March 14, 2018 / 6:31 PM / 6 months ago

Former head of Ghana's cocoa regulator faces fraud trial

ACCRA, March 14 (Reuters) - The former head of Ghana’s cocoa regulator will go on trial for his alleged role in awarding fraudulent fertiliser supply contracts totalling 217 million cedis ($49 million) between 2014 and 2016, court documents showed on Wednesday.

Ghana’s president Nana Akufo-Addo fired Stephen Opuni last year after a three-year tenure as head of Cocobod that was marred by industry concerns of a lack of transparency. His assets were frozen while an investigation was conducted.

According to the documents signed on Wednesday by Chief State Attorney Evelyn Keelson, Opuni awarded false fertiliser contracts, including one to a company called Agricult Ghana, that he knew the company could not deliver on despite being paid by Cocobod.

The owner of Agricult Ghana, Seidu Agongo, has also been charged for colluding with Opuni and for money laundering.

An Accra High court will take their pleas on March 23 after which it will set a date for trial to begin.

Opuni did not respond to Reuters’ calls seeking comment on the charges. However, the opposition said the charges constituted witch-hunting of members of the previous administration by the government.

Agongo could not be reached for comment.

The new management of Cocobod said last November it had initiated reforms to clear debts of up to 19.6 billion cedis ($4.45 billion), which it said resulted from bloated contracts and wasteful expenditure by Opuni’s administration.

Ghana, the world’s second largest cocoa producer after Ivory Coast, is aiming to restore annual output to at least 1 million tonnes by 2020 through improved farming techniques and enhancing farmer’s welfare. (Reporting by Kwasi Kpodo Editing by Edward McAllister and Mark Potter)

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