18-October-2019
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Opuni trial judge troubled over his stolen court records & notes

Justice Clemence Honyenuga, who is presiding in the case of Stephen Opuni, Seidu Agogo and Agriculture Limited known as the COCOBOD Case, on Monday looked visibly shocked and troubled, over the theft of his trial notes and records of proceedings on the case.

The case was called on Monday morning, however, as a result of stolen records of proceedings from inception of the case, the Court of Appeal Judge, who is sitting as additional High Court judge, was forced to adjourn the case to Wednesday, November 13, 2019. He was quick to ask whether any of the parties had filed any motion.

Interestingly, Justice Honyenuga, did not directly mention the theft of his records, but rather described it as technical challenge after he had drawn the attention of both the prosecution and defense teams that the computers in his courtroom were not working as expected.

But The Herald’s nosing in around the Court Complex, has established some staff of the Judicial Service, especially those in the IT Department, have been picked up by the National Security and officials of Bureau of National Investigations (BNI) over the stolen Computer accessories, including hard drives containing court records and proceedings.

The theft is said to have happened during the legal vacation, and the IT officials, have had their phones confiscated by the BNI and National Security team to aid them in their investigations, The Herald has learnt.

Interestingly, The Herald, established that the Judicial Service led by Chief Justice Sophia Akuffo during the Legal Vacation, changed the private security company protecting the Law Court Complex in Accra.

Edern Security, used to provide security on court premises, but was replaced with Paradigm Security over the legal vacation. It is not clear, what considerations and expert advice, went into the engagement of the new company; Paradigm Security.

The legal vacation started August 1 to October 4. The change of Edern Security Company, was preceded by the recruitment of one Naa Ashaley Dadson, as Manager of the Court Complex.

She is said to be a lawyer from the law firm of Sam Okudzeto & Associates, again no one could tell her background in estate management.

The theft affected about four different courtrooms serving the Accra High Court located at the Law Court Complex.The Law Court Complex, houses 44 High Courts, offices, a bank, eateries and other services. It is the biggest court complex in Ghana.

Also stolen are records and notes made by the judges, including the Fast Track High Court, hearing the criminal case against Dr. Opuni and businessman Seidu Agongo, suggesting the judges will have to make these trial notes afresh.

What is strange is that, the Law Court Complex, is a highly fortified building with a 24-hour expensive security surveillance deployment, monitoring and controlling entry and exits into the building, but it is not clear, how and who stole the trial records, and what intentions are behind the theft, which also affected the Land High Courts.

Aside the security at the gate of the Law Court Complex, there is also a 24-hour security camera system within and outside the building also monitoring movements in and around the complex.

These cameras record and store daily movements as video footages, but reports suggest that the cameras stopped working just around the period the theft took place.

Again, aside the highly paid private security company and the security cameras, the Law Court Complex, also has metal detectors as part of an elaborate system built to protect the human beings working in the building, equipment as well as the classified and sensitive documents.

It is unclear, if someone or group of persons deliberately went out to compromise some of the cases on trial.

However, The Herald, is informed that, recently a naked man was found inside the Law Court Complex in one of the rooms, when cleaners came to work in the morning to tidy up the place.

He was taken for a “madman” and set free by his captors. Interestingly, when the CCTV footage was watched, it was detected that he had entered the building using the lift fully dressed in jeans and polo shirt, but this did not aroused the suspicion of the official there. He was interrogated and shown the exit holding his clothes and shoes in his armpit.

Insiders told The Herald that the officials were rather busily taking videos of the said “madman” with their phones.

Again, it is not clear if the alleged “madman”had something to do with the theft, however, his entry into the building shows security has been compromised, and the detection of the theft is a manifestation of that.

Meanwhile, the Court of Appeal is set to hear a motion asking for a stay of proceedings at the High Court that rejected a document that “contradicts and shatters the entire [state’s] case” against former COCOBOD CEO, Dr. Opuni.

The document in question is a letter addressed to Agricult Ghana Limited, asking it to pay for the reassessment and evaluation of “Lithovit Liquid Fertiliser” in 2014.

The document, titled: “Renewal of CRIG certificate for pesticides, fertilisers and spraying machines for January to December 2015” was signed by the then Deputy Executive Director of CRIG, Dr. Opoku Ameyaw, who also doubled as the Chairman of the Committee for the Testing of Chemicals and Machinery (CTCM).

Dr. Opuni and Seidu Agongo, are standing trial for allegedly causing financial loss of GHC271.3 million to the state which the Attorney General claimed led to the distribution of “substandard fertilizer” to cocoa farmers.

The state had argued that lithovit fertilizer tested during the tenure of the first accused at COCOBOD was powdery in nature and not liquid which was bought under Dr, Opuni.

Prosecution witnesses had testified before the High Court presided over by Justice Clemence Honyenuga, denying the existence of any document suggesting that COCOBOD and for that matter Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG) tested any lithovit liquid fertilizer, let alone renew it.

But later when the letter dated November 20, 2014 and filed in court by CRIG emerged, contradicting the position of the state, the Attorney General successfully blocked it from being tendered in evidence through third prosecution witness, Dr. Adu-Ampomah a former deputy CEO at COCOBOD on July 10, 2019.

This is an official document from CRIG, the scientific division of COCOBOD which tested lithovit and describing the product as “lithovit liquid fertilizer”.

The witness was categorical in his evidence-in-chief in May that “there was no record at COCOBOD indicating that any of such Liquid Lithovit Fertilizer had been tested by CRIG”.

The accused therefore appealed against the rejection of the document and therefore filed for a stay of proceedings but the High Court declined the request.

The appellant therefore argued in his affidavit in support of the latest motion at the Appeals Court that “if proceedings are not stayed and the trial is allowed to proceed, I would suffer irreparable hardship in that this letter is a crucial document on which the case revolves and by rejecting same the High Court would not consider same.

“I would thus be denied the benefit of this letter which contradicts and shatters the entire case against me,”

Meanwhile, there is document that has been tendered in evidence in which prosecution witness, Dr. Yaw Adu-Ampomah wrote to CRIG requesting the renewal of Agricult Ghana Limited certificate on Lithovit fertilizer barely two months after he himself has recommended investigation into product the state considered “substandard”.

The witness who was in charge of agronomy and quality control as Deputy CEO at COCOBOD and now works as the special advisor to the minister of agriculture on cocoa affairs has been caught in some instances contradicting himself, especially on sole-sourcing.

Graphic Online’s Emmanuel Ebo Hawkson, has reported that some workers of the Judicial Service have been questioned by state security agencies in relation to the incident.Efforts to get an official confirmation from the Judicial Service, however, proved futile as officials denied knowledge or promised to get back with information.

A source, however, said the Chief Justice, Justice Akuffo, on Monday had a meeting with the Manager of the Law Court Complex.“I can’t confirm the incident but what I know is that the CJ is currently meeting the Manager of the Court Complex. I can’t, however, confirm if the said meeting is in relation with the incident you are talking about,” the source said.

“We are currently experiencing some technical difficulties so please pardon us,” the presiding judge, Justice Clemence Honyenuga, told the court.

Other sources who spoke to Graphic Online said security at the Law Court Complex had not been the best.

“Recently, we found a naked man inside the court complex. It was really a scary experience,” the Daily Graphic source confirmed.

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