The Attorney General has applied to the high court hearing the case of the Republic versus Stephen Opuni, Seidu Agongo and Agricult Ghana Ltd (the COCOBOD case) to halt proceedings and refer the case to the Chief Justice, Justice Kwasi Anin Yeboah, to allow him to appoint a new judge.
The Attorney General’s request comes ten days before the expiration of a six-month extended warrant given to Justice Clemence Jackson Honyenuga, a retired justice of the Supreme Court who started the trial in 2018 and has presided over it to date.
The deputy attorney general Alfred Tuah-Yeboah, together with the chief state attorney, Evelyn Keelson, told Justice Honyenuga on Thursday (23 February 2023) that the time left to complete the case and deliver judgment, under the warrant granted by the Chief Justice, makes it practically impossible for him to complete his mandate.
“Without prejudice to the pending motion, we would like to make an observation. Per Article 144 (11) of the 1992 constitution, My Lord was given a limited mandate to conclude the hearing of this matter.
“Today is 23 February 2023, and the time left for that mandate to expire is extremely limited. It is limited in the sense that the first accused person has not closed his case for the second and third accused persons to testify and call their witnesses.” Deputy Attorney General Tuah-Yeboah said in open court.
“Considering the time left, it is practically impossible for this matter to be concluded within that time. In these circumstances, we respectfully pray that My Lord refers this matter to the Chief Justice for this court to be reconstituted.
“This submission is being made in the interest of justice and fairness. This is our humble submission,” Tuah-Yeboah said.
The lawyer for the first accused, Samuel Cudjoe, did not oppose the request by the deputy attorney general on behalf of the state, noting that he has “nothing useful to add” to the application.
In the same vein, the lawyer for the second and third accused, Nutifafa Nutsukpui, said the decision by the state is highly commendable.
He then called on Justice Honyenuga to grant the request in the interest of justice.
After hearing the parties in the case, Justice Honyenuga adjourned sitting to 1 March 2023, to await a decision of the Supreme Court in one of several applications by the accused which are pending at the court.
In March 2018, the state charged Stephen Kwabena Opuni, a former chief executive officer of COCOBOD, Seidu Agongo, the managing director of Agricult Ghana Ltd, and Agricult Ghana Ltd with causing financial loss of GHC271.3 million to the state.
Dr Opuni and Alhaji Agongo are on trial for alleged criminal offences in a fertiliser deal. The two have been charged on 27 counts, including allegedly engaging in illegalities leading to distribution of substandard fertiliser to cocoa farmers.
Agongo is alleged to have used fraudulent means to sell substandard fertiliser to COCOBOD for onward distribution to cocoa farmers. Dr Opuni is accused of facilitating the act by allowing Agongo’s products not to be tested and certified, as required by law.
According to the facts of the case, on October 10 2014, while he was the chief executive officer of COCOBOD, Dr Opuni agreed to permit his office to be influenced with an amount of GHC25,000.
Alhaji Agongo has also been accused of endeavouring to influence Dr Opuni’s conduct in performing his duties as the chief executive of COCOBOD by offering him GHC25,000 on 10 October 2014.