Attorney General (AG) and Minister of Justice Gloria Afua Akuffo has indicated that the former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), Dr Stephen Kwabena Opuni, could face up to a jail term of 25 years if found guilty of receiving GH¢25,000 bribe from businessman Seidu Agongo.
The AG, referring to the suit filed against the former COCOBOD boss, stated that he allegedly received GH¢25,000 bribe to influence the performance of his work in awarding Agricult Ghana Limited, a contract to supply Lithovit fertilizer to COCOBOD.
According to her, although lawyers for the former appointee of the erstwhile John Dramani Mahama administration consider the charge to be a misdemeanor, it is a serious crime that attracts a jail term of up to 25 years.
Ms Gloria Akuffo was reacting to an oral application for bail made by Samuel Codjoe, counsel for Dr Opuni, who believes that the money quoted to have been given to Mr Opuni should be considered a ‘misdemeanor’ although the prosecution deems it a bribe.
The AG subsequently prayed the court to commiserate the terms of bail with the GH¢25,000 allegation leveled against the two.
The National Democratic Congress (NDC) had bused supporters to the court with their leaders behind them.
Dr Opuni and Mr Seidu Agongo are before an Accra High Court for causing financial loss to the state to the tune of GH?217,370,289.22.
The two are facing a total of 27 charges, including defrauding by false pretenses, willfully causing financial loss to the state, money laundering, corruption by a public officer and contravention of the Public Procurement Act.
The two have been granted a GH¢300,000 each self-recognizance bail by the court, presided over by Justice Jackson Clemence Honyegah, a Court of Appeal judge sitting as an additional high court judge, after they had pleaded not guilty to all the 27 charges proffered against them.
As part of the bail conditions, the two are to deposit their Ghanaian passports with the Director General of the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) of the Ghana Police Service.
They are also to write to the Director of the CID any time they wish to travel out of the country.
The Director General of the CID is also to submit a report to the registrar of the court within 48 hours of any activities relating to their travel arrangements.
The Attorney General has assembled lawyers from her department to represent the state.
The prosecution team is made up of the Attorney General herself; Godfred Yeboah Dame & Joseph Kpemga, both deputies; Evelyn Keelson, Chief State Attorney; Frances Holain Ansah, Principal State Attorney; Stella Ohene Appiah, Senior State Attorney; Sefakor Batse, Senior State Attorney; Richard Gyambiby, Senior State Attorney and Peninah Ansah Daquah, Senior State Attorney.
Defence lawyers for Dr Opuni are Samuel Codjoe and Johnson Normesinu.
Seidu Agongo and Agricult Ghana Limited on the other hand, are being represented by Benson Nutsukpui, Nutifafa Nutsukpui, Joel Annor Afari, Emmanuel Kumadey and Jemima Dei.
The facts of the case as presented by the Attorney General, are that Agricult Ghana Limited is a company incorporated under the law of Ghana and its object is general goods, dealers in agricultural equipment and the importation and exportation of farm produce.
According to the AG, on May 15, 2014, COCOBOD forwarded a sample of Lithovit fertilizer submitted by Seidu Agongo on behalf of Agricult Ghana Limited to the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG) for testing and certification.
She said the tests on fertilizers is in two phases – phytotoxicity test on seedlings which takes a period of about six months and a field test on matured cocoa for at least two main cocoa seasons – and a certificate valid only for the year of issue is then issued upon the successful completion of the test.
Ms. Akuffo stated that the certificate is renewable only upon evaluation and laboratory tests that confirm efficacy of the product by CRIG.
She said in the instant case, the phytotoxicity test was conducted on the fertilizer, which was submitted by Agricult Ghana Limited after which a draft report on the effect of the Lithovit Foliar fertilizer on cocoa seedlings was submitted to the Head of Soil Science.
Upon receipt of the draft report, the Head issued a final report recommending Lithovit Foliar fertilizer to be applied to the mature cocoa, even though no field tests had been conducted on the matured cocoa nor had any residual test been performed on the effect of the Lithovit Foliar fertilizer on the cocoa fruits as required.
She stated that investigations revealed that upon assumption of office, Dr. Opuni as CEO, directed, contrary to established practices, that the period for testing fertilizers be shortened.
The AG continued that upon the direction of Dr. Opuni, no field or laboratory tests were conducted for the renewal of certificates for the use of Lithovit Foliar fertilizer during his tenure of office.
According to Ms. Akuffo, Dr. Opuni on February 19, 2014, applied to the Public Procurement Authority (PPA) for approval for Agricult Ghana Limited to be single-sourced to procure Lithovit Liquid fertilizer, although the conditions for single source procurement had not been met.
She noted that in the letter to PPA, Dr. Opuni stated that the price of 700,000 litres of the fertilizer was $19,250,000 equivalent of GH¢43,120,000, even though the substance submitted for testing by Agricult was in powdery form and not liquid; and no price quotation submitted by Seidu Agongo or Agricult as required by law.
She said by a letter dated February 20, 2018, PPA requested Dr Opuni to furnish the authority with the value for money analysis on his request.
The AG said Dr Opuni did not comply with the PPA request but rather in a purported justification for the omission, he, by a letter dated February 25, 2014, misrepresented to PPA that in 2008 Agricult had been pre-contracted for the supply of Lithovit Foliar fertilizer, although he knew that was not true.
She said on that basis, PPA on February 26, 2014 approved COCOBOD’s application for single sourcing of 700,000 litres of Lithovit Foliar fertilizer for Agricult Ghana Ltd.
On December 12, 2014, a letter by Dr. Opuni again applied to PPA for Agricult Ghana Ltd to be single-sourced to procure 700,000 litres of fertilizer for the 2014-15 cocoa season at a price of $19,950.
Pursuant to the approval, three separate agreements dated March 26, 2014; February 6, 2015 and December 31, 2015, were executed by Dr Opuni with Agricult Ghana Ltd.
Ms Gloria Akuffo said investigations revealed that whereas the material safety data sheet accompanying the fertilizer that was originally submitted to CRIG for testing and the field report on the substance described it as powdery, Dr Opuni in a quotation for the supply and the delivery of the fertilizer under the three contracts, referred to the fertilizer as liquid and quoted in litres.
“When the products arrived in Ghana, COCOBOD was required to notify CRIG to take a sample for testing to ensure that the imported products corresponded with the sample that was tested by CRIG,” the AG averred.
According to her, investigation established that the products supplied by Agricult were different from the samples submitted to CRIG for testing.
“In the course of the investigation, test conducted revealed variously that the Lithovit fertilizer supplied by Seidu and Agricult to COCOBOD had been adulterated and did not meet the specified standard and that the product could not be used as foliar nutrients on cocoa.
“Furthermore, the test indicated that the Lithovit which was tested, could be harmful to humans and animals as well as hazardous to water and that the amount of a lithovit found in the sample was insignificant and could compromise the outcome of its application on cocoa,” the AG narrated.
Ms. Akuffo said investigations further revealed that Seidu Agongo deposited GH¢25,000 into the account of Dr Opuni to influence the award of contracts for the supply of Lithovit fertilizer to COCOBOD.
She added that it had also been revealed that contrary to law, Seidu and Agricult do not have a licence to manufacture fertilizer in commercial quantities.
Hearing continues on April 11, 2018.
By Gibril Abdul Razak