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General News of Thursday, 25 February 2021

Source: www.ghanaweb.com

COCOBOD trial: CID investigator coached witnesses to write statements

Chief Inspector Thomas Prempeh Mercer, the investigator in the trial of Dr Stephen Opuni, the former COCOBOD boss and two others, has told the High Court hearing the case that persons who appeared before the police CID were specifically directed on what to and what not to write in their statements.

He told the High Court presided over by Justice Clemence Jackson Honyenuga, Justice of the Supreme Court sitting as an additional high court judge on Monday, February 22, during cross-examination that, the two persons who once headed the procurement unit of COCOBOD – James Mbawini Akutek and Bernice Ashun – were “interrogated extensively” at the CID headquarters about the Lithovit fertilizer, but they were asked not to write anything about Lithovit in their various statements.

Being cross-examined by Counsel for the accused, Samuel Cudjoe, on a letter dated February 25, 2014, Chief Inspector Mercer who works at the Financial Forensics Unit (FFU) of the CID and appeared as the 7th prosecution witness, said James Mbawini Akutek and Bernice Ashun, during interrogation, denied knowledge of that letter addressed to the Public Procurement Authority (PPA) though it emanated from the Procurement Unit of COCOBOD at the time Bernice was the Manager.

Samuel Cudjoe said, “I am putting it to you that if indeed these two persons renounced any knowledge you would have insisted that they put this thing in writing.”

He responded: “My Lord, that is not so.”

Chief Inspector Mercer, according to Angelonline report monitored by GhanaWeb explained: “My Lord, that is also why you will see that at the Police station, a witness, or a suspect sometimes is made to give several further statements. I am saying so in respect of Bernice to state my case that because we had further interrogated her and was not writing all that we expected from her, she did not put down having knowledge about the letters requesting for quotations.”

Chief Inspector Thomas Prempeh Mercer has been under cross-examination and appears to be suggesting to the court that persons the CID interrogated made certain verbal allegations against the accused persons, but did not write the same in their statements.

He, however, chose to propagate in court what he allegedly claimed was adduced through verbal interrogation.

Dr Stephen Opuni and businessman Seidu Agongo are facing 27 charges including willfully causing financial loss to the State and contravention of the Public Procurement Act.

They have both pleaded not guilty to the charges and are on a GH¢300,000 self-recognisance bail each.

Find below excerpts of the cross-examination:

Q: In your evidence in this court, you stated that you also dealt with procurement infractions.

A: That is so My Lord.

Q: In fact, you took statements from the officials in the procurement unit of COCOBOD.

A: My Lord, that is so.

Q: Can you have a look at this from James Mbawini Akutek?

A: Yes, My Lord.

Counsel: My Lord, we want to tender the statement through him. Statement tendered not objected to, accepted and marked as Exhibit 59.

Q: On the sixth line from the beginning, he states that the procurement process is initiated by the Procurement Unit after an approved request from management to procure for a particular year is received.

A: Yes, My Lord.

Q: And he continues that the procurement unit writes letters to the companies issued with CRIG certificate to request them to submit this document, isn’t it?

A: Yes, My Lord.

Q: Then he states that upon receipt of the documents the procurement unit writes letters to the procurement authority but signed by the Chief Executive, isn’t it?

A: That is so My Lord.

Q: Then if you read the tenth line from the bottom it says upon approval of the request the procurement unit also writes letters with respect to the notification of award. He said they prepare the letters, but it is signed by the Chief Executive.

A: My Lord, that is so. And My Lord, I am saying that is what Mr James Mbawini Akutek was telling Police CID as the normal procedure that all procurement is supposed to go through but not in the case of Lithovit Foliar Fertilizer which is in dispute here.

Q: Can you show me on this statement where James Mbawini states that Lithovit did not follow this procedure?

A: My Lord, there is nowhere in this statement that states that Lithovit did not follow this procedure. But My Lord. I am saying that James Mbawini in writing this statement at the CID was telling us the procedure in procurement processes. My Lord. I am following up in saying that in the case of Lithovit it is not so, but not that he wrote that in the statement.

A: Our investigation revealed that in the case of Lithovit the process was not followed.

Q: In fact, you also received a statement from the then Procurement Manager, Bernice Ashun.

A: My Lord, this is one of the statements of Bernice Ashun.

Counsel: My Lord, we want to tender the statement through him. Document tendered not objected to, accepted and marked as Exhibit 60.

Q: On page 2 of her statement of Exhibit 60, she also states from line 11 from the top that the procurement unit prepares letters for each company to the PPA to sole source all chemicals, isn’t it?

A: My Lord, that is so.

Q: Then on line tenth from the bottom, she also states that it is the procurement unit which prepares letters of notification of award for the signature of the CEO, isn’t it?

A: My Lord, that is so. That is what she has written here.

Q: And she also states that it is the procurement unit together with the legal department which prepares the contract document, isn’t it?

A: My Lord, that is also so.

Q: And she said that after these contract documents are prepared, the contract is signed by the CEO.

A: My Lord, that is so. But My Lord, in all that counsel has said in the case of this Exhibit 60 it is also the proper procedure or the laid down procedure that must be followed. My Lord, in our investigation, My Lord, we found to the contrary that this laid down procedure in the case of Lithovit was not applied. My Lord, an example of this is the 25 February 2014 requesting for quotation from Agricult Ghana Ltd. That letter was not generated from the procurement department and up to today we have not found the one who generated that letter for A1 to sign.

Q: In fact, both Bernice’s statement, i.e., Exhibit 60, and Mbawini’s statement, Exhibit 59, does not state that this 25 February letter did not follow the normal procedure, isn’t it?

A: My Lord, that is not so.

Q: Can you please point out in both Exhibit 59 and 60 where they state that the 25 February 2014, letter did not follow that procedure.

A: My Lord, both statements talk about the procedures. And My Lord, I have gone ahead to say that in the course of our investigation we found the contrary and I have explained that to the court.

Q: You also took another statement from Bernice on the 18th of January, 2018, isn’t it?

A: Yes, My Lord. It is so.

Q: That is what you have in your hand?

A: That is so My Lord.

Counsel: My Lord, we tender the statement through him. Statement tendered not objected to, accepted and marked as Exhibit 61.

Q: Chief Inspector Prempeh, on the 8th line from the bottom Bernice states that when it relates to the procurement of fertilizers, that is, various agrochemicals, the list comes from Hi-Tech and CODAPEC.

A: Yes, My Lord.

Q: Then from the third line from the bottom, she states that this approved list states the type of agrochemical to be procured, the quantities and the companies from which they will be procured.

A: Yes, My Lord, that is so.

Q: Then from the 5th line from the bottom it also states that the procurement unit write letters to each company requesting the submission of a valid CRIG certificate, EPA Certificate, GRA Certificate and SSNIT certificate where applicable, isn’t it?

A: My Lord that is so. That is what she has written here.

Q: Then on the third page, the first line, she states that upon receipt of all these, a request letter for approval to sole-source the product is written by the procurement unit, but signed by the CE, isn’t it?

A: Yes, My Lord, it is so.

Q: Then on line 20 of the said page three, she also states that the unit will prepare notification of award letters to the individual companies requesting that they submit a performance guarantee.

A: My Lord, that is so.

Q: Then from line 17th from the bottom, she also states that after the legal department had okayed the performance guarantee a draft contract is prepared by the procurement unit and sent to the legal department for vetting, isn’t it?

A: My Lord, that is so.

Q: Then she also states that if the draft contract is approved by the legal department then the CE would sign on behalf of COCOBOD and witnessed by the Director of Finance, isn’t it?

A: My Lord, that is also so. But My Lord, I have stated in this court that these two documents from Bernice and Mbawini, are supposed to be the procedure. My Lord, in fact in the case of Lithovit, it was not so. That is why in her statement she never talked about Lithovit. She was telling us about the procedures that existed before.

Q: In fact, from her statement can you tell us which partly states that in the case of Lithovit the normal procedure was not followed?

A: My Lord. in all her statements that she gave to police, she never mentioned Lithovit. And so, My Lord, all she spoke about was the practice that existed until 2014.

Q: When witnesses are writing their statements, you interrogate them at the Police station before they write their statements.

A: My Lord, we interrogate them extensively or interview them as the case may be.

Q: I am putting it to you that during your extensive interrogation the issue of Lithovit and its procurement would definitely have come up.

A: Yes, My Lord. The procurement of Lithovit did come up, but the witness will speak about it if she has knowledge about procurement of Lithovit Foliar Fertilizer, but she will not speak to it if he or she has no knowledge about its procurement.

Q: And I am putting it to you that if indeed, the procurement unit did not write all procurement letters to the PPA in connection with Lithovit either Bernice Ashun or James Akutek would definitely have stated that.

A: My Lord, this is not so and it goes to affirm my statement that they can only speak to the issue if they have knowledge of it, that is Lithovit.

Q: And as the Investigator, who investigated this matter you would definitely have shown them the letter of the 25th day of February 2014, did you?

A: Yes, My Lord. It is on this basis that I am saying that the Procurement Unit has no knowledge about the 25th February 2014 letter requesting for quotation from Agricult Ghana Ltd.

Q: I am putting it to you that if indeed these two persons renounced any knowledge you would have insisted that they put this thing in writing.

A: My Lord. That is not so.

Q: So, did you ask them not to write it, i.e. that they knew nothing about the 25th day of February 2014 letter after they had in your interrogation and or interview denied having any knowledge or being the authors of this letter?

A: My Lord, that is exactly so. My Lord that is also why you will see that at the Police station, a witness or a suspect sometimes is made to give several further statements. I am saying so with respect to Bernice to state my case that because we had further interrogated her and was not writing all that we expected from her, she did not put down having knowledge about the letters requesting for quotations.

Q: In fact, you are aware that the 1st accused ceased being CEO of COCOBOD in the early part of January 2017, isn’t it?

A: My Lord, that is true.

Q: I am putting it to you that since 1st Accused was no more in the employment of COCOBOD, Bernice and or Akutek would have stated in their various statements that they did not know about this letter if indeed that was the situation.

A: My Lord that is not so.

The case has been adjourned to March 1, 2021, for cross-examination to continue.

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