April 24, 2024

In the ongoing trial of former COCOBOD CEO Dr. Stephen Opuni and two others, the credibility of the state’s star witness, Dr. Franklin Manu Amoah, came under fire as revelations surfaced regarding his alleged breach of laid-down procedures at the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG).

Dr. Amoah, the former Executive Director of CRIG, who is a key witness in the 7-year criminal trial, is facing accusations of prematurely issuing a certificate for Lithovit Foliar Fertilizer.

It also came to light by way of documentary proof during proceedings on Monday, February 5, 2024, that unilateral action by the state witness has ironically been the power fueling the prosecution’s case and the biggest resolve behind the 7-year criminal trial.

The document, a letter from the CRIG, which was not part of the evidence before the court had to be subpoenaed and brought by the current Deputy Executive Director of CRIG in charge of Cocoa and Cola, Dr. Richard Adu-Acheampong, who was also at CRIG as a senior research scientist when Dr. Amoah circumvented procedures.

This revelation has raised questions about the legitimacy of the prosecution’s case against Dr. Opuni, businessman Seidu Agongo, and Agricult Ghana Limited.

What appears to have blown the mind of the court was how Dr. Amoah signed that certificate, when he had not received any directive from the then COCOBOD Chief Executive, Dr Opuni, asking CRIG to follow the necessary procedure for the issuance of a certificate to Agricult Ghana Limited, producers of Lithovit Foliar Fertiliser.

The court was astonished at how Dr. Amoah signed the certificate without prior authorization from COCOBOD and before the official process had even begun at CRIG.

The High Court in Accra got to know with all certainty that Dr. Amoah signed the said certificate for Lithovit seven clear days before the CRIG copy of the letter from COCOBOD, to start the issuance process, was even received.

Dr. Adu-Acheampong, in court on Monday, provided further insight during his testimony. Handwritten minutes on a letter from CRIG exposed Dr. Amoah’s actions, indicating that he signed the certificate without waiting for a formal request from Agricult, the producer of Lithovit.

The court heard that Dr. Amoah’s actions contradicted the advice of the Committee for Testing Chemicals and Machines (CTCM), responsible for authorizing the issuance of certificates.

Despite the committee’s advice to wait for a formal request, Dr. Amoah signed the certificate prematurely, sidelining the established procedures.

As the proceedings unfolded, it became evident that Dr. Amoah’s actions occurred before CRIG received the official communication authorizing the certificate’s issuance.

Questions now arise about why Dr. Amoah bypassed laid-down procedures, signed the certificate without a formal request, but later shifted blame onto Dr. Opuni during his testimony in 2018.

The trial, which includes 27 charges such as defrauding by false pretense, willfully causing financial loss to the state, corruption by public officers, and contravention of the Public Procurement Act in the purchase of Lithovit liquid fertiliser between 2014 and 2016, continues to captivate attention.

Legal observers note that the evidence presented by Dr. Opuni’s witnesses remains unchallenged, casting doubt on the prosecution’s case, but as to whether Dr. Opuni will testify is yet to be confirmed as the trial progresses.

The prosecution has in court latched onto Dr. Amoah’s claims and portrayed Dr. Opuni as having shortened the testing time to unduly fast-track the certification process for Lithovit to the benefit of Seidu Agongo’s Agricult.

But handwritten minutes on a letter in the custody of CRIG rather showed the first prosecution witness, Dr. Amoah, signing the certificate for Lithovit Foliar Fertilizer without authorization.

CRIG’s official record indicates that a letter dated January 21, 2014, from Dr. Opuni in his capacity as the COCOBOD Chief Executive to Agricult, copied to CRIG to communicate COCOBOD’s approval for CRIG to consider issuing a certificate on Lithovit Foliar Fertilizer, was received and stamped by CRIG on January 29, 2014.

But CRIG’s copy of the letter, which was hitherto hidden from the court but eventually tendered through Dr. Adu-Acheampong, who was subpoenaed by counsel for Dr. Opuni, revealed that Dr. F.M. Amoah was advised against issuing the certificate until a request was made by Agricult, which was the norm.

However, unknowing to members of the Committee for Testing Chemicals and Machines (CTCM) clothed with the power to authorize the executive director of CRIG to sign any certificate for a product, Dr. Amoah had already signed the certificate for Lithovit foliar fertilizer even before he asked the team of scientists at CTCM to work on it.

This action by Dr. Amoah made nonsense of the CTCM’s advice, and neither did it occur to him to withdraw the certificate he prematurely signed, but he went ahead to work with it on the blindside of the committee made up of eminent scientists.

The court presided over by Justice Aboagye Tandoh heard that Dr. Amoah signed the certificate on January 22, 2014, meanwhile the letter from COCOBOD addressed to CRIG was received and stamped at CRIG on January 29, 2014.

Dr. Richard Adu-Acheampong, giving his evidence in chief, was asked to take the court through CRIG’s copy of the letter, now marked exhibit 131.

“The first minute is from the executive director [Dr. F.M. Amoah] to the chairman of the CTCM; it reads ‘referred for your information and necessary action’, this was on the 29th of January 2014,” he told the court.

He added, “The second minute, which is minute numbered three, was addressed to me, and it reads, ‘Please provide a certificate if requested for by Agricult Company Limited’. This was on the 30th of January 2014. The letter got to me on the same day.”

“After this letter got to you, did anything happen”, Lawyer Samuel Codjoe, lead counsel for Dr. Opuni, asked the 10th defence witness.

Dr. Adu-Acheampong replied, “Yes, my Lord, I checked if there was a request from the company for the certificate, and there was no request. So I minuted the letter back to the chairman. My Lord, this is what I wrote: ‘an official request for a certificate on Lithovit has not been received from Agricult Company Limited. Let’s wait until they have made a request to the executive director. I signed on the same day, January 30, 2014. My Lord, this is the fourth numbered minute from me to the chairman of the CTCM. The next minute, which is minute numbered five, was from the chairman to the executive director.”

The witness further pointed out, “Minute fives [from the chairman of CTCM] states, ‘We are awaiting the formal request from Agricult Company Limited to issue the certificate please’. This was dated 31st of March 2014.”

When the letter was sent back to Dr. Amoah with the minuted response from the chairman of the CTCM, Mr. A. Y. Akrofi, Dr. F.M. Amoah on 2nd April 2014, indicated on the letter again that “minute five noted. No objection please.”

“And from the minute what Dr. F.M. Amoah did not object to was that, if the company requests to the CTCM you will issue the certificate,” Counsel for Seidu Agongo, Benson Nutsukpui, asked the witness, to which he responded, “Yes, my Lord.”

“Nowhere in all the minutes, Dr. F.M. Amoah indicated to the CTCM that he had already issued the certificate,” he was further asked. The witness answered, “Not by this letter.”

What is currently begging for answers is why Dr. Amoah signed the certificate days before he even received official communication authorizing him to consider the issuance of the certificate; it is also mind-boggling why the Executive Director would ignore laid-down procedures to sign the certificate without a request from any company, which is the normal practice.

Also confusing is his refusal to wait for the advice of the CTCM, and years on, will conveniently shift his conduct on Dr. Opuni when he, Dr. Amoah, testified in court in 2018.

Meanwhile, there is no indication that Dr. Opuni will mount the witness box to testify in the case against him after the overwhelming evidence by the 10 witnesses, which observers, including legal luminaries, believe is worthwhile concerning all the charges slapped.

Interestingly, the state made available seven witnesses.

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