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SC Dismisses Opuni Attempt To Remove Judge In ‘GH¢271m Financial Loss’ Trial

A former Chief Executive Officer of COCOBOD, Dr. Stephen Kwabena Opuni, who is standing trial for causing financial loss to the state has once again failed in his attempts to have the case before the High Court halted.

This was after a five-member panel of the Supreme Court presided over by the Chief Justice, Anin Yeboah, dismissed an application by the former COCOBOD boss, seeking a stay of proceedings appeal.

“We have considered all the relevant contributions and we do not see any error on the part of the High Court judge to proceed with the case,” Justice Anin Yeboah said.

The court ruled that the application brought to quash the decision of the High Court not to stay proceedings and also to stop the trial judge from hearing the trial was not supported by law.

The court, while dismissing the application, directed the trial judge, Justice Honyenugah, to continue with the case.

On Tuesday, when the case was called, Counsel for Dr. Opuni, Samuel Cudjoe, again argued that there was an error on the face of the decision made by the Court of Appeal in dismissing the application challenging a High Court ruling.

Making a case, Mr. Cudjoe said that the High Court Judge, Justice Honyenugah should have halted the trial until the Court of Appeal ruling which had been fixed for hearing on July 6, 2020.

Mr. Cudjoe supported his oral application for the High Court to halt the trial on Section 1 and 2 of Rule 27 of C.I 19.

“This is the normal practice, this means that a lower court, which is below the Supreme Court, will have to wait until the Supreme Court determines an application for stay,” he stressed.

According to counsel, the judge acted in excess of his jurisdiction as per the rules of Constitutional Instrument C.I.19 as amended by C.I. 21, and therefore invoking the coercive jurisdictions of the apex court against the trial judge.

He insisted that “once we filed our Stay of Proceedings at Court of Appeal and once the High Court’s attention was drawn to it, it has to hold on proceedings until the determination at the Court of Appeal.”

The Principal State Attorney, Mrs. Stella Ohene Appiah, while opposing the motion the said application had long been dismissed.

The Principal State Attorney stated that an application for stay of proceedings does not automatically operate as a stay of proceedings, and therefore urged the court not to entertain the motion.

The five-member panel includes; Justice Jones Dotse, Justice Sule Gbedegbe, Justice Nene Amegatchar, and Justice Gertrude Torkuno.

 

Background

In March 2018, the A-G charged the former CEO of Ghana COCOBOD, Dr Stephen Kwabena Opuni and Seidu Agongo, who is the CEO of Agricult Ghana Limited, for causing financial loss to the state.

The two have been charged with 27 counts, including allegedly engaging in illegalities that caused financial loss of GH¢271.3 million to the state.

The illegalities led to the distribution of sub-standard fertilizer to cocoa farmers.

Agongo is alleged to have used fraudulent means to sell sub-standard fertilizer to COCOBOD for onward distribution to cocoa farmers, while Dr. Opuni is accused of facilitating the act by allowing Agongo’s products not to be tested and certified, as required by law.

The two accused persons have pleaded not guilty to all the 27 charges and are currently on a GH¢300,000 self-recognizance bail each.

Prior to Friday’s hearing, on March 16, the court dismissed a motion seeking the trial judge, Justice Clemence Honyenugah to recuse himself from continuing with the trial, alleging he made certain comments on a different forum.

On February 18, this year, Justice Honyenuga, who is also the Paramount Chief of Nyagbo Traditional Area, showered President Akufo-Addo with his sterling performance.

“We wish to congratulate you on the excellent manner in which you are governing this dear country of ours. It is our hope that with your vision and the gains made in your first term, Ghanaians will consider giving you another term, Torgbui Nyagasi [Justice Honyenuga] had said.

Lawyers for Dr. Opuni, contended that statement by the judge even in his capacity as a traditional leader, was a clear indication of support for the president.

The motion was seeking the trial judge, who was a Court of Appeal Judge sitting with additional responsibility as a High Court Judge, to stop the trial and refer the matter to the Chief Justice for reassignment.

The court in its ruling dismissing the application said the allegations raised on his comments were non-judicial and do not touch on the instant case.

 

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