Opuni case: Court of Appeal orders high court to adopt proceedings in previous hearing

Opuni and two others have been on trial since March 2018. They face 27 counts, including charges of causing financial loss to the state

A three-member Court of Appeal panel, presided over Justice Philip Bright Mensah, has by unanimous decision ordered the Accra high court hearing the case of the Republic versus Stephen Kwabena Opuni and two others to adopt proceedings from the trial conducted by the previous judge, who heard the case from 2018 till March 2023.

The decision by the Court of Appeal followed an appeal by the Attorney General, Godfred Yeboah Dame, which challenged the decision of the high court, presided over by Justice Kwesi Anokye Gyimah, not to inherit proceedings from the court presided over by Justice Clemence Honyenuga (now retired), which started the trial in 2018.

By court 

According to the Court of Appeal panel, which included Justice Ernest Owusu Dapaah and Justice Jennifer Abena Dadzie, the decision of Justice Kwesi Anokye Gyimah not to adopt the proceedings from the previous court amounted to a misdirection of the court’s powers.

The court further concluded that considering the circumstances of the case in question (the Republic versus Stephen Kwabena Opuni and two others), justice will be better served if the proceedings are adopted for the new trial judge to continue from where the previous court left off.

“The decision of the high court is referred to this court, and the appeal is allowed in its entirety,” the Court of Appeal ruled.

“The proceedings of the previous court presided over by Justice Clemence Honyenuga be adopted by the high court differently constituted, and the registrar of the high court is ordered to do so accordingly.”

AG on new bill

After the proceedings in court, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Godfred Yeboah Dame told journalists that he believes the Court of Appeal’s decision will ensure fairness to both sides of the case (prosecution and defence).

He also announced that his office has drafted a bill aimed at improving Ghana’s criminal jurisprudence. One of the provisions in the new bill, he said, addresses the challenge of adopting proceedings in criminal trials by other courts, in the event that another trial court or judge is unable to conclude a matter before them.

Listen to Godfred Dame in the audio clip attached below:

Material facts

After more than two years of trial, the prosecution in the case of the former COCOBOD boss Stephen Kwabena Opuni and the businessman Seidu Agongo closed its case against the accused persons on 29 March 2021.

The two accused have been on trial at the high court in Accra since March 2018.

The prosecution, led by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Yvonne Atakora Obuobisa, called seven witnesses to prove the charges against the accused. They were cross-examined extensively by defence lawyers over a period of about six months in some instances.

At the end of the cross-examination on 29 March 2021 by the investigator, Chief Inspector Thomas Prempeh Mercer, the prosecution ended its case.
Dr Opuni and Alhaji Agongo are on trial on charges of causing financial loss to the state to the tune of GHC217,370,289.22. The accusations are in connection with a deal for the purchase and supply of Lithovit fertiliser which the state submits contravened many laws.
The two have pleaded not guilty to all the charges and were admitted to self-recognisance bail in the sum of GHC300,000 each at the start of the trial.
According to the facts of the case, on 10 October 2014, while Dr Opuni was the chief executive of COCOBOD, he agreed to permit his conduct to be influenced by an amount of GHC25,000.
His co-accused, Agongo, has also been accused of “endeavouring to influence the conduct of Stephen Kwabena Opuni in the performance of his duties as the CEO of COCOBOD by offering him an amount of GHC25,000” on 10 October 2014.
One of the main points of contention in the trial is the nature and form of the Lithovit fertiliser that was introduced and supplied to COCOBOD for onward distribution to farmers being different from the product that was tested by the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG).
Witnesses for the prosecution have all insisted that the product that was tested and certified was a powder, but there are records suggesting that COCOBOD, under Dr Opuni’s management, procured Lithovit liquid fertiliser, which was never tested by CRIG, the prosecution says.
In his evidence in chief, the investigator told the court that investigations by the FFU showed that in 2013, Agricult Ghana Ltd, acting through its chief executive, introduced a powder Lithovit foliar fertiliser together with its material safety data sheet to COCOBOD and on 15 May 2013 the product was forwarded to CRIG for testing.

Reporting by Wilberforce Asare in Accra

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