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Dr Opuni’s trial adjourned ‘due to circumstances beyond our control’ – Judge

The Accra High Court has adjourned the trial in which the former Cocobod boss Dr Stephen Opuni and one other are standing trial for causing financial loss to the state.

The case has been adjourned to January 25, 2021.

“Upon consultation with the counsels in the case it is clear that this case has to be adjourned due to circumstances beyond the control of this court,” Justice Clemence Hornyenugah announced.

Justice Hornyenugah, a Supreme Court judge, with additional responsibility as a High Court Judge,  did not give further details about the decision.

The case was to continue with the examination of the prosecution witness, Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Prempeh Mercer.

At the last adjourned date, the prosecution witness revealed that the former Cocobod boss, Dr Opuni, directed that the testing period of agrochemicals and fertilizers for use by the board should be shortened.

Mr Mercer told the court that Dr. Opuni in giving the directive to the scientist from the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG)  said suppliers took undue advantage of the monopoly they enjoyed and charged high prices on their products.

He said Dr Opuni held the meeting upon his assumption of office in January 2014, after his appointment in November 2013.

Mr Prempeh, the seventh prosecution witness, was giving his evidence in chief led by Mrs Evelyn Keelson, Chief State Attorney, in Accra on January 11.

Per CRIG procedure, agrochemicals that are sent to the Institute for testing must go through a minimum testing period of two years and a maximum of three years.

Background

In March 2018, the A-G charged the former CEO of Ghana COCOBOD, Dr Stephen Kwabena Opuni and Seidu Agongo, who is the CEO of Agricult Ghana Limited, for causing financial loss to the state.

The two have been charged with 27 counts, including allegedly engaging in illegalities that caused financial loss of GH¢271.3 million to the state.

The illegalities led to the distribution of sub-standard fertilizer to cocoa farmers.

Agongo is alleged to have used fraudulent means to sell sub-standard fertilizer to COCOBOD for onward distribution to cocoa farmers, while Dr Opuni is accused of facilitating the act by allowing Agongo’s products not to be tested and certified, as required by law.

The two accused persons have pleaded not guilty to all the 27 charges and are currently on a GH¢300,000 self-recognisance bail each.

Prior to Monday’s hearing, on March 16, the court dismissed a motion seeking the trial judge, Justice Clemence Honyenugah to recuse himself from continuing with the trial, alleging he made certain comments on a different forum.

On February 18, this year, Justice Honyenugah, who is also the Paramount Chief of Nyagbo Traditional Area, showered President Akufo-Addo with his sterling performance.

“We wish to congratulate you on the excellent manner in which you are governing this dear country of ours. It is our hope that with your vision and the gains made in your first term, Ghanaians will consider giving you another term, Torgbui Nyagasi [Justice Honyenuga] had said.

Lawyers for Dr Opuni, contended that statement by the judge even in his capacity as a traditional leader, was a clear indication of support for the president.

The motion was seeking the trial judge, who was a Court of Appeal Judge sitting with additional responsibility as a High Court Judge, to stop the trial and refer the matter to the Chief Justice for reassignment.

The court in its ruling dismissing the application said the allegations raised on his comments were non-judicial and did not touch on the instant case.

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