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General News of Monday, 15 October 2018


Opuni Trial: CRIG duly tested Agongo fertiliser - AG's witness

Dr. Opuni and Mr. Agongo, are facing 27 charges including defrauding by false pretence Dr. Opuni and Mr. Agongo, are facing 27 charges including defrauding by false pretence

Dr. Franklin Manu Amoah, the first prosecution witness in the case involving Dr. Stephen Opuni, businessman Seidu Agongo and Agricult Company Limited, on Friday, 12 October 2018, told an Accra High Court that he and his colleague scientists at the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG) flouted an alleged verbal directive from the former COCOBOD CEO, and ensured that Lithovit Liquid Fertiliser went through every due process before its certification and purchase by the board.

His latest revelation is contrary to what he told the same court when giving his evidence-in-chief on Monday, 16 July 2018 that Dr. Opuni side-stepped all laid-down procedures in testing fertilisers and went ahead to contract Agricult Ghana Limited owned by Mr Agongo.

Led in evidence by Chief State Attorney Evelyn Keelson regarding the supply of Lithovit Liquid Fertiliser, Dr. Amoah explained that a committee responsible for testing the fertiliser was simply obeying a verbal policy decision introduced by Dr. Opuni when he assumed office as CEO, in recommending the fertiliser for use.

However, on Friday, Dr. Amoah told the court presided over by Justice Clement Hoenyenugah, an Appeal Court Judge sitting as additional High Court Judge that he and his colleague scientists, decided to flout Dr. Opuni’s alleged “verbal directive” and took the agro product through due process by setting up multiple sites in testing the Lithovit Fertiliser.

CRIG, he insisted, did not adhere to the then-COCOBOD CEO’s directive to shorten the testing period for the cocoa fertiliser. Dr. Opuni has denied issuing any verbal directive.

On Friday, Mr Benson Nutsukpui, who is lawyer for Mr. Agongo and Agricult, during his cross-examination time, got Dr. Amoah to establish his personal belief and pride in the system at CRIG in testing chemicals.

He acknowledged CRIG as a renowned institute with an effective and efficient system, adding that its human resources were also very capable.

Dr. Amoah told the court that he, indeed, referred the Lithovit sample to the Committee on Testing Chemicals and Machinery (CTCM); a body he personally set up to be responsible for the testing and evaluation of all agrochemicals and machines presented to CRIG by COCOBOD.

Dr. Amoah said CTCM worked on the Lithovit Fertiliser sample and prepared a certificate for his signature.

The former Executive Director of CRIG also affirmed that in his statement to the police in January 2018, he indicated that this was the same process through which all chemicals and machines, including Duapa and Lithovit passed.

Dr. Amoah further explained that what he told the police was that in order not to compromise the test period, they could have more test sites in place.

This means that in order not to shorten the test period, they could have more test locations so that at any particular time, the results they get could be averaged to get the actual effect of the fertiliser.

He added that they adopted this approach because the directive given by Dr. Opuni to reduce the test period was not acceptable to the scientists.

Last July, Dr. Amoah said Dr. Opuni had argued that the range of agrochemicals in the system that farmers could access was very narrow and that has led to the high cost of chemicals. This, he said, Dr. Opuni blamed on the long testing period of fertiliser.

According to the former CRIG Director, the committee relied on Dr. Opuni’s directive in issuing its report, despite not going through the required period.

Asked how he heard of this directive by Dr. Opuni, the state’s first witness said he met the former CEO at COCOBOD, where he communicated it to him.

Dr. Amoah told the court that although he made his disagreement obvious, Dr. Opuni maintained his stance.

Dr. Opuni, according to the witness, paid a working visit to CRIG, where he raised the issue in the presence of scientists who disagreed with the directive.

Dr. Opuni and Mr. Agongo, are facing 27 charges including defrauding by false pretence, willfully causing financial loss of GHS271. 3 million to the state, money laundering, corruption by a public officer, and contravention of the Public Procurement Act.

According to the charges, the fertilisers were manufactured without registration, thereby, flouting the Plants and Fertiliser Act 2010.

The Attorney General also claims the fertiliser was not effective when it was applied to cocoa plants. But both Dr. Opuni and Mr Agongo have pleaded not guilty and each granted self-recognisance bail of GHS300,000.00.

On Friday, Mr Nutsukpui insisted that the meeting Dr. Opuni held with scientists of CRIG was mainly to discuss the exhibition of CRIG products in China and not the reduction of the testing period for fertilisers.

Mr Nutsukpui put it to Dr. Amoah that nothing but the exhibition in China was the centre of discussion at the meeting at which he (Dr. Amoah) attended with the other members being Mr James Kofi Kutsoatsi, Dr. Francis Baah of Cocoa Health and Extension Division (CHED); Andres Yaw Akrofi, a plant pathologist; Alex A. Afrifa, a soil scientist; and Dr. Richard Adu, an entomologist.

But Dr. Amoah, who is the first prosecution witness in the case, disagreed, saying other things were also discussed, including Dr. Opuni’s alleged verbal directive to reduce the testing period of fertilisers that would be used on cocoa farms.

During the cross-examination, Mr Nutsukpui told Dr. Amoah that the topic for discussion between Dr. Opuni and the scientists was not the reduction of the testing period of fertilisers, a claim the witness refuted, saying shortly after the meeting in Cocoa House in Accra, he defiantly called a meeting at Tafo in the Eastern Region, where he and other scientists at CRIG decided to do multiple site testing.

Multiple site testing, Dr. Amoah explained, is also a credible scientific method used to achieve the results which a longer scientific testing would have achieved.

On Wednesday, Mr Nutsukpui told the court that Agricult Ghana Limited had in its custody several letters from Dr. Amoah’s office dating back to 2013 when Lithovit Fertiliser was submitted to CRIG for testing. These letters, he said, described the agrochemical as a liquid product and not a powdery substance, as claimed by Dr. Amoah in his evidence-in-chief.

Mr Nutsukpui also revealed that Agricult has in its possession letters dated 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016, in which CRIG, regularly called for re-testing and re-certification of Lithovit liquid fertiliser. He described these letters as generic, bearing the same content, but different dates.

Mr 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, in which Lithovit Foliar Fertiliser was described as a liquid.

Dr. Amoah, in a caution statement given to the Economic and Organised Crime Office (EOCO), stated that Dr. Francis Baah of CHED, a division of COCOBOD, had affirmed that the Lithovit fertiliser was in liquid form and not solid or powdery.