Dr Opuni directed testing period for agrochemicals to be shortened-Witness

Dr Stephen Opuni

Dr Stephen Opuni, former Chief Executive Officer of COCOBOD, directed that the testing period of agro-chemicals and fertilizers for use by the board should be shorten.

Police Detective Chief Inspector, Mr Thomas Prempeh Mercer, the investigator in the trial, told the court.

Mr Prempeh said Dr. Opuni in giving the directive to the scientist from the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG) present at a meeting, said suppliers did take undue advantage of the monopoly they enjoyed and charged high prices on their products.

He said Dr Opuni held this particular meeting upon his assumption in office in January 2014, after his appointment in November 2013.

Mr Prempeh, the seventh prosecution witness, was giving his evidence in chief led by Mrs Evelyn Keelson, Chief State Attorney, in Accra on Monday.

Per CRIG agrochemicals that are sent to the Institute for testing, must go through a minimum testing period of two years and a maximum of three years.

The investigator told the Accra High Court that on July 7, 2017, the Financial Forensics Unit (FFU), where he was a Station Officer, received a petition to investigate a number of cases at the Economic and Organised Crime Office (EOCO).

He said upon receipt of the petition, a team was put together to investigate these cases, which included the Unit Commander of FFU, Chief Superintendent of Police, Mrs. Regina Antwiwaa Tengey, DSP J. K. Lodonu, Detective Inspector, Prosper Theophilus Soetor and the investigator.

He said upon taking over the docket from EOCO, there were a number of cases, which they were required to continue to investigate, including the renovation and rebuilding of the COCOBOD Chief Executive’s bungalow at Cantonments in Accra.

The rest are renovation and rebuilding of a cocoa warehouse in Kajebile at Mporhor in the Western Region, Cocoa roads, Duapa Fertilizer, and Agricult LIthovit liquid fertilizer.

The team was also to investigate procurement breaches in the procurement of Lithovit Liquid fertilizer procured by COCOBOD from 2014 to 2017 from Agricult Ghana Limited and its Chief Executive Officer, Seidu Agongo.

The Detective Chief Inspector said Dr Opuni at the meeting went ahead to indicate that he was also a scientist and that the product for testing could be compared to other products, which had similar components.

He said based on that the Lithovit foliar fertilizer sent to CRIG for testing by Agricult Ghana Limited on May 15, 2013, which was referred to the Soil Science Division Head, Dr. Alex Afrifa by the Committee for Testing Chemicals and Machines (CTCM) as the procedure required was also to be minuted and handed it over to Dr. Alfred Arthur in July 2013.

He said on May 15, 2017, COCOBOD forwarded to CRIG the Lithovit fertilizer submitted for testing by Agricult Ghana Limited in powdered form together with its Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS).

He said it was received at CRIG, however from 2014 to 2017, Agricult Ghana Limited through its Chief Executive Officer, Mr Agongo supplied quantities Lithovit liquid fertilizer to COCOBOD for use on Cocoa which was not tested because the Lithovit folia fertilizer sent to CRIG for testing was powder.

At COCOBOD, the team spoke to a number of people including senior Management members like Dr Yaw Adu Ampomah, who was then the Deputy Chief Executive of Agronomy Quality and Control and also Dr. William Mensah, who was the then Deputy Chief Executive in Charge of Finance.

He said the team had detailed discussion with them and it came to light that somewhere in the year 2013, Agricult Ghana Limited through its CEO, Mr Agongo introduced to COCOBOD Lithovit fertilizer to be used on Cocoa in powdered form together with its MSDS.

He said the team met with the Executive Director Dr F. M. Amoah and the Deputy Reverend Odoi and during discussion, it came to light that in 2009, when the Executive Director took office at CRIG, in order for agrochemicals and machines tested at CRIG to be credible, he set up the CTCM.

The prosecution witness said what the committee did was to vet any agrochemical or fertilizer or machine that a supplier wanted to use for cocoa and that had been the practice until the appointment of Dr. Opuni.

He said Dr. Alfred Arthur, a scientist at the soil Science Division of CRIG, did a laboratory test on the Lithovit fertilizer, after which he engaged the services of Siribour and Atanga for the preparation of the nursery for the plant to be used on.

“The Lithovit fertilizer in powdered form is used on a two months old nursery plant and after six months period, Dr. Arthur submitted his initial test report to his boss, Dr. Alex Afrifa,” he said.

The investigator said Dr. Afrifa also armed with the directives given by Dr. Opuni, wrote a final report on the test report submitted to him, by Dr Arthur stating that although the Lithovit fertilizer, which was submitted for testing in powdered form at the nursery could be applied on matured Cocoa.

He said on January 20, 2014, instead of Dr. Afrifa sending the final report to the CTCM for vetting, he sent the report straight to the Executive Director of CRIG, who also forwarded it on the same day to the Dr. Opuni.

Mr Prempeh said Dr. Opuni on January 21, 2014, a day after the report was sent to him, wrote to CRIG instructing them to issue a certificate on Lithovit and also wrote to the Mr Agongo to liaise with CRIG for the issuance of certificate on the Lithovit fertilizer.

Dr F. M. Amoah, Executive Director of CRIG, issued a certificate to Agricult Ghana Limited and its Chief Executive Officer.

He said on February 25, 2014, Dr. Opuni wrote to Agricult Ghana Limited through its Chief Executive Officer to send quotations on 700,000 litres of Lithovit foliar fertilizer, which Mr Agongo did behalf of the Company with a total sum of $19,250,000.

“Dr. Opuni signed a contract with Mr Agongo and Agricult Ghana Limited and the product was duly supplied,” he added.

He said in 2014/15, again COCOBOD through Dr. Opuni procured from Mr Agongo and Agricult Ghana Limited procured one million litres of Lithovit liquid fertilizer to the tune of $26,000,000.

He said Dr. Opuni again signed a contract on behalf of COCOBOD and Mr Agongo signed on behalf of Agricult Ghana Limited and the product was duly supplied COCOBOD and duly paid for.

Again, in 2015/16 Cocoa Season, Dr. Opuni procured from Agricult Ghana limited, 700,000 litres of Lithovit liquid fertilizer amounting to $19,250,000.

In 2016/2017, Dr. Opuni wrote to Agricult Ghana Limited for the supply of another one million litres of Lithovit liquid fertilizer, however, that was not supplied because the contract was abrogated when investigations commenced.

It was revealed that the Lithovit Liquid Fertilizer supplied to COCOBOD by Mr Agongo and Agricult Ghana limited from 2014 to 2016 was not tested because the only Lithovit Foliar Fertilizer sent to CRIG for testing on May 15, 2013 remained the only Lithovit in the powdered form.

Witness was shown a sample and he identified it as the sample they took from CRIG which was sent for testing. The trial was adjourned to January 18, 2021.

Dr Opuni and Mr Agongo are facing 27 charges including defrauding by false pretences, willfully causing financial loss to the State, money laundering, corruption by public officer and contravention of the Public Procurement Act.

They have both pleaded not guilty to the charges and are on a GHS300,000 self-recognisance bail each.

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