The Attorney General’s first witness in the ongoing criminal trial of Dr. Stephen Kwabena Opuni and businessman Seidu Agongo and Agricut Company Limited last Monday admitted writing a caution statement to the Economic and Organized Crime Office (EOCO) upon his arrest in 2017 in which he had claimed to have been informed that liquid Lithovit fertilizer which is a subject of the trial, could help in high cocoa yields.
Dr. Franklin Manu Amoah, Executive Director of the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG) made the admission under cross-examination by lawyers for Dr. Opuni at the High Court, Accra presided over by Justice Clemence Honyenuga.
In his caution statement to EOCO in April 2017, he had stated that Dr. Francis Baah who was the head of the Cocoa Health and Extension Division (CHED), a division of COCOBOD had affirmed that the Lithovit fertilizer which was evaluated and a certificate issued to Agricult was in liquid form and not solid or powdery as he had told the court in August during his evidence in chief.
During a five-hour grueling cross-examination last Monday, Dr. Amoah admitted to have given the said statement to EOCO after the statement was tendered in evidence by lawyers for Dr Opuni. The Prosecution asked to know whether the said statement was part of documents they (prosecution) had supplied the accused person.
Dr. Opuni through his legal team led by Samuel Codjoe, has maintained that no powdery substance was submitted to CRIG for testing, but rather a liquid fertilizer which was submitted, tested and highly recommended as worthy for the growth of Cocoa.
It is Dr. Amoah’s case that the Lithovit that Cocobod purchased was powdery.
Dr. Amoah had further disclosed in his statement to EOCO that Dr. Francis Baah, the Executive Director of CHED, had further confirmed that the use of Lithovit liquid fertilizer induced prolific flowering and result in higher cocoa yield.
He averred that it is based on the work done by CHED that it came to light that the Lithovit Liquid Fertilizer was efficient and could improve yield.
Indeed, Dr. Amoah admitted, “I was a member of the team, the Director of CHED, Dr. Baah affirmed that Lithovit as a liquid fertilizer induced prolific flowering on cocoa trees which could result in high yields.”
The witness was made to identify his handwritings in the caution statement and made to read portions of it to the court. Mentions were made of Dr. Kwarpong and one Dr. Afrifa; both soil scientists who had worked on the said fertilizer and recommended its purchase and use by cocoa farmers.
Dr. Amoah, admitted to have signed and issued the first certificate on the fertilizer.
The witness further admitted to a question posed to him by lawyers of Dr. Opuni to the effect that one cannot rely on one factor such as the application of fertilizer to determine cocoa yield, which admission is contrary to claims by the Attorney General, Gloria Akuffo when she read the facts in support of the charges that the application of Lithovit fertilizer resulted in lower yield.
He conceded that although subsequent reports and certificates were issued in support of the Lithovit liquid fertilizer, he was on retirement when the certificates were issued.
He further stated that he was not privy to whether due process was followed or not, contrary to an earlier statement to the Court that due process was not followed in the evaluation of the fertilizer before certificates were issued to Agricult.
Counsel for Dr. Opuni also inquired from the witness the meaning of “affirm” which appeared in his caution statement to EOCO, and he said it meant “confirm”.
The ex-Chief Executive Officer of COCOBOD, Dr. Opuni and the Managing Director of Agricult Ghana Limited, Seidu Agongo, face 27 charges, including defrauding by false pretence, wilfully causing financial loss to the state, money laundering, corruption by public officer and contravention of the Public Procurement Act.
They have pleaded not guilty and have been granted GH¢300,000.00 each self-recognisance bail by the court.
An attempt by counsel for Dr. Opuni to know the salary of the prosecution witness, however, was ruled out by the judge after the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Mrs. Yvonne Atakora Obuobisa had raised objection.
Lawyer Cudjoe, was of the view that the witness’ salary was crucial to his client’s case, as it would show that the “witness is being motivated by money” hence his re-engagement by the government on contract to head CRIG.
This was after Dr. Amoah had told the court that he retired in 2015, but was recalled and given a 19-month contract by the government as Executive Director of CRIG in 2017.
Based on that, Mr. Codjoe made the case that the witness lobbied to get his job back despite being on retirement, purely to continue to enjoy his salary, and was desperate to make a case against Dr. Opuni.
Mr. Cudjoe’s demands to know Dr Amoah’s salary was met with a strong objection from the prosecution, led by the DPP.
Mrs. Yvonne Atakora Obuobisa argued that the salary of Dr Amoah was irrelevant to the case and should be disallowed. She further argued that Mr. Codjoe was just bent on embarrassing the witness.
“He need not disclose his salary. His salary is not relevant to the case. Salaries are privileged information between employees and employers,’’ she said.
But Mr Codjoe insisted that the question was relevant and questioned why the salary of a public official should be a secret.
“Salaries in the public service are well known. The salaries of the President, Speakers of Parliament and judges are in the public domain,” he said.
After listening to both sides, the presiding judge, disallowed the question, describing it as outright conjecture.
Mr. Codjoe asked Dr Amoah about certain allegations that he (Dr. Amoah) unlawfully harvested timber from COCOBOD’s concession.
Dr. Amoah explained that the allegations were false and investigations directed by Dr. Opuni concluded that the allegations were totally unfounded.
“After the investigations, a report was sent to Dr Opuni, who saw that all were false allegations to tarnish my hard-earned reputation. He, therefore, directed that the main architect behind the unfounded allegations be transferred from CRIG to a plantation at Wassa Akropong,’’ he said.
The case resumes today, October 10 for continuation of cross-examination of Dr. Amoah.