Dr Stephen Opuni
The Economic and Organised Crime Office (EOCO) has justified its decision to secure a court order to once again freeze the bank accounts of former chief executive officer (CEO) of the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), Dr. Stephen Kwabena Opuni.
According to lawyers for the anti-graft body, the charges Dr. Opuni is facing, for which he has been dragged before an Accra high court, are serious offences. The ground for freezing the accounts again, they claim, is to safeguard the funds in them for confiscation after a successful conviction.
Jacqueline Avotri, counsel for EOCO, told the court, presided over by Justice Georgina Mensah-Datsa, that EOCO was established to recover ill-gotten wealth.
She stated that the state is determined to recover the funds at the end of the trial hence, the order to freeze the two bank accounts of Dr. Opuni to prevent him from rendering the trial nugatory.
The bank accounts of the former COCOBOD boss were frozen by the anti-graft office in February 2017 due to investigations being conducted into some contracts he allegedly signed during his tenure as well as purported financial irregularities uncovered by the current New Patriotic Party (NPP) government.
The probe was centered on some supposed fraudulent multi-million dollar contracts he was believed to have signed before leaving office.
He has been dragged to court together with Seidu Agongo, managing director of Agricult Ghana Limited, for causing financial loss to the state, and 26 other charges.
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.
An Accra high court, presided over by Justice Georgina Mensah-Datsa, on April 23, 2018, ordered EOCO to unfreeze Dr. Opuni’s two accounts with the Standard Chartered Bank Limited and Ecobank Ghana Limited.
This was after his lawyers had filed a motion asking the court to order EOCO to release his accounts.
But EOCO on the same day, the Office filed another motion praying the court to once again freeze the two accounts because of some new developments. And also that the alleged fraudulent money could be in those accounts.
The court subsequently granted the application to “prevent the respondent (Dr. Opuni) from rendering the outcome of the trial nugatory and to prevent the funds in the stated accounts of respondent (Dr. Opuni) from being dissipated.”
In early May, Dr. Opuni went back to court to seek an order that EOCO should defreeze the accounts, saying it was a breach of natural justice for his accounts to be frozen.
In his suit he claimed that apart from the GH¢25,000.00 in his Ecobank account which the Attorney General’s Office “claims are tainted, none of the funds in my two bank accounts is the subject of any investigation and or trial in any way whatsoever and howsoever.”
He said the continuous freezing of his bank accounts had caused and continued to cause him and his family extreme hardship as he had not been able to access funds from them “and have had to resort to contracting loans when available to meet basic daily needs.”
His lawyer, Samuel Codjoe, moving an affidavit in support of the application last Tuesday, said EOCO failed to show that the bank accounts of his clients were tainted, labeling the Office a monster and Frankenstein to his client.
He said the decision of EOCO to freeze Dr. Opuni’s bank accounts for the second time amounts to an abuse of the court processes.
But lawyer for EOCO avers that the decision to get the two bank accounts frozen again does not amount to any abuse of the court system.
According to Mrs. Avotri, the first order of confirmation to freeze the accounts had expired and if the order had elapsed, it would be disingenuous on the part of the Executive Director of EOCO to apply for an extension of the freezing order.
She said on the ground that the freezing order had expired, the EOCO boss had no legal ground to oppose Opuni’s suit which sought the court to unfreeze the accounts hence, the decision by EOCO not to oppose the application.
On the claim of untold hardship placed on Dr. Opuni as a result of the frozen accounts, counsel for EOCO indicated that it was “self-inflicted as the law anticipates this and adequate provisions have been provided by Section 35 (5) of Act 804.”
Mrs. Avotri, who had earlier indicated that the state was interested in assets recovery, indicated that the entire accounts of Dr. Opuni were frozen since the sum total of the charges he is standing trial for is far in excess of the balances in both bank accounts.
She added that the two banks accounts contained the GH¢25,000.00 he received from his accomplice, Seidu Agongo; and the money is tainted.
She prayed the court to reprimand Dr. Opuni’s lawyer for labeling EOCO a “monster” in the performance of its duties.
Justice Mensah-Datsa has set May 21, 2018 to give her decision on the matter.
BY Gibril Abdul Razak