A former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), Dr Stephen Kwabena Opuni, has once again failed to have his trial halted, with the Accra High Court dismissing his application for stay of proceedings.
Lawyers for Opuni, who is standing trial with Seidu Agongo , the CEO of Agricult Ghana Limited, over allegations of engaging in unlawful acts that resulted in financial loss of GH¢271.3m to the state in a series of fertiliser deals, had prayed the court to grant the application for stay of proceedings.
They wanted the trial High Court to halt the trial until the Supreme Court determined his application in which he was challenging a decision by the Court of Appeal not to halt the trial.
However, in a ruling today, the court, presided over by Justice Clemence Honyenuga, held that the application for stay of proceedings had no basis but was a “calculated attempt to delay the trial”.
“The application is frivolous, vexatious and incompetent and is thereby dismissed, “ the presiding judge ruled.
On July 10, 2019, during a cross-examination of the third prosecution witness- Dr Yaw Adu-Ampomah, a former Deputy CEO of COCOBOD, lead counsel for Dr Opuni, Mr Samuel Cudjoe, sought to tender a letter through the witness into evidence.
That was, however, rejected by the court after it upheld an objection by the prosecution that the witness was not the author of the document, had no knowledge of it, and, therefore, it would be against the rules of evidence for the document to be tendered through him.
The said letter dated November 20, 2014, according to Mr Cudjoe, was sent from COCOBOD to Agricult and it referred to Lithovit Foliar Fertiliser (LFF), the fertiliser at the centre of the trial as liquid.
The form of the LFF is the major bone of contention in the trial.
It is the case of the prosecution that Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG), the body with the mandate to test agrochemicals and machinery used in cocoa production in the country, never tested any liquid LFF the Dr Opuni-led COCOBOD bought from Mr Agongo’s Agricult Ghana Limited.
The defence, on the other hand, had always maintained that the LFF tested by CRIG was liquid in nature and it was that LFF that CRIG certified for use on cocoa farms.
Stay of proceedings
After the court rejected the tendering of the letter into evidence, lawyers for Opuni filed for stay of proceedings, pending an appeal against the decision at the Court of Appeal, but that was rejected by the trial court on July 31, this year.
Lawyers for the former cocoa czar then filed a stay of proceedings at the Court of Appeal , but that was also dismissed by the second highest court of the land last week.
With the Court of Appeal dismissing the application for stay of proceedings, Opuni went to the Supreme Court to challenge that decision.
However, the rules of court stipulates that he must first seek the permission of the Supreme Court before he can go ahead with his challenge.
His lawyers, therefore, filed an application for special leave (permission) at the apex court in order to be able to challenge the decision of the Court of Appeal.
Making a case, Mr Cudjoe explained to the trial High Court yesterday that he had also filed a stay of proceedings at the Supreme Court for the trial to be halted until the Supreme Court had determined the application for special leave.
He argued that in view of the said application, the High Court must halt the trial until the Supreme Court had determined his application which had been fixed for hearing on December 8, 2019.
Mr Cudjoe supported his oral application for the High Court to halt the trial on Section 1 and 2 of Rule 27 of C.I 19.
“This is the normal practice , this means that a lower court, which is below the Supreme Court, will have to wait until the Supreme Court determines an application for stay,” he argued.
“Back door approach”
In response , the Director for Public Prosecutions (DPP), Mrs Yvonne Atakora Obuobisa, rebutted the arguments of Mr Cudjoe, describing them as “erroneous”.
According to her, C.I 19, which he relied on for his argument, was the rules for the Court of Appeal which was not applicable in the instant matter.
She submitted that since Dr Opuni was yet to get the permission of the Supreme Court in order to challenge the decision of the Court of Appeal, his lawyers could not file an application for the trial to be halted.
It was her further submission that even if the Supreme Court granted that permission, per law and a decision of the Supreme Court, the filing of a stay of proceedings would not lead to the automatic halt to a case.
She described the attempt by Dr Opuni’s lawyers as a way to halt the trial through the “back door”.
“Now the door is closed and he wants to achieve what he had always wanted through the back door,” the DPP argued.
Justice Honyenuga upheld the arguments of the prosecution and, accordingly, dismissed the application .
Hearing continues tomorrow (Friday) for the cross-examination of Dr Adu-Ampomah to continue.