Opuni Trial: COCOBOD bought $64.5m fertiliser from Agricult; Witness
The seventh prosecution witness (PW7), Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Prempeh Mercer, has told an Accra High that Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), between 2014 and 2016, procured fertiliser from Agricult Ghana Limited worth US$64.5 million.
The witness testified that COCOBOD made these procurement when the product, Lithovit Foliar Fertiliser, had not fully met the testing requirement of the Cocoa Research Institute (CRIG).
According to him, the Board acted on the instruction of its then Chief Executive Officer, Dr Stephen Kwabena Opuni, who ordered CRIG to issue a certificate to Agricult Ghana Limited, despite testing Lithovit Foliar Fertiliser for just six months.
Chief Inspector Mercer, who is the Station Officer at the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) Headquarters of the Ghana Police Service, said Dr Opuni instructed CRIG to issue a certificate for the agrochemical,even though it did not meet the two years minimum or three years maximum testing period.
PW7 said this while being led to give his evidence-in-chief by the Chief State Attorney, Mrs Evelyn Keelson, yesterday, Monday, January 11, 2020, at the court presided over by a Supreme Court Judge, sitting as an additional Judge of the High Court, Justice Clemence Jackson Honyenuga.
According to the Detective, although the supplier, Agricult Ghana Limited, through its Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Seidu Agongo, only submitted a sample of the product on May 15, 2013 for testing, by January 22, 2014, the Executive Director of CRIG, Mr F.F. Amoah, had issued the certificate to Agricult Ghana Limited and its CEO.
The witness explained that CRIG was compelled to issue the certificate at this short period, because Dr Opuni, on his assumption of office in January 2014, met with senior management of the Board in his office and urged them to shorten the period for testing fertilisers and other agrochemicals in order to break the monopoly that the few suppliers were enjoying.
He said this information came to light when he, together with other team members, were assigned to investigate a petition sent to the CID Financial Forensics Unit (FFU) to take charge over certain cases that were being investigated by the Economic and Organised Crime Office (EOCO) relating to cocoa.
PW7 further added that their investigations revealed that at the said meeting, Dr Stephen Opuni urged the senior management to shorten the testing period, and by that will break the monopoly, as well as cause the price of fertiliser to be reduced.
Therefore, Lithovit Foliar Fertiliser did not meet the minimum or the maximum testing period of two and three years.
He continued that on February 25, 2014, Dr Stephen Opuni wrote to Agricult Ghana Limited to send applications for the supply of 700,000 litres of Lithovit Foliar Fertiliser.
Without hesitation, the CEO of Agricult Ghana, Seidu Agongo, sent an application to Dr Stephen Opuni for the supply of 700,000 litres Lithovit Foliar Fertiliser at a total sum of $19,250,000.
Chief Inspector Prempeh said: “My lord, A1 (Dr Stephen Kwabena Opuni) signed a contract with A2 (Seidu Agongo), and A2 on behalf of Agricult Ghana Limited. And, my lord, A2 and A3(Agricult Ghana Limited) duly supplied 700,000 litres of Lithovit Liquid Fertiliser.
“My lord, in 2014/15, again, COCOBOD, through A1, procured from A2 and A3 one million litres of Lithovit Liquid Fertiliser to the tune of $26 million. My lord, A1 again signed a contract on behalf of COCOBOD and A2 signed his on behalf of A3, Agricult Ghana Limited. A2 and A3 duly supplied COCOBOD with the one million liquid and COCOBOD also duly paid for the product.”
He also indicated that Dr Stephen Opuni further proceeded to procure from Seidu Agongo and Agricult Ghana Limited another700,000 litres of Lithovit Liquid Fertiliser,amounting to $19,250,000 for the 2015/16 cocoa season.
However, he added that the contract was signed for the supply of one million litres of Lithovit Liquid Fertiliser between Dr Opuni and Mr Agongo, plus his company, Agricult Ghana Limited, for the 2016/17 was abrogated at the inception of a new government and commencement of investigationsof procurement in the Board’s dealings.
According to him, it revealed that the Lithovit Liquid Fertiliser supplied to COCOBOD by Seidu Agongo and his company, from 2014 to 2016, was not tested because the only Lithovit Foliar Fertiliser sent to CRIG for testing by these entities on May 15, 2013, was in a powdered form and not liquid.
He went on to state that the team spoke to officers at COCOBOD and CRIG to ascertain how procurement was conducted during the period under review, for which they were handed a disciplinary committee report that confirmed that the only Lithovit Foliar Fertiliser sent to CRIG for testing on the May 15, 2013, was the Lithovit Foliar Fertiliser that was tested by Dr Alfred Arthur.
“My lord, in one of our visits to CRIG during our investigations, my lord, we retrieved the remnants of the original Lithovit Fertiliser sent to CRIG for testing by Agricult Ghana Limited through its CEO, Mr Seidu Agongo,” he indicated.
Dr Stephen Kwabena Opuni, together with Seidu Agongo and Agricult Ghana Limited, are facing a total of 27 charges on abetment of crime and defrauding by false pretence, willfully causing financial loss to the state, contravention of the Public Procurement Act, manufacturing fertiliser without registration, money laundering, and corruption by public officer.
The following excerpts of questions (Q) and answers (A):
Evidence-in-chief of PW7 led by Chief State AttorneyEvelyn Keelson.
Q. Name: Please give your full name once again to the court?
A. My name is Thomas Prempeh Mercer, Detective Chief Inspector.
Q. Where are you stationed?
A. I am stationed at theFinancial Forensics Unit (FFU) at the CID Headquarters.
Q. For how long have you been a police officer?
A. My lord, 28 years.
Q. For how long have you been a detective?
A. My lord, 27 years.
Q. For how long have you been stationed at the Financial Forensics Unit (FFU)?
A. My lord, from the inception of the unit in February 2017 – that is about three years.
Q. How a look at the first accused person, do you know him?
A. Yes, my lord.
Q. What about A2, Seidu Agongo?
A. Yes, my lord.
Q. What about A3, Agricult Ghana Limited?
A. Yes, I do.
Q. Now, tell the court how you got to know these accused persons?
A. My lord,I got to know A1, A2 and A3 when my unit took over to investigate an ongoing investigation by EOCO in July 2017.
Q. Can you tell the court your position at the FFU?
A. My lord,I am the Station Officer.
Q. You have told the court that you got to know the accused person when your unit took over some investigations from EOCO; tell the court what kind of investigations you are talking about?
A. My lord, on July 7, 2017, my Unit received a petition to investigate a number of cases under investigation at EOCO. My lord, upon receiving this petition, my lord, a team was put together to investigate these cases. My lord, in this comprising of Unit Commander of FFU, Chief Superintendent of Police Regina Antwiwaa Tengay, DSP Mr J.K. Losonu, Detective Inspector Prosper Theophilus Soetor, and myself.
Q. MrPrempeh, tell the court the nature of cases that were submitted for investigation?
A. My lord, upon taking over the docket from EOCO, the number of cases that we were to take over with investigation included the renovations and rebuilding of the Chief Executive of COCOBOD bungalow atCantonments in Accra, renovation and rebuilding of cocoa warehouse at Kajebi in Mpoho,my lord, cocoa roads, Duapa Fertiliser and Agricult Lithovit Liquid Fertiliser.
Q.Now Chief Inspector Premper, I want you to restrict yourself to your investigations to Agricult liquid fertiliser and tell the court what you set out to investigate?
A. My lord, having received the docket from EOCO, we also found statements of A1 and A2.
Q. Chief Inspector Prempeh, listen to my question. You have told the court that you have received a petition of a number of cases to investigate, including Agricult Lithovit Fertiliser, what did you set out to investigate?
A. My lord,the team set out to investigate procurement breaches of Lithovit Liquid Fertiliser procured by COCOBOD from 2014 to 2017 from Agricult Ghana Limited and its Chief Executive, Mr Siedu Agongo. My lord, and also fraudulent aspects of these procurements between 2014 and 2017 that COCOBOD procured Lithovit Liquid Fertiliser from Agricult Ghana Limited and its CEO.
Q. You told the court a team was set up for the investigations, now tell the court what your team did?
A.My lord, the team moved to COCOBOD to commence investigations into the case. My lord, 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 A&QC, and also Dr William Mensah, who was then the Deputy Chief Executive in-charge of Finance. My lord, the team had detailed discussions with them with regard to the petition at hand, and it came to light that somewhere in the year 2013, Agricult Ghana Limited, through its CEO, A2, introduced to COCOBOD Lithovit Foliar Fertiliser to be used on cocoa in powdered form, together with its Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). My lord, on May 15, 2013, COCOBOD forwarded to CRIG the Lithovit Fertiliserto CRIG for testing together with the MSDS. My lord, it was received at CRIG. However, from 2014 to 2017, Agricult Ghana Limited, through its CEO, supplied quantities of Lithovit Liquid Fertiliser to COCOBOD for use on cocoa, which was not tested, because the Lithovit Foliar Fertiliser sent to CRIG for testing was powder.
Q. Tell the court when did Agricult Ghana Limited, through its CEO, Seidu Agongo, send the Lithovit FoliarFertiliser in powdered form to COCBOD for onward submission to CRIG?
A. On the 15 of May 2013.
Q. You said that you went to COCOBOD to conduct investigations, and your investigations revealed that even though Agricult Ghana Limited sentLithovit Fertiliser in powdered form to COCBOD to CRIG, COCOBOD had procured Lithovit Liquid Fertiliser between 2014 and 2017. Tell the court what you found?
A. My lord, the team then moved to CRIG. My lord, at CRIG, the team met with the Executive Director,Mr F.F. Amoah, and his deputy, Rev. Odei. My lord, during discussions it came to light that in 2009 when the Executive Director took over office, in order for agrochemicals to be tested at CRIG…as a credible institution, he setup a committee named Committee for Testing Chemical and Machines (CTCM). My lord, these are renowned scientists in their own discipline of training, and what they do is to vet any agrochemical or fertiliser or machine that a supplier wants it to be used on cocoa. My lord, that practice had been there until the appointment of A1, Dr Stephen Opuni. My lord, during further discussions with other scientists at CRIG, mylord, our investigations revealed that agrochemicals that are sent to CRIG for testing must go through a minimum testing period of two years, and a maximum of three years. My lord, our investigations further revealed that A1 was appointed ECOof COCOBOD in November 2013 and assumed office in January 2014. My lord, immediately after taking office, A1 had a meeting in his office at Cocoa House in Accra with some senior scientists at CRIG. My lord, in this meeting, A1 directed the scientists present to shorten the test period of agrochemicals and fertilisers with reason that suppliers do take undue advantage of the monopoly and charge high prices on their products. My lord, he went ahead to also say that he is also a scientist and products for testing can be compared to other products that have similar components. My lord, based on this, the Lithovit Foliar Fertiliser sent to CRIG for testing by Agricult on May 15, 2013, which was referred to Soil Science Division there, Dr Alex Afrifa, by the CTCM as the procedure requires, also minuted it and handed it to Dr Alfred Arthur in July 2013. Dr Alfred Arthur did a laboratory test, after which, he engaged the services of Serebour and Attanga for the preparation of a nursery… My lord the Lithovit Fertiliser in powdered form was used on two months nursery plants, and my lord, at the end of the six months testing period, Dr Alfred Arthur submitted his initial test report to his head, Dr Alex Afrifa. My lord, Dr Alex Afrifa hung with the directive given by A1 given in his office wrote a final report …stating that although the Lithovit Fertiliser, which was submitted for testing in powdered form at the nursery, can be applied on mature cocoa by projecting the report onto that. My lord, on the January 20, 2014, instead of Dr Alex Afrifa sending the final report to the CTCM for vetting,he sent the report straight to the Executive Director of CRIG,who also forwarded same on the same day, January 20, 2014, to the CEO of COCOBOD, A1 (Dr Stephen Opuni). My lord, A1, on January 21, 2014, a day after the final report was sent to him, wrote to CRIG instructing them to issue certificatesfor Lithovit FoliarFertiliser and also wrote to ECO of Agricult Ghana Limited to liaise with CRIG for the issuance of the certificate on Lithovit Foliar Fertiliser.
My lord, on January 22,2014, the Executive Director, Mr F.F. Amoah, issued the certificate to Agricult Ghana Limited and its CEO. My lord,on February 25,2014, the CEO of COCOBOD, A1, Dr Stephen Opuni, wrote to Agricult Ghana Limited through its CEO, Seidu Agongo, to send applications on 700,000 litres of Lithovit Foliar Fertiliser. My lord, the CEO of Agricult Ghana Limited, on behalf of Agricult Ghana Limited, sent an application to A1 for the supply of 700,000 litres of Lithovit Foliar Fertiliserin a total sum of $19,250,000. My lord, A1 signed a contract with A2, and A2 on behalf of Agricult Ghana Limited. And, my lord, A2 and A3 duly supplied 700,000 litres of Lithovit Liquid Fertiliser. My lord, in 2014/15, again, COCOBOD, through A1, procured from A2 and A3 one million litres of Lithovit Liquid Fertiliser to the tune of $26 million. My lord, A1 again signed a contract on behalf of COCOBOD, and A2 signed his on behalf of A3, Agricult Ghana Limited. A2 and A3 duly supplied COCOBOD with the one million liquid, and COCOBOD also duly paid for the product.
My lord, in the 2015/16 main cocoa season, A1 procured from A2 and A3 700,000 litres of Lithovit Liquid Fertiliser,amounting to $19, 250,000. My lord, the contract was signed between A1 and A2 and A3. A1 signed on behalf of COCOBOD and A2 also signed on behalf of A3. My lord, in 2016/17, A1 wrote to A2 and A3 for the supply of another one million Lithovit Fertiliser, however, that was not supplied because the contract was abrogated when investigations commenced and it revealed that the Lithovit Liquid Fertiliser supplied to COCOBOD by A2 and A3, from 2014 to 2016, was not tested because the only Lithovit Foliar Fertiliser sent to CRIG for testing by A2 and A3 on the 15 of May 2013 remained the only fertiliser sent to CRIG for testing. My lord, the team went back to COCOBOD to conduct further investigations. My lord, the team was handed over a disciplinary committee report that goes to confirm that the only Lithovit Foliar Fertiliser sent to CRIG for testing on the May 15, 2013 was the Lithovit Foliar Fertiliser tested by Dr Alfred Arthur. My lord,on one of our visits to CRIG during our investigations, my lord, we retrieved the remnants of the original Lithovit Fertiliser sent to CRIG for testing by Agricult Ghana Limited, through its CEO, Mr Seidu Agongo.
Q. Chief Inspector Prempeh, have a look at this (a container) and tell the court what it is?
A. My,lord this is what we picked from CRIG being in its originalform, in which Lithovit Foliar Fertiliser was sent to CRIG for testing
Q. Chief Inspector, in your evidence you mentioned one Serebour and Attanga for having assisted Dr Arthur in conducting the initial testing on the Lithovit Foliar submitted by Agricult in May 2013. Can you tell the court who these people are?
A. My lord, they are workers of CRIG who work at the laboratory, and when it comes to the preparation of a nursery when there is a product to be tested at the nursery, they prepare the nursery for the testing of the products.
Case adjourned to Monday, January 18, 2020.