The ongoing trial of former COCOBOD CEO, Dr. Stephen Opuni, and businessman Seidu Agongo on Wednesday, recorded yet another shocking moment, when it emerged that Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG), had in several documents dating as far as 2013, described Lithovit Foliar Fertilizer, as a liquid fertilizer and not a powdery fertilizer.
One of the documents which was signed as late as last year, was prepared during the tenure of Dr. Franklin Manu Amoah, when he was re-engaged by the Akufo-Addo government on contract, as the Executive Director for CRIG; a position he had held ahead of his retirement from COCOBOD in 2015.
This came to light, when Lawyer Benson Nutsukpui, counsel for Seidu Agongo and Agricult Ghana Limited, took his turn to cross-examine Dr. Amoah, who maintains that Lithovit Foliar Fertilizer is powdery and not liquid, as claimed by the accused persons and the agro-based company.
According to Lawyer Nutsukpui, there are several letters from Dr. Amoah’s office dating back to 2013, when Lithovit Foliar Fertilizer was submitted to CRIG for testing, indicating that the agro chemical has always been liquid and not powdery as claimed by Dr. Amoah in his evidence-in-chief.
Lawyer Nutsukpui, also revealed to the High Court, Accra presided over by Justice Clemence Honyenuga that Agricult, has in its possession letters dated 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016, in which CRIG, regularly called for retesting and re-certification of Lithovit liquid fertilizer.
He described these letters as generic bearing the same content, but different dates.
Lawyer Nutsukpi produced, one of the letters dated 2017 signed on behalf of Dr. Amoah by Rev. Father E.O.K. Oddoye, in his capacity as the Deputy Executive Director of CRIG. This letter also described Lithovit Foliar Fertilizer as liquid.
But in his response, Dr. Amoah, told the court that his deputy, who communicated with Agricult Ghana Limited in connection with the testing and certification of Lithovit Foliar Fertilizer, did not have any knowledge in soil and plant science, adding he was an expert in animal science.
Dr. Amoah, said he had verbally “interrogated” Rev. Father Oddoye over the description of Lithovit Foliar Fertilizer as liquid and the man of God, had explained to him that he “interchange” foliar with liquid. He told the court that his deputy subsequently apologized to him.
However, Lawyer Nutsukpui, quickly countered Dr. Amoah’s claim, saying CRIG, had written another letter to Agricult Ghana Limited, asking the company to assist it create awareness on some agro products, including Lithovit Foliar Fertilizer among cocoa farmers, and in that letter also CRIG had again described the fertilizer as “liquid”.
It came out that one Dr. Opoku Ameyaw in his capacity as Deputy Executive Director of CRIG, in 2014 wrote to Agricult Ghana Limited, demanding a retesting and re-certification of its fertilizer, he also described Lithovit as a liquid fertilizer.
Dr. Opoku Ameyaw, was the Deputy Executive Director, when the first test was done on the Lithovit Fertilizer and certificate was issued and signed by Dr. Amoah.
Interestingly, Dr. Opoku Agyemang, just like Rev. Father E.O.K. Oddoye, also signed on behalf of Dr. Amoah at the time.
Dr. Amoah, admitted being part of Akufo-Addo side of the transition team as well as a team of former workers of Cocoa Board, tasked to investigate the procurement of agro equipment and chemicals, including Lithovit Fertilizer by the previous management led by Dr. Opuni, he mentioned Dr. Yaw Adu Ampomah, as the chairman of that committee.
Dr. Amoah, disclosed to the court that members of the investigative committee were later re-engaged by the Akufo-Addo government at COCOBOD, although most of them were on various years of retirement at the time.
Joseph Boahen Aidoo, who was a member of the transition team, was later appointed CEO of COCOBOD, while Dr. William Mensah, was brought back from retirement and made Deputy CEO COCOBOD in-charge of Finance and Administration.
Nana Owusu Oduro, was also brought back from retirement and made Deputy CEO of COCOBOD in-charge of Operations.
Dr. Amoah, became the Executive Director of CRIG, while the man who led the investigation, Dr. Adu Ampomah, became Deputy Chief Executive Agronomy and Quality Control next in line to the Chief Executive.
William Agyapong Quaittoo, also member of the committee, became Deputy Minister of Agriculture in the Akufo-Addo government, but had to resign from his position after passing a tribal comment against Northerners in the heat of the fall armyworm outbreak last year.
He is still serving in as Member of Parliament (MP) for Akim Oda in the Eastern Region on the ticket of the governing New Patriotic Party (NPP).
COCOBOD, has been under the Agric Ministry since Akufo-Addo government came to office.
When Dr. Amoah was asked whether the Dr. Adu Ampomah committee’s preliminary findings was that strange procedures were used in the procurement of the agro chemicals, he responded he wouldn’t know, because he hadn’t seen the report.
Asked again, whether it was the Dr. Adu Ampomah’s committee claim, that high lost was incurred in the procurement of these chemicals, he emphasized that he wouldn’t know, since he hadn’t seen the report by the investigative team.
Asked by Lawyer Nutsukpi, whether the committee came to the conclusion that a financial loss had been caused to the state? Dr. Amoah, reiterated he wasn’t preview to the final report, therefore, could not say that conclusion was reached.
Again, asked whether the Adu-Ampomah committee recommended any matter to the EOCO for investigation, Dr. Amoah, repeated he is not preview to the final report, therefore can’t confirm.
Asked whether the transition team took statement from any employee of COCOBOD during its work, he responded that most senior employees, including Dr. Opuni, were asked to write statement to the committee.
Before Lawyer Nutsukpi, the prosecution witness under cross examination by Dr. Opuni’s counsel, Samuel Cudjoe, had earlier told the court that Dr. Francis Baah, Mr. A.A Afrifa and Dr.Anim Kwarpong all soil scientists, had at various times seen the fertilizer in question, described it as liquid, tested it and affirmed it efficacy. He said he had no doubt about their expertise.
Dr. Amoah, admitted putting cover letter on the reports of these scientists and subsequently issuing certificate in approval for the product.
He, however, said he did so on his “blindside”, and explained “blindside” to mean something he did after he had “interrogated” the scientists and they explained the content of their report on the fertilizer to him.
Dr. Amoah told the High Court that at a meeting with Dr. Opuni sometime in January 2014, with Dr. Francis Baah, Dr. AAAfrifa and Mr. Kutuatsi present, the newly appointed COCOBOD boss – Dr. Opuni – ordered a truncation of the testing of the Lithovit Foliar Fertilizer and subsequently ordered its procurement.
He said that Dr. Opuni, had explained to the meeting that, as a scientist himself, he had practiced a similar thing at Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) and made available generic drugs to the public.
But Lawyer Cudjoe discounted this saying Mr. Kutuatsi was employed by COCOBOD in April of 2014, therefore, could not have been part of any meeting held in January 2014 at the behest of Dr. Opuni, but Dr. Amoah insisted Mr. Kutuatsi, was employed in the early part of 2014, he however, could not remember the exact date of the said meeting, saying there were several meetings in January 2014.
Mr Kutuatsi, according to Lawyer Cudjoe, was in the employed of Produce Buying Company (PBC) as at January 22, 2014, when Dr. Amoah, issued his cover letter on the report by the scientists at CRIG and supported it with certificates of approval confirming Lithovit Liquid Fertilizer, and insisted Mr Kutuatsi, could not have been in the said meeting when Dr. Opuni gave the allege order to truncate the testing of the fertilizer.
Dr. Opuni’s lawyer accused Dr. Amoah of being untruthful and evasive in his testimonies to the court on the dates and events,but Dr. Amoah rebutted saying “My Lord I am not being evasive or untruthful to the court”reiterating that several meetings were held one of which Mr. Kutuatsi and Dr. Baah were present.
To this Dr. Opuni’s lawyer shot back saying the January 21, 2014, meeting where his client allegedly directed that fertilizer be approved and purchased couldn’t have happened because the certificate issued Agricult Ghana Limited by Dr. Amoah signature was dated January 20, 2014, adding “this is like putting the cart before the horse”.
With cover letter on the report by the scientist whose integrities he several times vouched for during the cross examination and the certificates bearing his signatures in approval of Lithovit Liquid Fertilizer, Dr. Amoah, was asked whether he sought to mislead his employers to commit fraud by approving the said fertilizer, he denied, adding his recommendation was not on scientific basis.
In March, 2018, the Attorney-General (A-G) charged Dr. Opuni, who was the CEO of COCOBOD from November 2013 to January 12, 2018, and a businessman, Seidu Agongo, for allegedly causing financial loss of Gh¢271.3million to the state.
The two were slapped with 27 charges for allegedly engaging in illegalities in a series of fertiliser transactions which led to the procurement and distribution of substandard fertilizer to farmers.
Dr.Opuni and Agongo have, however, pleaded not guilty to all the charges and have been granted bail in the sum of Gh¢300,000 each by the Accra High Court.
Dr. Opuni and is lawyer, have maintained that CRIG indeed tested liquid fertilizer and not a powdery fertilizer, adding that it was only Dr. Amoah who claims that CRIG tested powdery fertilizer against the words of Mr. A.A. Afrifa, a former head of the Soil Science Department at CRIG, and Dr. Kwapong, a former head of CRIG.
Lawyer Nutsukpi continues his cross examination today.