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OPUNI, AGONGO GET GH¢600,000 BAIL - Plead Not Guilty

General News

An Accra High Court, presided over by a Court of Appeal Judge, Justice Honyenuga, yesterday granted a self-recognizance bail former COCOBOD Chief Executive, Steven Opuni, and the Managing Director of Agricult Ghana Limited, Seidu Agongo.

An Accra High Court, presided over by a Court of Appeal Judge, Justice Honyenuga, yesterday granted a self-recognizance bail former COCOBOD Chief Executive, Steven Opuni, and the Managing Director of Agricult Ghana Limited, Seidu Agongo.

 

The two are facing 27 counts of causing financial loss to the state, defrauding by false pretense, bribery, among others. They pleaded not guilty to all the charges levelled against them.

The bail was granted in the sum of GH₵300,000 each, with each of the accused being ordered by the court to submit his passport to the Director General of the Criminal Investigations Department.

The two men have also been directed to report to the CID Director General and seek prior approval before traveling outside the country.

In addition, the CID is to submit a written report to the High Court’s Registry within 48 hours anytime either of the two men engage in any activity.

Justice Honyenuga announced the bail conditions after granting the request of the counsel for the accused persons for bail.

The Attorney-General, Gloria Akuffo, was in court alongside her two deputies, Godfred Yeboah Dame and Dindock Kpemka.

According to the summary of facts of the case as presented by the Attorney-General, Seidu Agongo, acting on behalf of Agricult, submitted to the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG), fertilizer for testing. The testing was supposed to be in two phases; applied to seedlings and applied to mature plants for at least two planting seasons.

The AG says testing was carried out for only first phase after which report recommending use was given, without second phase testing. She proceeded that investigations revealed that former COCOBOD CEO, Dr. Stephen Kwabena Opuni, wrote to CRIG, asking that they shorten the testing period.

Dr. Opuni subsequently wrote to Seidu Agongo that his fertilizer had been certified for use on cocoa after which a certificate was issued by CRIG.

Agricult, despite not applying for renewal of the certificate for 2015 and 2016 as required, upon the instance of Dr. Stephen Opuni, had his license renewed in order to supply the fertilizer, without any testing.

Dr. Opuni then applied to the Public Procurement Authority for approval for Agricult Ghana Limited to be single sourced to procure 700,000 litres of the fertilizer, although conditions for single sourcing had not been satisfied.

In that letter, Dr. Opuni stated the price as $19,250,000. The nature of the product was captured as liquid despite it being powdery form. The AG further told the court as at the time of writing to PPA, Agricult had not written to COCOBOD stating the price as is required by law.

The Public Procurement Authority then wrote to the COCOBOD boss requesting for value for money analysis. According to Ms Akuffo, the first accused did not provide this, but rather misrepresented to PPA that, in compliance with advice from PPA Board in 2008, Agricult Ghana Limited had been pre-qualified for the supply of the fertilizer, although Dr. Opuni knew this was not the case.

On that basis, the PPA board approved COCOBOD's request for single sourcing of 700,000 litres of the fertilizer.

In 2014, Dr Opuni once again wrote to PPA requesting approval to hand Agricult contract to supply a liquid form of fertilizer through sole sourcing, even though conditions had not been met, the Attorney General said. The AG said the PPA approved this request. Dr. Opuni then put in another request which was also approved.

In November 2015, the PPA approved the application for single source procurement. Three separate agreements were signed and executed by Seidu Agongo's Agricult Ghana Limited. Investigations, she said, had revealed that the contracts were executed when the company did not have a valid certificate to supply the fertilizer.

Whereas the material safety data sheet accompanying the fertilizer that was originally submitted to CRIG for testing described the substance as powdery, Dr. Opuni in requesting quotations for supply and delivery under the three contracts referred to the fertilizer as liquid and quoted in litres, the AG said.

She continued that when the products arrived in Ghana, COCOBOD was required to notify CRIG for testing to ensure it corresponded with what was tested by CRIG. No such testing was carried out.

In 2017, COCOBOD carried out an audit into testing of fertilizers after which it referred the matter for criminal investigations. The investigations the AG said established that the product supplied by Agricult Ghana Ltd was different from the sample submitted to CRIG for testing.

Further tests, she said, revealed variously that the fertilizer supplied had been adulterated and did not meet the specified standard and that the product could not be used as nutrient on cocoa. Furthermore, the test indicated that the fertilizer could be harmful to humans and animals.

"Even though COCOBOD had spent a sum of $55million on the fertilizer, COCOBOD's records show there was no significant increase in the cocoa yield during the period," the AG stated.

Investigations, she stated, established that Seidu Agongo deposited an amount of GHC25,000 into the personal account of Dr Opuni to influence the award of contracts.

The date for the next hearing is April, 11, 2018.