The Criminal Division of the Accra High Court has ordered a former Chief Executive Officer of the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), Dr Stephen Kwabena Opuni, and a businessman, Seidu Agongo, to open their defence.
The court, presided over by Justice Clemence Honyenuga, gave the order yesterday after it dismissed a submission of no case filed by the two accused persons.
Dr Opuni and Agongo, the CEO of Agricult Ghana Limited, are on trial for allegedly engaging in illegalities in a series of fertiliser transactions which the Attorney-General (A-G) says caused a financial loss of GH¢271.3 million to the state.
They were dragged to court by the A-G in March 2018 on 27 charges, including willfully causing financial loss to the state, defrauding by false pretence, contravention of procurement laws, corruption of a public officer and money laundering.
Submission of no case
In support of its case, the prosecution called seven witnesses and presented a series of documents.
After the prosecution rested, the accused persons decided to exercise their rights by filing a submission of no case under Section 173 of the Criminal and Other Offences (Procedure) Act, 1960 (Act 30).
Section 173 of Act 30 allows a trial court to acquit an accused person if the court concludes that the prosecution had failed to make a case sufficient enough for the accused person to open his defence.
Lawyers for the accused persons had argued that the prosecution failed to make any prima facie case against their clients to warrant them to open their defence.
They, therefore, urged the court to acquit and discharge them.
In a ruling yesterday, the court dismissed the application for submission of no case with regard to 24 of the charges.
According to Justice Honyenuga, a Justice of the Supreme Court, sitting as a High Court judge, the prosecution was able to establish a prima facie case in relation to the 24 charges.
“The prosecution has succeeded in giving the ingredients of the offences in count 1, 2, 3,4, 5, 6, 7,8,9, 10,11, 12, 13, 14,15, 16,17,18,19,20, 21, 25, 26 and 27 against the first and second accused persons respectively.
“I am convinced that the prosecution having made a prima facie case against the accused persons, they must be called upon to open their defence,” Justice Honyenuga ruled.
The 24 charges on which the accused persons were ordered to open their defences bordered on willfully causing financial loss to the state, defrauding by false pretence, contravention of procurement laws, corruption of a public officer and manufacturing fertiliser without registration.
The court, however, acquitted and discharged Agongo on three separate counts which relate to money laundering.
“The prosecution did not succeed in establishing a prima facie case against the second accused person (Agongo) in counts 22, 23 and 24. Accordingly, I acquit and discharge the second accused person in respect of count 22, 23 and 24,” the court held.
A-G in court
Present in court for the ruling was the A-G, Mr Godfred Yeboah Dame, who led a team of state prosecutors, including the Director for Public Prosecution (DPP), Mrs Yvonne Atakora Obuobisa.
The trial will continue on May 17, 2021, when the accused persons are expected to open their defences.
Dr Opuni was the CEO of the COCOBOD between November 2013 and January 2017, while Agongo is the CEO of Agricult Ghana Limited, an agrochemicals company.
Agongo is alleged to have used fraudulent means to sell substandard fertiliser to COCOBOD for onward distribution to cocoa farmers, while Dr Opuni is accused of facilitating the act by allowing Agongo’s products not to be tested and certified as required by law.
The two accused persons have pleaded not guilty to all the charges, and are on self-recognisance bail in the sum of GH¢300,000 each