OPEN YOUR DEFENCE AG TO OPUNI, AGONGO
The Attorney General’s Department has said they have adduced sufficient evidence to compel former COCOBOD Chief Executive, Dr. Stephen Kwabena Opuni, and private businessman, Seidu Agongo, and his Agricult Ghana Limited, to open their respective defence in their ongoing trial.
The AG is contending that state prosecutors were able to prove all the elements in the 27 charges levelled against Dr. Opuni as well as Agongo and Agricult, who are standing trial for causing financial loss to the state.
The AG is therefore urging an Accra High Court hearing the case to dismiss the applications for submission of no case filed by the accused persons and order them to open their defence.
The prosecution, in responding to the submissions of no case filed by lawyers for the accused persons, said it was able to establish a prima facie case against all three accused persons through their seven (7) witnesses they called to testify at the trial.
The prosecution is contending that contrary to assertions made in the accused persons’ submissions of no case applications, the evidences of the prosecution witnesses were not in any way discredited under cross-examination, and their evidence remain credible and reliable.
Dr. Opuni, Seidu Agongo and Agricult Ghana Limited are standing trial for 27 charges of causing financial loss to the state, defrauding by false pretences, conspiracy to commit crime, abetment of crime, money laundering, corruption by public officer and contravention of the PPA Act.
Together, they are accused of causing a financial loss of over GH¢217 million to the state through the sale and purchase of the controversial Lithovit Liquid Fertiliser, which according to the prosecution, was never tested.
The prosecution, led by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Yvonne Atakora Obuobisa, called seven witnesses to prove the charges against the accused persons who were extensively cross-examined by defence lawyers, some spanning about six months.
The prosecution’s response filed by Mrs. Evelyn Keelson, a Chief State Attorney, dissected the evidence of each of the witnesses in relation to the charges as well as each of the charges, and explained why the accused persons have cases to answer.
Defrauding By False Pretences
The prosecution in its submission on the three counts of defrauding by false pretences is insisting that they led sufficient evidence to show that Agricult Ghana Limited through its CEO, Seidu Agongo, with intent to defraud, made representations to officials of COCOBOD that they were supplying them with Lithovit Foliar Fertiliser manufactured in Germany by Zeovite, GMBH, “which representations he knew at the time to be false,” adding “By this false representations, A2 (Agongo) and A3 (Agricult) succeeded in obtaining the consent of COCOBOD through its officials to part with various sums of money.”
The prosecution said it led evidence to show that the Lithovit that was tested at the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG) in May 2013 was powdery and totally different from the liquid that was supplied to COCOBOD.
It further said that Agongo and his company knew that the only way they could market fertiliser in Ghana was presenting it for testing at CRIG and receiving approval to market same, which is why he submitted the powdery Lithovit for testing and waited to receive approval before setting out to market the product.
“Clearly, A2 (Agongo) and A3 (Agricult) had represented in writing and by their conduct that they were supplying COCOBOD with Lithovit fertiliser from Germany, which had been tested and approved. Yet when it got to the time to supply the product, they supplied to COCOBOD on all three occasions a completely different product manufactured by themselves in Ghana and which had not been tested.”
The prosecution stated that “A2 and A3 knew that apart from making those representations in the manner made, there was no way they would have been paid those monies for the substances supplied to COCOBOD. They knew very well that if they had told COCOBOD that what they were supplying them was liquid substance manufactured here in Ghana by themselves and the fact that the substance had not been tested by CRIG, there was no way COCOBOD would have paid for the supplies. In fact, this is what happened in 2017 when they got to know the truth.”
The prosecution added that the accused person is not exonerated by the argument that if due diligence had been done by the officials of COCOBOD, the fraud would not have been successful.
Abetment Of Crime
On the three counts of abetment of defrauding by false pretences levelled against Dr. Opuni, the prosecution contended that they led evidence to show that “Dr. Opuni had shortened the testing period for agrochemicals, claiming monopoly in the system and the fact that the testing period was unduly long.”
It insisted that Dr. Opuni knew about the form and nature of the Lithovit Foliar Fertiliser and had knowledge of the CRIG report on the testing conducted on the fertilizer, and he was the one who forwarded the report to Agricult informing them about COCOBOD’s approval of CRIG’s recommendations “on the use of Lithovit Foliar Fertiliser on cocoa and asked them to contact CRIG for any assistance.”
According to the prosecution, Dr. Opuni on February 25, 2014 wrote to Agricult through Agongo “requesting for quotation with terms and conditions for the supply and delivery of 700,000 litres of Lithovit fertiliser when he knew that no liquid Lithovit fertiliser had been tested by CRIG and approved, and that what was tested and approved was Lithovit Foliar Fertiliser in powdered from Zeovita. The Lithovit fertiliser which was approved had been clearly described in the report he approved.”
The prosecution also stated how Dr. Opuni on February 25, 2014 wrote to PPA claiming that the Lithovit Liquid Fertiliser Agricult was going to supply to COCOBOD had been tested and tried by CRIG when no such testing had been conducted.
“My Lord, all these are deliberate acts done by A1 (Dr. Opuni) to facilitate and purposely aid A2 and A3 to perpetuate fraud on COCOBOD by supplying a worthless liquid substance purported to be Lithovit Foliar Fertiliser which was not,” the prosecution fired.
All three accused persons have been charged with wilfully causing financial loss to the state and the prosecution is saying it led evidence to establish that the actions of the accused persons have led to the payments of GH¢217,345,288.72 – GH¢43,120,000 in 2014, GH¢75,289,314.72 between February and November 2015 and GH¢98,934,974 between October 2015 and March 2016 to Agricult Ghana Limited.
The prosecution said they were able to show that Dr. Opuni committed COCOBOD to three contracts for the supply of a liquid substance that was not fit to be used as fertiliser on cocoa, and was actually harmful to cocoa.
“The effect of A1’s actions is that he committed huge sums of money from COCOBOD’s coffers and by extension the state, to procure a substance which had not been tested and approved by COCOBOD and which he therefore, had no authority to purchase. The effect of his action is that the liquid substance he procured was found by two forensic reports at GSA (Ghana Standards Authority) and UGCD (University of Ghana Chemistry Department) as well as an analysis by the soil science division of CRIG to be substantially worthless.”
The prosecution added that the fact that the various procurements were approved by PPA does not in any way exonerate Dr. Opuni as PPA relied heavily on the false assertions and justifications he made on Agricult and Lithovit Liquid Fertiliser.
On the part of Agongo and his company, the prosecution said that it has led evidence to show that the fertiliser submitted by the two for testing at CRIG was a fine powder and was manufactured by Zeovita in Germany.
It said however, that A2 and A3 marketed a completely different substance called Agricult Lithovit Foliar Fertiliser +5% Urea which is different in nature, form and chemical composition.
“This strange substance was what A3 through A2 supplied to COCOBOD for the 2013/2014, 2014/2015 and 2015/2016 cocoa seasons. The prosecution has led ample evidence in court to show that this substance which was supplied in liquid form was manufactured by A3 in their warehouse located on the Spintex Road, Accra,” it added.
Contravention Of PPA Act
Dr. Opuni has been charged with seven counts of contravention of sections of the Public Procurement Authority (PPA) Act and the prosecution said that contrary to prescribed conditions for single procurement, Dr. Opuni failed to attach price quotation to his letter dated February 19, 2014, which was seeking permission from PPA to single source the supply of fertilisers including Lithovit.
It added that Dr. Opuni “in February 2014, February 2015 and December 2015 indirectly influenced the procurement process to obtain unfair advantage in the award of contracts to Agricult Ghana Limited A1 by all the false assertions and justifications made to PPA in respect of purchase of Lithovit Liquid Fertiliser from A3, indirectly influenced the procurement process in order to obtain unfair advantage in the award of the three contracts.”
The prosecution said that once there is evidence of the predicate offences of defrauding by false pretences against Agongo and his company, there is evidence that the proceeds of his crimes amount to money laundering.
Dr. Opuni has been charged with corruption by a public officer while Agongo has been charged with corruption of a public officer, and the prosecution said there is evidence to show that on October 10, 2014, he received a deposit of GH¢25,000 in his Ecobank bank account made by Agongo.
The prosecution said it was able to prove that both Dr. Opuni and Agongo had no reasonable explanations for the deposit which was made at the time Dr. Opuni had awarded Agongo’s company a contract to supply COCOBOD with untested and unapproved fertiliser.
The prosecution says it has provided evidence of how Agongo and his company manufactured fertilisers in large quantities when they are not registered to do so but only registered to import and distribute Lithovit fertiliser in powdered form from Germany.
Again, the prosecution pushed that Agongo and his company sold a purported fertiliser which had a false and misleading label, saying, “The labelling of the fertiliser A2 and A3 sold to COCOBOD as Agricult Lithovit Foliar Fertilizer +5% Urea, this labelling was done in a manner that portrayed the fertiliser as Lithovit Foliar Fertiliser.”