The trial of Dr Stephen Kwabena Opuni, the former Chief Executive Officer of COCOBOD, is set to start afresh after the docket on the case was assigned to a new judge.
Justice Kwasi Anokye Gyimah, the presiding judge of the High Court, Accra, Land Division ‘2’ is the new judge. The first trial was conducted by Justice Clement Honyenugah, a retired Supreme Court Judge.
The Attorney General recommended the docket on the case be referred to the Chief Justice (CJ), Justice Kwasi Anin Yeboah, because Justice Honyenugah was due for retirement.
Dr Opuni and Mr Seidu Agongo, the Managing Director of Agricult Ghana Limited, a fertiliser manufacturing company, are standing trial for alleged procurement breaches and causing financial loss to the state in a fertiliser deal.
On February 23, this year, the Deputy Attorney General (AG) and Minister of Justice, Mr Alfred Tuah-Yeboah, asked Justice Honyenugah to refer the docket to the CJ, noting that the judge would not be able to finish trial of accused due to limited time.
According to the Deputy AG, “it is practically impossible to conclude” the matter in the extremely limited time available.”
In the circumstance “we respectfully pray that my lord refers this matter to the Chief Justice to be reconstituted,” Mr Tuah-Yeboah, told the court on February 23.
Justice Honyenugah retired last year, but he was granted a six-month extension by the CJ, to conclude the trial. The six months expired in March.
The trial of Dr Opuni and Mr Agongo suffered a number of adjournments due to disagreements over comments allegedly made by the trial judge, and deemed by accused as prejudicial and biased.
The accused appealed against several rulings given by the judge at the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court.
In 2021, the Supreme Court by a majority decision ordered the judge to stop conducting proceedings over a possible bias against accused, but the decision was overturned by an enhanced panel in a review motion brought by the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Godfred Yeboah Dame.
In March 2018, the AG charged Dr Opuni and Agongo, for causing financial loss of GH¢271.3 million to the state.
The two have been charged with 27 counts, including allegedly engaging in illegalities leading to the 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 also accused of facilitating the act by allowing Agongo’s products not to be tested and certified, as required by law.
BY MALIK SULLEMANA