The source of a GH¢25,000 “bribe” paid into the Ecobank account of former Chief Executive Office of Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), Dr. Stephen Kwabena Opuni, became the centre of attraction at an Accra High Court last Thursday.
The former COCOBOD CEO has been charged, among others, for allegedly receiving a GH¢25,000 bribe from businessman Seidu Agongo to influence him in the award of fertilizer contracts.
The allegation was brought forth again by his lawyer, Samuel Codjoe, during cross-examination of Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Prempeh Mercer, the seventh prosecution witness in the trial of Dr. Opuni and Seidu Agongo for allegedly causing financial loss to the state.
While Dr. Opuni claimed in his statement to the police that he gave the money to Mr. Agongo to deposit in his (Dr. Opuni’s) account, Mr. Agongo on the other hand initially claimed he did not remember the exact reason why he gave the money to Dr. Opuni.
He, however, later indicated in his statement to the police that he “vaguely” remembered giving some money to Dr. Opuni to help him cater for needy children he cared for.
The investigator has, however, told the court presided over by Justice Clemence Jackson Hunyehuga currently of the Supreme Court that Dr. Opuni during interrogation had told the police that he did not have any non-governmental organisation (NGO) that catered for needy children.
The Attorney General’s Department, in the charges proffered against Dr. Opuni, accused him of accepting a GH¢25,000 kickback to influence the performance of his official duties.
According to the facts of the case, Dr. Opuni on October 10, 2014 while he was the CEO of COCOBOD agreed to permit his conduct to be influenced by cash which was an amount of GH¢25,000.
Among other accusations leveled against Dr. Opuni included the procurement of the “supply of a substance described as “Lithovit Liquid Fertilizer” using public funds without obtaining a price quotation.”
Mr. Agongo on the other hand has been accused of “endeavouring to influence the conduct of Mr. Opuni in the performance of his duties as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD) by offering him an amount of GH¢25,000.”
Agongo and his company, Agricult Ghana Limited, are also accused of “manufacturing fertilizer in commercial quantities without registration,” as well as selling “misbranded” and “adulterated” fertilizer to the COCOBOD, a state agency.
Dr. Opuni and Mr. Agongo, Managing Director of Agricult Ghana Limited, are before an Accra High Court for causing financial loss to the state to the tune of GH¢217,370,289.22.
The two are facing a total of 27 charges, including defrauding by false pretense, willfully causing financial loss to the state, money laundering, corruption by a public officer and contravention of the Public Procurement Act.
The two are also being tried over the purchase and supply of Lithovit fertilizer, which the state said was done in contravention of several laws.
During the examination, Samuel Codjoe, who is counsel for Dr. Opuni, attempted to probe the testimony of the case investigator, Detective Chief Inspector Mercer, concerning the alleged GH¢25,000 bribe, an aspect of the case.
This led to a back and forth between the lawyer and the witness about the source of the money and the purpose for depositing it in Dr. Opuni’s Ecobank account.
Counsel (Mr. Codjoe): A1 (Dr. Opuni) in his statement on November 28, 2017, informed you that the GH¢25,000 that was paid into his account by A2 (Mr. Agongo) was his own money which he gave to A2 to pay into his account.
Witness (Chief Inspector PrempehMercer): That is not so. A2 (Seidu Agongo) wrote in his statement that the GH¢25,000 that he paid into A1 (Dr. Opuni’s) Ecobank account on October 10, 2014 was money he (Agongo) gave A1 (Opuni) to support him take care of needy children.
Counsel: He never said that. I put it to you that A2 (Agongo) never stated so and the first explanation was that, he could not readily remember what the GH¢25,000 was for.
Witness: My Lord, that is not so. Immediately after this statement that he did not remember, he added that I gave the money to him to take care of needy children.
Counsel: In fact, in this statement, he stated categorically, “I cannot remember the exact purpose of the payment, but I vaguely recalled paying him some money to cater for needy children he cared for.”
Witness: That is exactly what I said.
Counsel: At the last adjourned date, when you were asked when you interrogated A1 (Dr. Opuni) as to the statement of A2 (Mr. Agongo), you said he informed you that he did not have any NGO to cater for needy children.
Witness: That is so.
The trial judge adjourned the proceedings to today, March 15, 2021, for continuation.