Monday, 17 June

Opuni-Agongo 'crucifiers' tested, approved Omnifert in 3 months despite claiming Opuni cut Lithovit testing to 6 months instead of 2yrs - Witness tells court

General News
Dr Stephen Opuni

The long-held claim by prosecution witnesses in the GHS217-million financial loss case against former Ghana Cocoa Board CEO Stephen Opuni and businessman Seidu Agongo that fertilisers go through a minimum of the two-year testing period at CRIG before being given the green light for use, has suffered a jolt in court following a revelation that Omnifert Aduane fertiliser, which was approved in 2017, was tested for just three months.

Four out of the seven prosecution witnesses in the ongoing trial alleged that the testing of Lithovit foliar fertiliser by CRIG in 2013 did not go through the minimum two-year testing period due to an oral directive by the then-CEO. 

However, evidence has been adduced in court that the testing of Lthovit fertiliser was even concluded months before Dr. Opuni joined COCOBOD.

The Accra High Court hearing the trial on Wednesday, May 22, 2024, got to know that three of the prosecution witnesses who made that claim, actually played a role in the testing of Omni Cocoa Aduane granular fertiliser in 2017, which underwent just a three-month laboratory test and was approved for use on mature cocoa, contrary to their testimony in court.

Dr Opuni and Mr Agongo as well as the latter's company, Agricult Ghana Limited, have been facing 27 charges, including defrauding by false pretences, willfully causing financial loss to the state, corruption by public officers and contravention of the Public Procurement Act.

Dr. F.M. Amoah, a former Executive Director at CRIG; Dr. Alfred Arthur, a former senior soil scientist at CRIG; and Dr. Yaw Adu-Ampomah, a former Deputy Chief Executive of COCOBOD in charge of Agronomy and Quality Control, who are the first, second and third prosecution witnesses, as well as Chief Inspector Thomas Prempeh Mercer, the seventh prosecution witness, had all asserted that fertilisers tested in CRIG lasted for a minimum of two years or averagely three years, except Lithovit foliar fertiliser.

But in 2017, when CRIG approved Omni Aduane fertiliser, the final test report was sent to Dr. Yaw Adu-Ampomah, Dr. F.M. Amoah was the Executive Director at CRIG with full knowledge of the testing period, and Dr. Alfred Arthur was even one of the scientists who worked on the laboratory test.

It would be recalled that Dr Amoah, for instance, alleged in 2018, when he gave evidence in court, that when he was the Executive Director of CRIG, Dr Opuni, then the Chief of Executive, told scientists including Dr Francis Baah, who was the Office Manager at the Office of the Chief Executive, that the former CEO directed the shortening of fertilisers at the time that CRIG was testing Lithovit foliar fertiliser.

As a result of the directive, Dr Amoah said, testing on Lithovit Foliar Fertiliser for mature cocoa was reduced to six months instead of the stipulated minimum period of two years.

Dr Francis Baah has denied the claim by Dr Amoah that Dr. Opuni gave such a directive when he appeared in court.

The claim of fertilisers being tested for a minimum of two years has been disputed by various COCOBOD scientists who have testified in court so far and have argued that there is no established or static testing period at the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana.

In the evidence-in-chief of Rev. Dr. Emmanuel O. Oddoye, a former Deputy Executive Director of CRIG and former Chairman of CRIG’s Committee for Testing Chemicals and Machines (CTCM), Mr Benson Nutsukpui, the lead counsel for Mr Agongo, pulled out an exhibit marked 41 and signed by the witness which was at variance with the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses as far as the testing period of fertilisers was concerned.

Rev. Dr. Oddoye retired from COCOBOD on June 16, 2021, and he is now in full-time ministry as an Anglican priest. 

He is the fourth subpoenaed witness of Mr Agongo.

He noted that Omnifert Limited on 16th February 2017 submitted Omni Cocoa Aduane granular fertiliser to COCOBOD for testing. 

A report on the laboratory test on the said fertiliser, signed by Rev. Dr. Oddoye, and dated 19th May 2017, was addressed to the Deputy Chief Executive of COCOBOD at the time, Dr. Yaw Adu-Ampomah, who had a supervisory role over CRIG activities. 

The report was submitted “at most three months after the submission of the sample?” the witness was asked, to which he replied: “That is correct”.

The executive summary of the report on Omni Cocoa Aduane states in part, “the deviations (above or below) of the laboratory test result from the specified content could be attributable to laboratory, equipment and human error”.  

The witness was, therefore, asked to explain what that statement meant. 

“The statement is explaining that the results from the laboratory test were not exactly as stated on the formulation but that the deviations are within normal limits,” he told the court.

Nonetheless, the witness admitted that the scientists who worked on the product reached a conclusion that:  “The content of the fertiliser sample is, therefore, duly verified by the laboratory test as Omni Cocoa Aduane and good for use on mature cocoa”. 

The scientists who prepared the report are Dr. A. K. Quaye, Dr. Alfred Arthur (second prosecution witness) and A. J. Dogbatse (third defence witness).  

Rev. Dr. Oddoye was, therefore, asked, “In the case of Exhibit 42, did the authors go back to the field in 2017 when Omnifert Limited brought their Omni Aduane fertiliser?” 

“They did not go back to the field,” the witness answered.

He was further asked: “While you were the head of the CTCM testing fertilisers, tell us about field trials in respect of fertilisers that were tested at the time. Did the scientists do a field test for every fertiliser that was brought to CTCM?

The witness replied, “No my lord”