COCOBOD trial: No written directive by Opuni to scientists to shorten testing period – CID investigator admits

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The trial investigator in the case of former COCOBOD boss and two others, Chief Inspector Thomas Prempeh Mercer has admitted that the CID never saw any “written” evidence to prove that a directive was given to scientists at CRIG to shorten the testing period for lithovit fertilizer.

The investigator had earlier maintained that COCOBOD purchased an untested fertilizer because former Chief Executive of COCOBOD, Dr. Stephen Opuni, directed scientists at the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG) to shorten the testing period for that fertilizer.

Dr. Opuni has flatly and vehemently denied the allegation that he instructed anybody in his office to circumvent procedures at CRIG with regards to the testing of lithovit fertilizer.

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The first prosecution witness, Dr. F.M. Amoah who was the then Executive Director of CRIG said in his statement to the police that he never carried out any such directive, but Chief Insp. Thomas Mercer suggested to the court that Dr. Amoah lied.

The investigator, who is the 7th prosecution witness, had claimed that, that directive was given and followed, contrary to what the first prosecution witness’ claimed.

But under cross examination on Monday, the investigator opened up, admitting that his team couldn’t place their hands on any documentary evidence to back claims that such a directive was given.

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Lead counsel for Dr. Opuni, Samuel Cudjoe on March 1, 2021, insisted that his client never directed that the period of testing chemicals and fertilizers be shortened, but the witness disagreed.

It was therefore pointed out to him by the lawyer that, “that is why there is no written directives with regards to shortening the test period for Lithovit.”

Chief Insp. Thomas Mercer admitted this time and tried to explain himself.

“My Lord, in the course of our investigation, we did not come across any written directive given by the first accused.

“But in a statement which is in evidence in this court given by Dr F Amoah the then Executive Director of CRIG which Counsel for A1 made me to read in this court clearly indicate that A1 actually called a meeting of scientists in his office in Accra Cocoa House. It is on this basis that when Dr. F M. Amoah was writing his statements, he stated that on his return from Accra he called a meeting of all the Senior Scientists and told them not to adhere to the directives given by Al. So this goes to confirm that indeed there was a directive and My Lord, I want to state that this directive was carried out. That is why the shortening of Lithovit was carried out”.

For emphasis, the lawyer asked, “Chief Inspector Prempeh, you just informed this court that Dr Amoah stated that he informed the Scientists not to follow the directives. Isn’t it?”

The investigator answered, “Yes My Lord, and I continued by saying that indeed that directive was carried out to the letter.”

The witness went on to state that Dr. Amoah mentioned Mr. Kutsuate and Dr. Francis Baah as persons who were present when that directive was given by Dr. Opuni in January 2014.

But the court was later told that even if such directive was given, Mr. Kutsuate couldn’t have been present then because he was employed months later, in April 2014.

When lawyer Cudjoe asked the investigator if he took statement from Mr. Kutsuate, he said yes.

However when the lawyer confronted him with the fact that the man did not give any statement to the police or the EOCO, the investigator quickly beat a retreat and raised his hand, telling the court he wants to add something to his previous answer.

“Yes My Lord. My Lord, I need to refer to our docket because I know any person that we interrogated or took statement from but I need to refer to our docket on Mr Kutsuate. Because My Lord. we spoke to many witnesses in this case, most of them had retired. Some willingly came to give statement. Others spoke to us on phone and others on conference call but they did not come. In this instance I spoke to him on phone that is why I want to check the docket to see if I took a statement from him.”

Interestingly, the other witness, Dr. Baah, told investigators in his statement that based on a survey conduct by the Cocoa Health and Extension Division (CHED) “farmers preferred Lithovit to that of the granular fertilizers”.

Q: In fact he Mr Kutsuate did not give any statement to either EOCO or the Police.

A: My Lord, that is why I pray the indulgence of the court that if I can go through the docket to check and provide the answer

Q: So as you sit here the only evidence which you claim to have is your conversation with Dr Francis Baah with respect to the directives which Dr. Amoah claimed was issued by 1st Accused at this meeting

A: My Lord, that is not so. My Lord, in my evidence in-Chief on the 11th of January, in this court, I did indicate that before A1 assume office as CE in early 2014 he had had meeting with some senior Scientists at CRIG when he paid a working visit to CRIG and at that meeting was Senior Scientists including Dr F M. Amoah. Mr. Afrifa, the head of Soil Science Division at CRIG. Dr Francis Baah, Dr Akrofi and Dr. Ameyaw

Q: In fact Dr Francis Baah gave a statement to you, isn’t it

A: My Lord no, he gave a statement at EOCO

Q: And in fact, in this statement all that Dr Baah states about Lithovit is that farmers like Lithovit so much that he asked that this be documented, Isn’t it

A: My Lord, that is not true.

Q: Can you read his statement

A: Witness reads. [and explained] My Lord, Dr Baah’s unit CHED is not responsible for taking data on the performance of an agro chemical. My Lord, the duty of CHED is to distribute the agro chemical to the 60 cocoa farming districts and also train extension officers of Cocobod. My Lord, at CRIG we have different units that undertake this survey and one of this unit is the Social Science and Statistics Unit (SSSU) which was then headed by Dr Mercy Asamoah. So my Lord, what Dr. Baah could have said was well distribution of the agro chemicals but not that farmers like the Lithovit or not.

Q: Did Dr. Baah state that some farmers preferred Lithovit to that of the granular fertilizers.

A: My Lord that is what Dr Baah has written in his statement

Q: In fact between you, Chief Inspector Prempeh as an investigator, and Dr Baah as a technical man, he is better placed to comment on fertilizers than you isn’t it.

A: My Lord that is true because he is a scientist and was working at CRIG. But my Lord what I am saying is the protocols or the lay down procedures at CRIG.

Dr. Stephen Opuni and businessman Mr. Seidu Agongo are facing 27 charges including willfully causing financial loss to the State 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.

The case was adjourned to March 11, 2021 for cross examination to continue.

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