Supreme Court removes Justice Honyenuga from COCOBOD trial
The Supreme Court has stopped Justice Clemence Honyenuga from presiding over a COCOBOD trial at the Accra High Court on the grounds of bias.
The judgement was delivered on Wednesday, July 28, by a five-member panel presided over by Justice Jones Dotse, in a three-two majority.
Additionally, the panel quashed portions of an earlier ruling on a submission of no case delivered by the trial judge Justice Clemence Honyenuga on the COCOBOD matter.
Former COCOBOD boss Dr Stephen Opuni and businessman Seidu Agongo, are standing trial for various roles they played in a COCOBOD fertilizer deal.
The duo, who were not happy with the trial judge’s ruling on their submission of no case, petitioned the apex court, claiming the judge was unfair.
The legal team of the accused persons indicated that some comments of the judge presupposed that the outcome of the case before him had been pre-determined.
Against this background, Dr Opuni prayed the Chief Justice to hand over the case to another judge.
Counsel for the former COCOBOD boss Samuel Cudjoe 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.
Attorney General’s response
Opposing the motion on the substantive case, Deputy Attorney General Alfred Tuah-Yeboah, submitted that the applicant (Stephen Opuni) had failed to meet the required threshold of the court, and should not be granted the request of no case.
The Deputy A-G insisted that the trial judge did not violate any law when he rejected ‘illegal evidence’, presented by the accused persons.
Mr Tuah-Yeboah further argued 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.
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.
Full details of the ruling will be made available at the court’s registry on Friday, July 30.
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The former COCOBOD boss, Dr Opuni and 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 in court in March 2018.
Agongo is alleged to have used fraudulent means to sell substandard fertiliser to the 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.
Meanwhile, 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.