Opuni Case: Court accepts document copies as evidence despite missing originals
The whereabouts of a letter attached to a sample of Lithovit fertiliser submitted to the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD) on 10 May 2013, became the bone of contention as the trial of former COCOBOD CEO, Dr Stephen Opuni and businessman Seidu Agongo resumed on Tuesday, 14 May 2019...
The whereabouts of a letter attached to a sample of Lithovit fertiliser submitted to the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD) on 10 May 2013, became the bone of contention as the trial of former COCOBOD CEO, Dr Stephen Opuni and businessman Seidu Agongo resumed on Tuesday, 14 May 2019.
The state’s third witness, Dr Yaw Adu Ampomah, a former Deputy Chief Executive of COCOBOD – who was in charge of Agronomy and Quality Control in 2013 when the Lithovit fertiliser sample was taken to COCOBOD for testing by Agricult Ghana Limited – told the court that on 10 May 2013, he personally received the fertiliser sample, a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) and a letter signed by the CEO of Agricult Ghana Limited, Mr Seidu Agongo, requesting that the sample be duly tested.
He added that he later forwarded the sample to the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG) on 15 May 2013 to be tested on cocoa.
The Chief State Attorney, Evelyn Keelson presented a letter to Dr. Adu Ampomah for identification but Dr Adu Ampomah told the court it was a copy of the letter addressed to him by Mr Agongo, adding that all efforts to trace the original copy in the office of the Deputy Chief Executive’s office at COCOBOD has been fruitless.
Drama unfolded when the prosecution asked to tender the document into evidence. This was fiercely rejected by a member of Mr Agongo’s legal team, Mr Nutifafa Nutsukpui, who argued that it would not be fair to tender in evidence a document whose original copy cannot be traced.
He said: “This is supposed to be a certified true copy which presupposes the existence of the original. My lord, the witness said they searched but could not find the document and he doesn't know where the original is. Yet it is clearly embossed here that it is certified from an original. So, my lord the least the prosecution can do is to explain how the man who received the letter, to whom it was addressed, and was copied to no one else, has not seen it, can't find it but they have certified it. So, my lord, when they produce the one who certified this particular document to confirm to the honourable court that this actually exists, my lord, we won't have any objection whatsoever.”
The prosecution, however, defended their action praying the court to grant their plea since the document has been identified by the witness and certified by COCOBOD. Evelyn Keelson quoted sections 166 and 167 of the Evidence Act to buttress her point. She also stressed the relevance of the document to the trial quoting section 51 of the evidence act.
After listening to both sides, presiding Judge, Justice Clemence Y. Hornyenuga said: “Upon hearing the arguments put forth and against the objection, it is my considered opinion that the document sought to be tendered should be admitted into evidence because it has met all the necessary ingredients as required in the relevant sections of the Evidence Act. In the circumstances, the objection is overruled, and admitted into evidence to be marked as exhibit (g)”.
This is not the first time documents pertinent to the trial have gone missing.
The court on 17 December 2018 ordered the management of CRIG to furnish it with some key documents including an invoice to a letter of 20 November 2014, an evaluation report on Codapec/Hitec products submitted to COCOBOD per CRIG letter CRG27/118/4643 dated 31 August 2016, which was attached to the report of testing of agrochemicals, plus an update on the effort to trace another letter dated 21 October 2014. Deputy Director of Legal Affairs at COCOBOD, Johannes Vegba explained at the time that efforts to trace that letter have so far been fruitless, adding that available evidence point to either a misfiling or tampering of the records. He also affirmed that some of the folders from which the files got missing, were either renumbered or suffered erasures.