Prime News Ghana

More revelations in Dr. Stephen Opuni's trial

By PrimeNewsGhana
Former CEO of COCOBOD, Dr.Stephen Opuni

The ongoing trial of former COCOBOD CEO, Dr. Stephen Opuni, and businessman Seidu Agongo on Wednesday, recorded yet another shocking moment when it emerged that the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG), had, in several documents dating as far back as 2013, described Lithovit Foliar Fertiliser, as a liquid fertiliser and not a powdery fertiliser.

One of the documents which were signed as late as last year was prepared during the tenure of Dr. Franklin Manu Amoah, when he was re-engaged by the Akufo-Addo government on contract, as the Executive Director for CRIG; a position he had held ahead of his retirement from COCOBOD in 2015.

This came to light, when Mr Benson Nutsukpui, counsel for Seidu Agongo and Agricult Ghana Limited, took his turn to cross-examine Dr Amoah, who maintains that Lithovit Foliar Fertiliser is powdery and not liquid, as claimed by the accused persons and the agro-based company.

According to Mr Nutsukpui, there are several letters from Dr Amoah’s office dating back to 2013, when Lithovit Foliar Fertiliser was submitted to CRIG for testing, indicating that the agrochemical has always been liquid and not powdery as claimed by Dr Amoah in his evidence-in-chief.

Mr Nutsukpui also revealed to the High Court presided over by Justice Clemence Honyenuga that Agricult has in its possession, letters dated 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016, in which CRIG regularly called for re-testing and re-certification of Lithovit liquid fertiliser.

He described these letters as generic bearing the same content, but different dates.

Mr Nutsukpi produced one of the letters dated 2017 signed on behalf of Dr Amoah by Rev. Father E.O.K. Oddoye in his capacity as the Deputy Executive Director of CRIG. This letter also described Lithovit Foliar Fertiliser as a liquid agrochemical.

But in his response, Dr Amoah, told the court that his deputy, who communicated with Agricult Ghana Limited in connection with the testing and certification of Lithovit Foliar Fertiliser, did not have any knowledge in soil and plant science, adding he was an expert in animal science.

Dr Amoah said he had verbally “interrogated” Rev. Father Oddoye over the description of Lithovit Foliar Fertiliser as liquid and the man of God had explained to him that he “interchange” foliar with liquid. He told the court that his deputy subsequently apologised to him.

However, Mr Nutsukpui quickly countered Dr Amoah’s claim, saying CRIG had written another letter to Agricult Ghana Limited, asking the company to assist it to create awareness on some agro products, including Lithovit Foliar Fertiliser among cocoa farmers, and in that letter also CRIG had again described the fertiliser as “liquid”.

It came out that one Dr Opoku Ameyaw in his capacity as Deputy Executive Director of CRIG, in 2014 wrote to Agricult Ghana Limited, demanding a retesting and re-certification of its fertiliser, he also described Lithovit as a liquid fertiliser.

Dr Opoku Ameyaw was the Deputy Executive Director when the first test was done on the Lithovit Fertiliser and certificate was issued and signed by Dr Amoah.

Interestingly, Dr Opoku Agyemang, just like Rev. Father E.O.K. Oddoye, also signed on behalf of Dr Amoah at the time.

Dr Amoah admitted to being part of the Akufo-Addo side of the transition team, as well as a team of former workers of Ghana Cocoa Board tasked to investigate the procurement of agro equipment and chemicals, including Lithovit Fertiliser by the previous management led by Dr Opuni. He mentioned Dr Yaw Adu Ampomah as the chairman of that committee.

Dr Amoah disclosed to the court that members of the investigative committee were later re-engaged by the Akufo-Addo government at COCOBOD, although most of them were on various years of retirement at the time.

Joseph Boahen Aidoo, who was a member of the transition team, was later appointed CEO of COCOBOD, while Dr William Mensah was brought back from retirement and made Deputy COCOBOD CEO in-charge of Finance and Administration.

Nana Owusu Oduro was also brought back from retirement and made Deputy CEO of COCOBOD in-charge of Operations.

Dr Amoah became the Executive Director of CRIG, while the man who led the investigation, Dr Adu Ampomah, became Deputy Chief Executive Agronomy and Quality Control next in line to the Chief Executive.

William Agyapong Quaittoo, also a member of the committee, became Deputy Minister of Agriculture in the Akufo-Addo government but had to resign from his position after passing a tribal comment against northerners in the heat of the fall armyworm outbreak last year.

He is still serving as a Member of Parliament (MP) for Akim Oda in the Eastern Region on the ticket of the governing New Patriotic Party (NPP).

COCOBOD has been under the Agric Ministry since the Akufo-Addo government came to office.

When Dr. Amoah was asked whether the Adu-Ampomah committee’s preliminary findings were that strange procedures were used in the procurement of the agrochemicals, he responded that he would not know, because he had not seen the report.

Asked again whether it was the Adu-Ampomah committee's claim that high lost was incurred in the procurement of these chemicals, he emphasised that he would not know since he had not seen the report by the investigative team.

Asked by Mr Nutsukpi about whether the committee came to the conclusion that a financial loss had been caused to the state? Dr Amoah reiterated that he was not privy to the final report, therefore, could not say that conclusion was reached.

Again, asked whether the Adu-Ampomah committee recommended any matter to the EOCO for investigation, Dr Amoah, repeated that he is not privy to the final report, therefore, cannot confirm.

Asked whether the transition team took statements from any employee of COCOBOD during its work, he responded that most senior employees, including Dr Opuni, were asked to write statements to the committee.

Before Mr Nutsukpi, the prosecution witness under cross-examination by Dr Opuni’s counsel, Samuel Cudjoe, had told the court that Dr Francis Baah, Mr A. A. Afrifa and Dr Anim Kwarpong, all soil scientists, had, at various times, seen the fertiliser in question, described it as liquid, tested it and affirmed its efficacy. He said he had no doubt about their expertise.

Dr Amoah admitted putting a cover letter on the reports of these scientists and subsequently issuing a certificate in approval for the product.

He, however, said he did so on his “blindside”, and explained “blindside” to mean something he did after he had “interrogated” the scientists, and they explained the content of their report on the fertiliser to him.

Dr Amoah told the High Court that at a meeting with Dr Opuni sometime in January 2014, with Dr Francis Baah, Dr A. A. Afrifa and Mr Kutuatsi present, the newly-appointed COCOBOD boss – Dr Opuni – ordered a truncation of the testing of the Lithovit Foliar Fertiliser and subsequently ordered its procurement.

He said that Dr Opuni had explained to the meeting that, as a scientist himself, he had practised a similar thing at the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) and made available generic drugs to the public.

But Mr Cudjoe discounted this, saying Mr Kutuatsi was employed by COCOBOD in April 2014, therefore, could not have been part of any meeting held in January 2014 at the behest of Dr Opuni, but Dr Amoah insisted Mr Kutuatsi, was employed in the early part of 2014. He, however, could not remember the exact date of the said meeting, saying there were several meetings in January 2014.

Mr. Kutuatsi, according to Mr Cudjoe, was in the employ of the Produce Buying Company (PBC) as of 22 January 2014 when Dr Amoah issued his cover letter on the report by the scientists at CRIG and supported it with certificates of approval confirming Lithovit liquid fertiliser, and insisted Mr Kutuatsi, could not have been in the said meeting when Dr Opuni gave the alleged order to truncate the testing of the fertiliser.

Dr Opuni’s lawyer accused Dr Amoah of being untruthful and evasive in his testimonies to the court on the dates and events, but Dr Amoah rebutted saying: “My Lord, I am not being evasive or untruthful to the court”, reiterating that several meetings were held, at one of which Mr Kutuatsi and Dr Baah were present.

To this, Dr. Opuni’s lawyer shot back saying the January 21, 2014, meeting where his client allegedly directed that the fertiliser be approved and purchased could not have happened because the certificate issued to Agricult Ghana Limited by Dr. Amoah’s signature was dated January 20, 2014, adding: “This is like putting the cart before the horse”.

With a cover letter on the report by the scientist whose integrities he several times vouched for during the cross-examination, and the certificates bearing his signatures in approval of Lithovit liquid fertiliser, Dr Amoah was asked whether he sought to mislead his employers to commit fraud by approving the said fertiliser. He denied, adding that his recommendation was not on a scientific basis.

In March 2018, the Attorney General charged Dr Opuni, who was the CEO of COCOBOD from November 2013 to January 12, 2018, and businessman Seidu Agongo, for allegedly causing financial loss of GHS271.3 million to the state.

The two were slapped with 27 charges for allegedly engaging in illegalities in a series of fertiliser transactions which led to the procurement and distribution of substandard fertiliser to farmers.

Dr Opuni and Mr Agongo have, however, pleaded not guilty to all the charges and have been granted bail in the sum of GHS 300,000 each by the Accra High Court.

Dr Opuni and his lawyer have maintained that CRIG, indeed, tested liquid fertiliser and not a powdery fertiliser, adding that it was only Dr Amoah who claims that CRIG tested powdery fertiliser against the words of Mr A. A. Afrifa, a former head of the Soil Science Department at CRIG, and Dr Kwapong, a former head of CRIG.