The former COCOBOD boss Stephen Opuni has failed in his quest to halt the case in which he has been accused of causing financial loss to the state.
Mr Opuni, together with Agricult Ghana Limited CEO Seidu Agongo, have been hauled before an Accra High Court for various infractions in a fertiliser deal.
He was seeking to stay proceedings pending the determination of an appeal against the High Court’s decision to call his defence witness to the stand.
However, the application was dismissed by the trial judge Justice Clemence Honyenuga.
In its ruling, the court held that the application did not raise any exceptional circumstances to warrant a stay of proceedings.
“Looking at the grounds of appeal, I do not think that it has any chance of success. No exceptional circumstances have been urged to warrant this court to exercise its discretion in favour of the applicant, which will further delay the four-year-old case. In the circumstances, the application is dismissed,” the court held.
Prior to the court’s ruling, Dr Opuni had called his fourth witness, who was being cross-examined via video link due to medical reasons, which prevented him from coming in person.
Other users had already booked the facility being used for the video telecast of the proceedings and the only date available is June 24 2022.
Justice Honyenuga, therefore, ordered Dr Opuni to call his fifth witness in order to effectively manage the trial, while the third witness is cross-examined on June 24.
But Opuni’s legal team, led by Samuel Cudjoe, declined, and thus the action before the Court of Appeal. They wondered why they should call their next witness when the third witness was yet to be discharged.
Their argument was premised on Article 19 (2) (g) of the Constitution, arguing that the court erred when it ordered Dr Opuni to call his next witness out of turn since the prosecution did not have this condition imposed on it when it was conducting its case.
“We also state that this being a criminal trial, our right to a fair trial will be breached if we are ordered to call our witnesses out of turn, in that it is important that a witness completes his evidence before another is called. And it is very possible that based on the evidence of a witness in the box, we might not need to call a further witness,” he Mr Cudjoe stated.
The prosecution team disagreed.
A Principal State Attorney Stella Ohene Appiah argued that the Supreme Court has held that the mere filing of an interlocutory appeal is not a special circumstance and, therefore, will not occasion the grant of a stay of proceedings.
In response to the order for the next witness to take the stand, Madam Appiah said it sits well within the court’s jurisdiction per Section 69 of the Evidence Act.
The case has been adjourned to June 24 2022.
The former COCOBOD boss, Dr Opuni, and the CEO of Agricult Ghana Limited, Seidu Agongo, are being tried over allegations of causing financial loss of more than GH₵271 million to the state.
The GH₵271 million alleged financial loss to the state is in respect of their engagement in illegalities in a series of fertiliser transactions, making the Attorney-General drag them to court in March 2018.
Agongo is alleged to have used fraudulent means to sell substandard fertiliser to COCOBOD for onward distribution to cocoa farmers.
Dr Opuni is also accused of facilitating the act by allowing Agongo’s products not to be tested and certified as required by law.
They have been charged with 27 counts, including allegedly engaging in illegalities leading to the distribution of sub-standard fertilisers to cocoa farmers.
The two have denied any wrongdoing and have pleaded not guilty to all the charges against them and are currently on a GH¢300,000 self-recognisance bail each.
According to the facts of the case, Dr Opuni, on October 10 2014, while he was the CEO of COCOBOD, agreed to permit his office to be influenced by an amount of GH₵25,000.
The second accused person, Mr Agongo, has also been accused of “endeavouring to influence the conduct of Stephen Kwabena Opuni in the performance of his duties as the CEO of COCOBOD by offering him an amount of GH₵25,000”.