…recommends victim take private action to get redress
An independent probe of police files used to lay charges in 2007 against three senior managers in a massive fraud at the
New Building Society (NBS) has raised troubling questions.
In the report by special investigator, Henry Chester, DSM, a retired Deputy Commissioner of Police, several key pieces of documents appeared to be missing. This led Chester to ask if police had submitted the correct, complete file to the Office of the Ombudsman.
The high-profile case has spurred significant debate, because it would be the first major one taken on by the Ombudsman, Justice Winston Moore. The Ombudsman’s office is the independent public complaints body that has sweeping powers to investigate abuses by public officers.
The Ombudsman earlier this month released an explosive report that stemmed from a complaint made by Maurice Arjoon, who claimed that he was set up and charged wrongfully for a $69M fraud committed between 2006 and 2007 while he was the Chief Executive Officer/Secretary of the mortgage lending institution. NBS later repaid $74M to the account holder. The monies were withdrawn in a well planned scheme using what appeared to be a forged Power of Attorney notarized in Canada and filed in Guyana.
Arjoon claimed in his complaint that he was set up because he refused to vote in favour of a proposal before the NBS Board of Directors in 2006 to lend $2B for the construction of the Berbice River Bridge.
Arjoon argued to the Board that lending the money would have been illegal. Arjoon’s refusal angered the then President, Bharrat Jagdeo, who reportedly said he would deal with the CEO.
Arjoon was soon after, in 2007, charged with fraud in a high-profile case that attracted widespread media attention.
The report cleared Arjoon and two managers, Kent Vincent and Kissoon Baldeo, of the fraud charges, with the
Ombudsman saying that criminal charges should never have been laid by police in the first place. The three managers lost seven years of their lives because of those charges, he said.
Justice Moore, to investigate the complaint of Arjoon made in January, retained Chester to examine the police files to determine what led investigators to conclude that there was enough evidence to charge the trio. It is what he found that is most shocking.
Chester found that there was nothing in the police files given to Ombudsman office that suggests, apart from the three, that other persons were prosecuted. This meant that the file was not complete, as indeed other persons were charged. There was also nothing in the police file also that indicated the arrest, interrogation and cautioning of the alleged mastermind, Ashley Legall a/k Compton Chase. Legall had allegedly used a false passport and Power of Attorney to withdraw the $69M over a period of weeks in late 2006.
There was also no evidence in the file that police made attempts to execute search warrants at the homes of anyone in search of evidence in relation to the fraud.
“One must ask oneself if this is the correct file submitted to the Ombudsman by the Police. …Several things are unusual and not explored in this file, from a police investigation which took four months before charges were laid…”
Chester was also unable to determine why investigators did not follow up on questions regarding the signature of the account
holder, Bibi Shamila Khan, which appeared to bear a near likeness to the signatures on the Power of Attorney. No requests were also made to Jamaican and Canadian police to determine the whereabouts of Khan during time of the fraud.
“It is the opinion of the Reporting Officer (Chester) that Messrs. Maurice Arjoon, Kent Vincent and Kissoon Baldeo acted appropriately in the discharge of their duties. They followed the rules and procedures of NBS.”
Chester, however, noted that the officials erred in accepting the Canadian telephone number supplied by Chase, the alleged mastermind, to call the “account holder” to verify whether she was authorizing withdrawals.
“This nonetheless does not make their action criminal. There is not a thread of evidence in this file, to prove that those senior officials, who were entrusted with property not their own, dealt wrongfully with it, which would have established the intent—that blameworthy state of mind known as mens rea.”
The special investigator recommended that the police forward all the files with exhibits to the Ombudsman and that “re-prosecution” be instituted against all the accused persons in the alleged fraud, for further study and follow-up action.
He also recommended that Arjoon take private action to seek redress.
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