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Opuni’s attempt to remove retired Justice Honyenuga in COCOBOD trial dismissed

Source The Ghana Report

An Accra High Court has dismissed an application seeking to remove a retired judge, Justice Clemence Honyenuga, from presiding over an ongoing COCOBOD trial.

In a ruling on Monday, November 14, the trial judge, Justice Honyenuga, said he would continue to hear the trial of former COCOBOD boss Stephen Opuni, despite retiring two months ago.

According to him, the Chief Justice, as the administrative head of the judiciary, has the power under the constitution to grant an extension to a retiring judge.

He explained that the extension was granted long before the date of retirement.

The judge reached a decision after listening to arguments from the accused lawyer and the state prosecutors.

Counsel for the former COCOBOD boss Samuel Codjoe had urged the judge to restrain himself from hearing the matter on the ground that he has reached the statutory retirement age of 70.

Mr Cudjoe was of the view that the chief justice lacked the mandate to grant such an extension, adding that an extension cannot be granted to a person who is no longer a judge.

According to him, only the president can grant such an extension.

“Since we came back from vacation, we have come to this court not less than three different occasions, and this order has never been set aside by this court. We are submitting that the CJ engaged in an unconstitutional act when he purported to extend the tenure of your lordship under 144(11).

“Article 145 (2) (a) states that a Justice of the Superior Court or a Chairman of the Regional Tribunal shall vacate his seat on attaining the age of 70 years. It can only be extended for a period of six months by the president under Article 145 (4).

“It is our submission that the appointment to the position of a high court judge under article 144 is totally different from that of the appointment of an additional high court judge under 139. And even under article 144(9), it is quite clear that the person to be appointed need not be an existing judge, unlike under 139 (1) (c), which by its provision, all Court of Appeal and Supreme Court are potentially high court judges,” he explained.

The prosecution disagreed. Director of Public Prosecution Yvonne Attakora Obuobisa explained that the appointment and removal from office of a justice of the superior court are different from an extension granted to a judge previously hearing a case.

She said that the constitution handles them differently.

“There is no confusion about the fact that it is the president who appoints the chief justice, the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal and high court judges. Article 144 deals with such appointments, and 146 deals with their removal from office.

“In articles 144 and 146, the drafters of the constitution clearly said it is the president who appoints and removes justices of the superior court. Nowhere in article 139 or 145(4) is the president mentioned. It is our case that the CJ has power under the 1992 Constitution to grant power to a Justice of the Superior Court to sit for a limited period of time,” she submitted.

The case has been adjourned to November 16, 2022, where the retired Justice Honyenuga is expected to preside over the case.

Background

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, pleaded not guilty to all the charges against them, and are currently on a GH¢300,000 self-recognisance bail each.

Read Also: Will the NDC ever forgive Justice Honyenuga

 

Bribery Allegation

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”.

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