Removing Justice Honyenuga from Opuni trial is unfair – Attorney General
The Attorney General wants the Supreme Court to review its decision that prevents Justice Clemence Honyenuga from presiding over the trial involving former COCOBOD boss Stephen Kwabena Opuni at the Accra High Court on grounds of bias.
The state prosecution insists the apex court’s decision contains fundamental errors which have resulted in miscarriage of justice.
On July 28, this year, a five-member panel presided over by Justice Jones Dotse, in a three-two majority, ruled in favour of Opuni and businessman Seidu Agongo standing trial for causing financial loss to the state in a fertilizer deal.
The duo had called on the apex court to intervene and remove the presiding judge Justice Honyenuga from the case he started in March 2018.
Counsel for the former COCOBOD boss Samuel Cudjoe had argued that Justice Honyenuga violated the Evidence Act, 323, when he rejected an exhibit during the ruling on the submission of no case.
It was the case of Mr Cudjoe that per the Evidence Act, the trial judge should have allowed state prosecution to first object to the exhibit, before ruling on it.
Deputy Attorney General Alfred Tuah-Yeboah, on the other hand, argued that the trial judge did not violate any law when he rejected ‘illegal evidence’, presented by the accused persons.
Mr Tuah-Yeboah pointed that even if the trial judge erred in rejecting the exhibit, the remedy available was at the Court of Appeal and not a judicial review application at the Supreme Court.
With regards to the allegation of bias, the deputy A-G said all that the judge did was establish a prima facie against the accused persons. He said this does not mean the trial judge had pre-determined the guilt of the accused persons.
But after the arguments in court on July 28, the panel in a three-two majority sided with the accused persons and removed the Supreme Court justice from the case.
Additionally, the panel quashed portions of an earlier ruling on a submission of no case delivered by the trial judge Justice Honyenuga on the COCOBOD matter.
This decision by the apex court, the Attorney General believes is an error. Documents filed on behalf of the A-G said the decision to restrain Justice Honyenuga “is unfair in that the case will be entrusted to an entirely new judge who has not had the benefits of the full trial, including assessing and observing the demeanour of witnesses”.
He, therefore, wants this decision reviewed and set aside.
With regards to the vote; the presiding judge Justices Jones Dotse, together with Avril Lovelace-Johnson, dissented, while Justices Gabriel Pwamang, Agnes Dordzie and Issifu Omoro Tanko Amadu held for Dr. Stephen Kwabena Opuni.
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The former COCOBOD boss, Dr Opuni and the CEO of Agricult Ghana Limited, an agrochemicals company, 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” on October 10, 2014.