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No evidence Opuni pressurised CRIG scientists – A-G’s witness tells court

The Attorney-General’s third prosecution witness in the Dr. Stephen Kwabena Opuni and Alhaji Seidu Agongo trial, has confirmed to the court that, scientists at the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG) in Tafo, revealed to him they did not yield to pressure from the ex-Cocoa Board CEO to shorten the scientific test on Lithovit fertilizer, as claimed by the state.

Dr. Yaw Adu-Ampomah, who is the special advisor to the Minister of Agriculture on cocoa affairs under cross-examination last Thursday, told the court that Dr. Franklin Amoah, the former Executive Director of CRIG, who appeared before the committee which recommended prosecution of Dr. Opuni that he was “pressurised” by him to shorten the test “but never succumbed”.

The Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Gloria Akuffo and other state attorneys, had claimed that the scientists at CRIG, had shortened the test on Lithovit sold by Seidu Agongo’s Agricult Limited after buckling under pressure from Dr. Opuni and this led to the procurement of the substandard fertilizers at over a hundred million dollars leading to a financial loss to the state.

But Adu-Ampomah, who chaired the four-member committee that investigated Dr. Opuni’s tenure relative to procurement of agro products by COCOBOD, revealed he never saw any documentation suggesting that Dr. Opuni, first accuse indeed, pressurised scientists to shorten the testing if any fertilizer or agrochemical, including lithovit.

Answering questions from Lawyer Samuel Codjo, Dr. Adu-Ampomah, said the committee was only told Dr. Opuni pressurised the scientists, including Dr. Amoah, who has already testified to the court as the first prosecution witness, but they were very resolute.

“No my lord. The committee was told by Mr Afrifa and Dr. Amoah and another scientist, Dr. Acheampong that they were at one time instructed by Dr. Opuni to shorten the testing of the chemicals”, he told the court presided over by Justice Clemence Honyenuga, a Court of Appeal Judge, who is sitting as an additional High Court judge.

On the last day of the Dr. Adu-Ampomah’s cross-examination by Lawyer Codjo, it also emerged in court that the Dr. Adu-Ampomah’s committee, whose work led to the prosecution of Dr. Opuni and the businessman, had no expert vested in fertilizer testing.

The committee investigated alleged fertilizer testing anomalies at CRIG, but none of the four members, had expertise in this area which was part of their mandate.

Dr. Adu-Ampomah, whose specialty is plant breeding and plant genetics had admitted in court that he is not a soil scientist, The other committee members were all lawyers.

They were Mr. Clottey Sefa, Director of Legal Affairs at COCOBOD; Mr Francis Opoku, Solicitor Secretary to the board and Mr Laing, a lawyer from the legal department, COCOBOD.

Interestingly, after interrogating scientists who were involved in the testing of lithovit fertilizer, the committee concluded that the scientific report of the experts was rather “unscientific”.

Dr. Adu-Ampomah, has been testifying against the former CEO of COCOBOD, Dr. Opuni and businessman, Seidu Agongo, who are standing trial for allegedly causing financial loss of GHC271.3 million to the state which led to the distribution of ‘substandard fertiliser’ to cocoa farmers.

He has been cited for perjury for giving contradictory accounts in court, which hearing has been slated for December 17.

Dr. Adu-Ampomah, was the Deputy Chief Executive at COCOBOD from 2009 and finally retired in 2013.

After the 2016 elections, he was called back from retirement to head the transition team at COCOBOD, primarily to interrogate the activities of COCOBOD in the previous administration.

He returned to COCOBOD in 2017, as Deputy Chief Executive before moving on to the Agric Ministry in October 2018, as the adviser to the sector minister on Cocoa affairs and has been on the payroll of the COCOBOD since then.

Counsel for Dr. Opuni, Samuel Cudjoe, put to the witness it was “highly unprofessional” for his committee which doesn’t include any expert in the field of fertiliser testing to “overrule a scientific report by CRIG”.

He rejected the position of the counsel and told the court the committee called one Dr Ofori Frimpong, he described as a “seasoned soil scientist”, noting that “during the interrogation we all came to the conclusion that it was unscientific, because if you go through the report, you will see that Dr Ofori Frimpong, the senior-most soil scientist at the time stated that it was very unscientific”.

Dr. Ofori Frimpong went on retirement in early 2015 and was brought back to COCOBOD in 2017 and was also part of the government transition team.

It, however, turned out that Dr. Ofori Frimpong himself was a subject of investigation and appeared before the committee to answer a query on his alleged involvement in Duapa fertilizer, which document Dr. Adu-Ampomah said was forged.

The court also heard that throughout the committee’s sitting, Dr. Opuni, who was accused of asking scientists to shorten the testing of lithovit fertilizer, was not invited to defend himself.

The witness, however, said the first accused was not invited because he was no longer in employment of COCOBOD, explaining that they invited only persons who were still at post.

Dr. Adu-Ampomah, however, admitted that there was no documentary proof that Dr. Stephen Opuni, instructed scientists at CRIG to shorten the testing of lithovit fertilizer.

“Dr, because you hadn’t given Dr Opuni a hearing, you had no basis for concluding that he pressured scientists to shorten the period for testing,” lawyer Codjoe said.

The witness responded, “My lord that was the reason why we said the matter should be further investigated because those who appeared before the committee, their answers suggested the involvement of the 1st accused. That is why we recommended so.”

Earlier, when asked if the committee made any adverse findings against Dr. Opuni, the witness answered in the negative “no”.

“And Dr, I am putting it to you that you deliberately didn’t call Dr.Opuni to appear before the committee because you didn’t want to give him an opportunity to defend himself,” the witness was told. Dr. Adu-Ampomah then replied, “No my lord. It wasn’t within our mandate to call him because he was no longer employed at COCOBOD.”

Lawyer Benson Nutsukpui, counsel for Seidu Agongo, will start his cross examination on the next hearing date, but ahead of that, Dr. Adu-Ampomah, has been cited by Dr. Opuni’s counsel for perjury and that will be heard sometime next week.

Source: theheraldghana.com

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