The Accra High Court has adjourned the trial of a former boss of the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), Dr Stephen Kwabena Opuni, due to a supposed health condition of a witness.
It came up during proceedings that the witness — Peter Okyere Boateng, a former Deputy Director of the Cocoa Health and Extension Division (CHED) of COCOBOD — had a health condition that made it difficult for him to sit for more than 30 minutes.
Mr Boateng, who was under cross-examination, stood up after one hour, and the defence lawyers requested the adjournment of proceedings due to the condition of the witness.
The presiding judge, Justice Clemence Honyenuga, then expressed his reservations over the numerous adjournments and delays in the trial, which started in March 2018.
Counsel for Dr Opuni, Samuel Codjoe, responded that the witness had a genuine medical condition which had been confirmed with a medical report.
“This is a witness who is a pensioner. He is not well, and cannot sit for long because he has a problem with his back,” counsel said.
He then produced the medical report upon request by Justice Honyenuga, but that also led to disagreements between the lawyers.
The prosecutor, Stella Ohena Appiah, a Principal State Attorney, raised issues that the witness had been testifying since July 2022, with no issue of a chronic back condition only for a medical report dated September 9, 2022, to surface.
Justice Honyenuga queried why the health condition of the witness predated the medical report.
“I expected that the medical report will be dated in July or earlier and not in September,” Justice Honyenuga said.
In response, Mr Codjoe refuted the assertion of the prosecution, describing it as a “misrepresentation of facts”.
He said the witness had earlier refused to show up for the trial due to the health condition.
He said when the witness finally showed up in court in July last year, the defence team immediately informed the court of his condition, with the court insisting on a medical report to back the claims.
“The report came in September 2022 with the doctor saying that the patient was under his care. He has been visiting the hospital for a long time. He has a back problem, and the records are there to back it,” counsel said.
Justice Honyenuga eventually adjourned the trial to Monday, February 13.
On the next adjourned date, Justice Honyenuga said the witness would testify for one hour.
“There will be a short break to enable the witness to rest for the court to continue for another one hour,” Justice Honyenuga said.
Dr Opuni is standing trial with Seidu Agongo, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Agricult Ghana Limited, an agrochemical company.
State prosecutors have accused the two of causing financial loss of more than GH¢271 million to the state in a series of lithovit foliar fertiliser transactions.
It is the case of the prosecution that the fertiliser was substandard, and has accused Agongo of allegedly using fraudulent means to sell the fertiliser to COCOBOD for onward distribution to cocoa farmers.
The prosecution has further accused Dr Opuni of using his position as CEO of COCOBOD (November 2013 to January 2017) to facilitate the alleged acts of Agongo by allowing the lithovit liquid fertiliser not to be tested and certified as required by law.
Dr Opuni and Agongo have pleaded not guilty to the charges, and are on self-recognisance bail in the sum of GH¢300,000 each.