The presiding judge on the trial of former COCOBOD CEO, Dr Steven Opuni, has been transferred in a new twist to the high-profile political prosecution that has gained public attention for the wrong reasons.
Justice Kwasi Anokye Gyimah took over the case in March this year and ruled that the trial be restarted for being tainted with allegations of unfairness.
He said in his ruling, which the state opposed vehemently and has now appealed against, that a fresh trial was an avenue for the court to substantially dispel the said suspicions and regain the defendants’ and public trust in the process.
But in a letter sent to him by the Chief Justice, Justice Gertrude Araba Esaaba Torkornoo, just days after being sworn in on June 12, Justice Gyimah has been asked to vacate his position and move to Kumasi, the Ashanti Regional capital.
He is to start today (July 3) – the day the Appeals Court is set to decide on his landmark ruling for the trial to restart.
Justice Gyimah, who is described by many who encountered him as tough and principled, is to be replaced by Justice Aboagye Tandoh of the Winneba high Court.
Justice Tandoh will become the third judge on the case after the first judge, Justice Clemence Honyenuga, retired and handed over to the now-transferred Justice Gyimah.
Beyond bringing a new dimension to the case in which the state is accusing Opuni and businessman, Seidu Agongo, of allegedly causing over GH¢217 million financial loss to the state, the transfer of Justice Gyimah will deprive the national capital of one of the best judges on land cases in the country.
A holder of a Master of Laws (LLM) degree in International Criminal Justice and Armed Conflict from the University of Nottingham in Britain, Justice Gyimah was a law lecturer in the Faculty of Law at GIMPA where he taught mainly the Law of Immovable Property.
Since his appointment as the High Court Judge in charge of the Land Court 2, his deep knowledge in the law and practice and being a stickler for principles has endeared him to several people, with many in the Ghana Bar Association and the Judiciary urging, in the past, for him to remain in the capital to help resolve some of the tenacious land cases in courts.
It is not clear if the Ghana Bar Association, which has been defending judges over recent public commentary, will intervene or comment on the matter but many say that the transfer could deepen perceptions that the trial would not be fair – further worsening the image of the judiciary.
Prior to Justice Gyimah taking over the case, the defendants had accused Justice Honyenuga on countless times of bias; allegations he denied.
He was once removed from sitting on the case but reinstated and subsequent attempts to get him to recuse himself or to remove him were shot down.
In the lead-up to the 2020 polls, Justice Honyenuga, sitting as Torgbui Ashui Nyagasi V of the Nyagbo Traditional area, said it was his hope that Ghanaians may consider giving President Akufo-Addo another four years in a video that went viral over allegations of a judge trampling on the 1992 Constitution to engage in partisan campaigning.
Starting in 2018, President Akufo-Addo and many stalwarts of the ruling NPP have variously said that the trial of Opuni was evidence that the main opposition NDC, of which Opuni is a member, is corrupt.