Justice Aboagye Tandoh, who is the third judge to be assigned to the GHS217 million financial loss trial involving former Ghana Cocoa Board CEO Stephen Opuni and businessman Seidu Agongo, has been accused by the lawyers of the first accused, of introducing “alien practices” in adjudicating the controversial high-profile criminal case which has been before the court for almost six years.
Mr Agongo (second accused) and his company, Agricult Ghana Limited (third accused), are being tried alongside Dr Opuni.
They are facing 27 charges, including willfully causing financial loss to the state and contravention of the Public Procurement Act in the purchase of Lithovit liquid fertiliser between 2014 and 2016.
The trial has gone through the hands of two judges already – the first being Justice Clemence Honyenuga, who retired after attaining the mandatory retirement age; and the second being Justice Gyimah, who was transferred a few weeks after he ruled that the case start de novo, since, in his considered opinion, it had been fraught with accusations and complaints from both sides.
Justice Tandoh, however, reversed that decision when he took over the matter, preferring instead, to adopt the proceedings of Justice Clemence Honyenuga, a decision opposed to by the lawyers for the accused persons.
On Thursday, 12 October 2023, Justice Tandoh announced 40 back-to-back sitting dates between now and early December.
Justice Tandoh adjourned the case after the date announcement and retreated to his chambers.
Per the new dates, the parties are to report to court every weekday, starting from Friday, 13 October 2023, until December 7, 2023, for a new set of dates to be taken.
When he first took over the matter, Justice Tandoh, who was transferred from the Central Region to the national capital, ruled on 25 July 2023: “I have examined and satisfied myself with the records and proceedings of the case of the Republic vrs Stephen kwabena Opuni and two others. I will, therefore, go ahead and adopt the proceedings as recorded by the other court. That is my ruling.”
Justice Tandoh later, on 12 October 2023, dismissed a stay of proceedings motion filed by Dr Opuni’s lawyer against his 25 July ruling.
Dr Opuni’s lead counsel, Mr Samuel Codjoe, argued: “My Lord, it is our submission that this ruling has no basis in law, and that this court erred in coming to the conclusion to adopt the proceedings in the way in which it did; that is: by not going through the proceedings with the representatives of the parties to agree what constitutes the record”.
According to him, “the parties have the legal and constitutional right to correct any error in the record and, in fact, the court itself is required to ensure that the records are correct.”
“Indeed”, Mr Codjoe continued, “in the Court of Appeal, when the records of appeal were compiled, the record of appeal contains the entire proceedings of the case. We drew the attention of the court to numerous errors and mistakes in the transcript. This record, we submit, is what this court has adopted.”
On 13 October 2013, when the court reconvened, Justice Tandoh was not enthused about the absence of Dr. Opuni’s seventh defence witness for the continuation of the case.
But counsel for Dr Opuni explained to the court that “we didn’t have the opportunity of going through the proceedings with your lordship”, adding: “We add that yesterday [12 October], as we were not given any opportunity with respect to the date, and due to the fact that just after the court read the ruling, it rose, we were unable to inform the court about this fact”.
The judge then directed the first accused person to call his next witness on Monday, 16 October 2023.
This means the seventh defence witness would mount the box later to continue with his testimony after the eighth defence witness has finished giving evidence.
Mr Agongo’s lead counsel, Mr Benson Nutsukpui, found it “strange” that the sitting dates announced by the judge were not discussed.
“Even the question of dates, we can not discuss? This is strange,” he complained.