiliser case, on Thursday, 22 November 2018 ordered the Executive Director of the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG) to furnish the hearing with some six documents by November, 30 to ensure a speedy trial in the Lithovit Foliar fertiliser saga, reports Class91.3FM’s court correspondent Joshua Quodjo-Mensah.

The defence counsel of former Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD) CEO, Dr Stephen Opuni and businessman Seidu Agongo, demanded the documents following certain revelations made in court by the state’s second prosecution witness, Dr Alfred Arthur during Thursday’s hearing.

Below is the list of the six documents:

1. A letter headed CRG 39/14Vol22/6450 dated 21st November 2016

2. A letter with reference number DCE/AQC/FR/AMC/20 dated 26th October 2016

3. A letter with reference Number DCE/A&QC/FR/AMG/23 dated 16th November 2016

4. The query to Dr Alfred Arthur and his response to the said query in respect of Cocoa Nti fertiliser

5. A report on the CTCM testing of Cocoa Nti dated 21st November 2016 and a photocopy of the invoice payment of Cocoa Nti fertiliser dated 21st November 2016

6. The report of the committee chaired by Rev. Fr. Oddoye (PhD) into the investigation of Cocoa Nti fertiliser

Earlier during the hearing, Mr Sam Cudjoe, the lead counsel for Dr Opuni, once again, accused the Attorney General’s second prosecution witness in the GHS271 million Opuni-Agongo fertiliser trial, of lying.

During the cross-examination, Mr Cudjoe accused Dr Alfred Arthur of lying to the police in his statement, which led to his detention.

Below are excerpts of the cross-examination of Dr Arthur by Mr Cudjoe:

Q. I believe you are aware of procurement.

A. Yes

Q. If you know about procurement, then you are aware that COCOBOD has a procurement unit

A. Yes

Q. You are also aware that the procurement department together with the hi-tech unit determine the quantity of fertilisers to be purchased by COCOBOD

A. I would not know that

Q. I am putting it to you that it is the procurement department together with the hi-tech unit which comes out with the quantity of fertilisers to be purchased.

A. I’m not aware of this information

Q. In fact the 2 units physically have seen samples of all fertilisers they intend to purchase

A. I would not know that

Q. Because they have seen the fertilisers, they all know Lithovit is liquid hence they are preparing all the contracts for the purchase of Lithovit.

A. I am not aware

Q. I am putting it to you that at the police station on one of your interrogations, you were detained for again lying to the police

A. No. What happened was I was invited to the CID Headquarters on January 16, 2018. I was asked to be there by 10 am. When I got there, I was asked to wait to meet the director. I met her around 3 pm. After several hours of interrogation, they said they needed some information which I told them was in the computer at the office. This was around 5 pm. Then she said it’s late, so, they can’t come to Tafo with me, so, they have to keep me and go with me the following day. They kept me at East Legon Police station. We went to Tafo on the 17th. They took my laptop, the office desktop computer and asked me to report to the station on the 18th of January 2018. When I got there, they took the 2 computers to the forensic and cybercrime unit. The officers there ran a scan and retrieved information related to Lithovit foliar fertiliser after which my computers were handed over to me.

This is not the first time Mr Cudjoe has sought to discredit Dr Arthur.

Previously, he had accused the witness of lying to the court under oath.

Mr Cudjoe told the court on Thursday, 22 November 2018 that Dr Arthur was in January this year detained by the police for lying to them in the course of giving his statement on the Lithovit foliar fertiliser.

But Dr Arthur in his defence said though he was detained, it was not for peddling falsehood.

on Wednesday, 14 November 2018, Mr Cudjoe discredited Dr Arthur with a 2016 investigative report, which led to his suspension for forging a scientific report on an agrochemical called ‘Cocoa Nti’ granular fertiliser, to swindle his superior officers into certifying and purchasing it from the supplier.

Upon the change of government in 2017, the new management of COCOBOD, made up of some retired officers, including Dr. Franklin Manu Amoah and Dr. Yaw Adu-Ampomah, who were recalled by the Akufo-Addo government, had the suspension lifted and also reversed a key recommendation that he should not step foot at the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG) as a result of the forgery.

Under cross-examination by Mr Cudjoe, the Soil Scientist admitted being investigated over the forgery incident and also being driven away from CRIG after it was proven that he had travelled to the Kingdom of Morocco with the promoters of ‘Cocoa Nti’ granular fertiliser, without the knowledge and authorisation of his superior officers at CRIG and COCOBOD.

That was not the first time that the witness’ credibility has been subjected to strict proof. On the previous cross-examination, Dr Arthur was accused by Mr Cudjoe of lying to the court by claiming he was the Acting Head of the Soil Science Division of CRIG when such an appointment had not been made.

In the case of the suspension, Dr Arthur in 2013, according to Mr Cudjoe, travelled with the local suppliers of ‘Cocoa Nti’ granular fertiliser, Enepa Ventures Ltd., based in Kumasi to visit the Morocco-based manufacturers of the product. Upon his return, he prepared a scientific report on the product without conducting any scientific test on the fertiliser.

The secret trip to Morocco with the suppliers came to light after COCOBOD, was handed the forged scientific report on ‘Cocoa Nti’ granular fertiliser by Dr Arthur in 2016, even though Enepa Ventures Ltd., officially applied to COCOBOD for certification and authorisation of the product three years later.

Dr Opuni’s lead counsel told the court that the reason behind COCOBOD’s instruction to CRIG was that there were complaints that even though Cocoa Nti granular fertiliser was submitted to COCOBOD in 2016, Dr Arthur, claimed he had tested and had authored a scientific report on it three years earlier.

The findings of the CRIG Disciplinary Committee, according to Mr Cudjoe, indicated that no such work had been done by CRIG as an institution. The scientist confirmed going on suspension per the recommendations of the committee but could not speak to the content of the report because he said he had not seen it.

However, Mr Cudjoe argued that even if Dr Arthur claimed he never had the opportunity to see the findings of the committee, at least, when he appeared before the committee, he was informed that he was being investigated for privately claiming to have tested the fertiliser in 2013, when COCOBOD officially had an application for its certification in March 2016.

Dr Arthur responded that the investigation was not restricted to him alone, but also to the co-authors of the report: A. A. Afrifa and J. A. Dogbatse.

Mr Cudjoe then told the court that the committee recommended that Dr Arthur is suspended for forging a scientific report to support a claim that Cocoa Nti fertiliser was submitted in 2013 and tested by him, as the lead author; and recommended it to COCOBOD.

Again, Dr Arthur said he did not get the opportunity to see the report, but admitted visiting Morocco in 2013 on the sponsorship of the Enepa, adding that he was suspended and transferred to CRIG’s sub-Station in Bunso, also in the Eastern Region.

Presiding Judge, Justice Clemence Y. Honyenugah, asked Dr Arthur, if he was ever suspended, to which he answered in the affirmative.

Dr Arthur admitted that he was suspended after the allegations were found to be true. However, he argued, his suspension letter dated 2 January to April 2017, did not preclude him from testing chemicals.

However, Mr Cudjoe told the court that the committee which recommended Dr Arthur’s suspension and subsequent transfer to CRIG’s sub-Station in Bunso had asked that he should never be allowed near CRIG again, where agro machines and chemicals are tested per the arrangements of COCOBOD.

But Dr Arthur retorted that just after five weeks of his suspension, one Rev. Dr Odoom, the Deputy Executive Director of CRIG, wrote to him in February 2017 that upon the expiration of his suspension, he should remain in the Soil Science Division of CRIG.

Mr Cudjoe said that happened because there was a change in government which, in turn, led to a change in the management at CRIG, with Dr Franklin Manu Amoah becoming the Executive Director; Dr Yaw Adu-Ampomah becoming the Deputy Chief Executive Officer-In-Charge of Agronomy and Quality Control at COCOBOD; Dr William Mensah becoming the Deputy Chief Executive, Finance and Administration; and Nana Oduro Owusu becoming the Deputy Chief Executive in charge of Operations. They were recalled from various years of retirement after serving on the Akufo-Addo side of the Transition Team.

Dr Opuni’s counsel asked Dr Arthur whether he was aware that he was suspended because COCOBOD found out that the scientific report recommending Cocoa Nti fertiliser, which he claimed to have worked on after submission to CRIG in 2013 was false.

“I did not get to know of any COCOBOD findings”, Dr Arthur responded.

Asked whether he was aware that COCOBOD instructed CRIG to conduct an investigation on its own through which it found that though Cocoa Nti fertiliser was submitted to the Institute on 31st March 2016, the scientific report that the witness co-authored said that it was done in May 2013, the witness answered in the affirmative.

Dr Arthur had earlier told the court that he was in charge of testing Lithovit Foliar Fertiliser, the agrochemical at the heart of the trial of Dr Opuni and businessman Seidu Agongo. But at the Wednesday hearing, however, Mr Cudjoe cited one of Dr Arthur’s eight statements to the police dated 12 January 2018, in which he had stated that Mr A. A. Afrifa was rather the lead scientist in the trial of Lithovit Foliar fertiliser and had the final say.

The witness told the court that even though Mr Afrifa was the lead scientist, he was solely responsible for the nursery treatment application of the fertiliser.

Dr Arthur also told the court that some investigators told him that Mr Afrifa had consistently said that he did not do any work on Lithovit Foliar fertiliser. He even mentioned one ASP Lodonu as one of such investigators.

He affirmed that contrary to the claims that Mr Afrifa, who was the then-Head of the Soil Science Division at CRIG played an active role in the testing of Lithovit Foliar fertiliser, he directed other persons to perform other tests on the agrochemical.

Mr Cudjoe told the court that when Mr J. A. Dogbatse appeared before the Adu-Ampomah Committee, he informed the members that he evaluated Lithovit Foliar fertiliser in 2016 during the re-evaluation process and came out with his report. But Dr Arthur said he did not remember Mr Dogbatse saying so.

Mr Cudjoe maintained that Mr Dogbatse informed the committee that the Lithovit Foliar fertiliser he evaluated during his field reports in 2016, was liquid and not powder.

He put it to Dr Arthur that his experiment on Lithovit Foliar fertiliser, which he claimed ended at the end of December 2013, would have been definitely seen by Mr Dogbatse because tests in CRIG are not done in secret.

But Dr Arthur said when the Lithovit Foliar fertiliser was submitted in 2013, Mr Jerome Agbesi Dogbatse was not an employee of COCOBOD, so, he physically did not see the Lithovit Foliar fertiliser which was tested between July 2013 and December 2013.

Mr Cudjoe, in a counter, said if indeed, the product was powdery as Dr Arthur claimed, Mr Dogbatse would have rejected it outrightly and not evaluated the liquid Lithovit Foliar fertiliser.

In March 2018, the Attorney General (AG) charged Dr Opuni and a businessman, Seidu Agongo, the CEO of Agricult Ghana Limited, with 27 counts.

It is the contention of the AG that Dr Opuni, during his tenure as COCOBOD CEO (November 2013 to January 2017), breached laid-down procedures in procurement and other laws that led the state to lose GHS271.3 million in the alleged fertiliser scandal and the distribution of substandard fertiliser to cocoa farmers.

Mr Agongo is also alleged to have used fraudulent means to sell substandard fertiliser 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 have each been granted a GHS300,000.00 self-recognisance bail by the court.

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