The ex-CEO of the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), Dr Stephen Opuni, who, together with Agricult CEO Seidu Agongo, is being tried for causing financial loss of GHS271.3 million to the state in the procurement of some agrochemicals, has petitioned Chief Justice Kwesi Anin Yeboah to remove the trial judge, Justice Clemence Jackson Honyenuga, a Supreme Court judge sitting with additional responsibility as a High Court judge.
At the hearing on Friday, 18 June 2021, the judge said to the counsel of the first accused person that: “I have been shown something: your client [Dr Opuni] has petitioned the Chief Justice on this matter”.
He said the petition, which was filed on Thursday, 17 June 2021, “came to my notice this morning [Friday, 18 June 2021]”, adding: “I don’t know if the CJ has received it”.
“So, I will adjourn the matter to wait for his [CJ’s] decision”.
Apart from the petition, Dr Opuni’s lawyers have also filed a certiorari application asking the Supreme Court to quash Justice Honyenuga’s ruling against recusing himself from the case.
At the last hearing, Justice Honyenuga dismissed the recusal application, saying: “It is my candid opinion that the application was brought in bad faith”.
“Accordingly, the motion is hereby dismissed”, he ruled on Wednesday, 9 June 2021.
Dr Opuni’s lead counsel, Mr Samuel Codjoe, had argued for his client’s application based on the breach of Article 19 (2) (e) & (g) of the 1992 Constitution.
He said: “My lord, our basis is that we will not be given adequate time and facility for our defence”, adding: “This is based on the fact that your lordship, on the 7th day of May 2021, stated that your primary duty was in the Supreme Court and this case had unduly delayed and was preventing you, or and interfering, in your duty, and, therefore, you wanted to complete this early.”
“When our application on the submission of no case was dismissed, and we asked for time to prepare our defence, your lordship gave us 7 days. After much pleading, it went to the 17th of May. My lord, we are saying that this is against the Practice Direction”, Mr Codjoe argued further.
Chief State Attorney, Evelyn Keelson, also argued based on article 19 (1) of the 1992 Constitution that “there is no basis in law for this present application”.
“He has also not been able to convince this court of any credible evidence of bias”, she averred.
“It is our submission that this application as we have always stated is therefore calculated to further delay this trial”, she said.
As a result of the petition the CJ, Dr Opuni could not open his defence today, Friday, 18 June 2021, as had earlier been ordered by the judge.
Dr Opuni and Mr Agongo are being prosecuted for financial loss to the state emanating from alleged fraudulent fertiliser deals.
Dr Opuni, who was the CEO of COCOBOD between November 2013 and January 2017 is alleged by the state to have connived with the businessman who owns Agricult Ghana Limited, an agrochemicals company, to cause financial loss to the state.
The two have been on trial since March 2018.
They are facing 27 charges.
They have pleaded not guilty to all the charges.
They are each on a GHS300,000 self-recognisance bail.