The attorney general’s insistence that Justice Clemence Honyenuga sit on the GHS271-million financial loss trial involving former COCOBOD CEO Stephen Opuni and businessman Seidu Agongo, is a head-hunting move for a judge that would determine the case in a manner preferable to the minister of justice, the main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) has alleged at a press conference on Monday, 30 August 2021.
The Supreme Court, by a 3-2 majority decision, prohibited Justice Honyenuga from the case but Mr Godfred Dame has filed a review application, arguing, among other things, that starting the case afresh would be costly to the state.
In a response, the national communication officer of the NDC, Mr Sammy Gyamfi, told journalists at the press event that: “In fact, most of the cases of criminal prosecution against some officials of the former NDC regime [that] the NPP keeps bragging about … are beginning to crumble like a pack of cards right before their very eyes”.
“What we are seeing is a desperate regime, which is not interested in upholding fair trial and the interest of justice but determined to do everything possible under the sun to convict former NDC government officials at all cost for cheap political goal-scoring”, he alleged.
“Classical examples that highlight this fact”, he noted, are the case against the former SSNIT boss Ernest Thompson, “which has been dismissed by the Supreme Court on grounds of defective charges and also the case against the former CEO of COCOBOD, Dr Stephen Opuni and [businessman] Alhaji Seidu Agongo”.
According to the lawyer, “in the case of the Opuni trial, even after the Supreme Court of the Republic has prohibited, barred the trial judge, Justice Honyenuga from presiding over the case on grounds of his manifest prejudice and bias against the accused persons, the attorney general and minister of justice, Mr Godfred Yeboah Dame, who is supposed to advance the interest of justice in all cases, wants the judge reinstated on grounds that starting the case de novo – afresh – will be at great expense and cost to the state”.
“This is the most unfortunate statement I’ve heard from an attorney general in my life and it is a slap in the face of fair trial and administration of justice”, Mr Gyamfi argued.
He wondered why the AG is so obsessed with having Justice Honyenuga on the case.
“There are about four high court Justices, four high court judges at the criminal division of the high court but, for some reasons, Justice Honyenuga, then-Justice of the court of appeal, was given a special warrant to preside over the prosecution of Dr Stephen Opuni and Seidu Agongo”.
“A few months after that, Justice Honyenuga was promoted to the Supreme Court by President Akufo-Addo”, he observed.
In Mr Gyamfi’s view, Justice Honyenuga has shown open bias against Dr Opuni and Mr Agongo, which makes him unfit to continue hearing the case.
“This is the Justice Honyenuga, a judge, who, during the 2020 election campaign, publicly endorsed and campaigned for a second term for President Akufo-Addo when he visited his palace”.
“The judge, who has said in open court that the Opuni case is distracting him from his Supreme Court duties, hence he wants to conclude the case quickly so that he can focus on his Supreme Court duties”.
“We are talking about the judge, who, in his ruling on a submission of no case, decided to exclude from the evidence on record, as many as 18 exhibits that vindicate the case of Dr Opuni and the other accused persons and which were tendered through prosecution witnesses without any objection whatsoever, from the prosecution”, Mr Gyamfi listed.
He said: “The insistence by the attorney general to have Justice Honyenuga continue with this case suggests that the attorney general is desirous of having his own preferred judge preside over a case that he is prosecuting”.
“This singular conduct”, Mr Gyamfi warned, “has the tendency to completely erode public confidence in the judiciary as an independent arm of government”.
“The simple questions [that the] government and Godfred Dame must answer, are: 1. Why must Justice Honyenuga preside over the Opuni trial at all cost despite the clear prejudice and bias he has exhibited against the accused persons? Is he the only judge in Ghana who can preside over that case? And more importantly, why must fair trial and justice, truth be sacrificed on the altar of cost? Can Godfred Dame sell his liberty for money?”
“So, when people’s liberties are at stake, fair trial is at stake, justice is at stake, you are telling us that [even though] the Supreme Court says: ‘This judge has shown bias; we are barring him even though he is our colleague, he cannot preside over the case’, your are telling us that: ‘Oh, my Lords, if you do that, we have to start afresh; it will cost us money, so, let him come and [sit on the case]’”.
“I mean, where in the world did you hear this from somebody who is not just an attorney general; that is: he’s not just a lawyer for the government but he’s also a minister of justice and, therefore, must be interested in justice for all citizens?” Mr Gyamfi wondered.
“Clearly”, he noted, “Godfred Dame is engaging in head-hunting for his preferred judge in the Opuni trial for an outcome that should be obvious to any objective mind”, adding: “Most of the criminal cases against former NDC appointees that the NPP will have us believe are evidence of their commitment to the fight against corruption, are cases of persecution and not prosecution”.
“As such, these cannot and should not be believed as evidence of any genuine commitment to the fight against corruption”, Mr Gyamfi said.