General News of Saturday, 9 February 2019
The committee that investigated the missing documents in the trial of former COCOBOD Chief Executive, Dr. Stephen Kwabena Opuni and businessman, Seidu Agongo, concluded its work without finding the most ‘critical’ document.
It is suspected that some elements at the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG) a division of the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD) deliberately removed the crucial documents from its file in order to conceal evidence which could inure to the benefit of the two accuse persons.
The documents according to their lawyers, would have shown that at all material times, CRIG tested and indeed, recommended for purchase Lithovit Liquid fertilizer but not a powdery substance as claimed by the prosecution.
Following a revelation that the vital documents on the ongoing trial were missing and others tampered with while in the custody of CRIG,a committee was tasked by CRIG to investigate the matter.
The last time the case was called in court on January 21, Deputy Director of Legal Affairs at COCOBOD, Mr. Johannes Wegba told the court they had not been able to find the documents, but was directed by the court to ensure that the committee finished its work and filed the report in court before February 6.
Though the directive was obeyed, the report failed to find the whereabouts of a “crucial” document nor was it able to unravel who might have tampered with the folder that contained the missing documents.
Dr. Opuni, and Agongo, the CEO of Agricult Ghana Limited, are on trial for allegedly engaging in acts that incurred financial loss of GH¢271.3m in a series of fertiliser deals.
The document in question, according to defence counsel, is germane in bringing clarity to the major bone of contention since the case started on whether or not the Lithovit Foliar Fertiliser (LFF), which is the subject matter of the trial, was liquid or powdery in nature.
The missing document dated October 21, 2014 is a letter written by CRIG with reference number CRIG 39/14vol.19/6448, asking Agricult Ghana Limited to sponsor a training programme for farmers and extension officers on the use of Lithovit Liquid Fertiliser.
Though that letter was still missing, the committee’s report to the court interestingly included a pro-invoice on the missing letter, generated by the accounts department of CRIG and addressed to Agricult Ghana Limited.
The description on the invoice dated 10/21/2014 read:
“AGRICULT/CRIG TRAINING/SENSITISATION PROGRAMME FOR EXTENSION OFFICERS AND FARMERS ON THE USE OF AGRICULT LITHOVIT LIQUID FERTILISER ON COCOA”.
Meanwhile, counsel for the second and third defendants, Benson Nutsukpui, who was to continue his cross examination of prosecution witness Dr. Alfred Arthur, as well as counsel for the first defendant, Samuel Cudjoe, asked for more time to go through the report.
But the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Yvonne Atakora Obuobisa, stressed that the report filed by CRIG was clear that they can’t find the document.
She did not think both counsel needed time to study the report when the key element of interest is missing, noting that even if the case is adjourned, the fact that the document is missing will not change and nothing will bring it back.
But the court presided over by Mr Justice Clemence Honyenuga, a justice of the Court of Appeal with additional responsibility as a High Court judge, said the accused were not given enough time to study the report because they were not served early.
So for justice to prevail, Justice Honyenuga said, time should be given to both counsel to study the committee’s report.
The case was therefore adjourned to Tuesday, 12th February, 2019.
Justice Honyenugah, explained that this is to enable justice to prevail and for the trial to continue smoothly, adding it was unfortunate that the counsels for the accused persons were short served with the report and that serving of documents to interested parties was fundamental to fair trial.
The committee report was filed its report on the missing documents on February 1, 2019.
Dr Opuni and Alhaji Seidu Agongo, are facing 27 charges, including defrauding by false pretences, wilfully causing financial loss to the state, money laundering, corruption by public officer and contravention of the Public Procurement Act.
They have pleaded not guilty to the charges and have been granted a GH¢300,000.00 each self-recognisance bail by the Court.
The court on December 3, 2018, had directed the Executive Director of CRIG to furnish it with some letters and other documents to assist in the trial process by Tuesday, December 11 last year, upon an application by Mr Benson Nutsukpui, the lawyer for Mr Agongo.
It had been observed that on December 11, 2018 lawyers for CRIG and Cocoa Health and Extension Department filed the requested documents in court but while the documents were before the court it was detected that a document dated October 21, 2014 with CRIG 39/14 Vol. 19/6446 as its reference number was missing from the filed documents.
When Johannes Wegba, the Deputy Director, Legal at COCOBOD was invited by the court to explained why the particular document was not included, he explained that the document could not be traced and that a committee would be set up to investigate the circumstances leading to the missing of the documents.
The court the asked the Deputy Director to file the committee’s report by February 4, 2019 of which it was filed on February 1, 2019”.
At the Court’s sitting on Wednesday, Mr Nutsukpui raised some concerns about the report prompting
He told the court that glancing through it, he noticed that with the introduction of the report, the 3-member committee to investigate the missing of the report, titled it as “Budget for the training and sensitization of farmers on the use of Lithovit fertilizer” but on the application for the order the title was different.
He said the title on the application order was titled “Budget for Agricult /CRIG training and sensitization for extension officers / farmers on the use of Agricultlithovit liquid fertilizer.
Mr Nutsukpui said “we are not sure from the title of the same document they are looking for or it is the paranoia at CRIG about the word liquid but if it is the same document then the title will have to include lithovit liquid fertilizer.”
He said the legal team do not want to believe that there was a deliberate effort from CRIG to omit the documents the court ordered them to produce.
The Counsel said their careful look at the report finding and observations under A; item two, which referred to the Appendix two, which was the invoice attached to the letter also raises the same issues.
He alleged that the report has been presented in court but the word liquid was taken out because of the paranoia at CRIG or because they were looking for a different document.
Mr Samuel Cudjoe, the Counsel for Dr Opuni associated himself with the submissions of Mr Nutsukpui and prayed the court to give them the opportunity to study the committee report and that all the accused persons needed time to study documents.
The Director of Public Prosecution in a response said the accused persons requested for a document of which was provided and filed in court, meanwhile CRIG, when they could not find some of the documents, set up a committee to investigate the whereabouts of the missing documents.
She said they have presented their report, which says they could not find the documents with the reference number CRIG 39/14 and it was their report that the court should go with, adding that what was relevant was the reference number, which was accurate.
“The title is irrelevant and it is not in evidence either,” she said.
Mrs Oboubisa, said the witnesses from CRIG, who have testified so far for the State have not shy away from the word lithovit liquid fertilizer, they have stated clearly that, where the lithovit liquid fertilizer emanated from.
The DPP said Dr Arthur, the second prosecution witness under cross-examination said he only tested for lithovit powdery fertilizer, which is an exhibit before the court and that CRIG has never tested Agricult liquid lithovit fertilizer.
She said the witness indicated that even though they have found farmers using Agricult liquid lithovit fertilizer on the field it does not mean CRIG tested for it.
She said it was their case that all the documents, the defence has asked for has been filed in court and it was only the other ones the committee indicated in its report that it could not be found.
“Why do you need time to study a document you requested from CRIG, which is said to be missing? You cannot challenge the report, which says it is missing,” she said.
Mrs Oboubisa said the move is bent to further delay the trial and that even if the case was adjourned, the document was missing, says the report and an adjournment would not serve any purpose, it would just delay the trial needlessly.