Nov 24, 2015 News
Investigators are continuing to study a key report that recommends charges against former President Bharrat Jagdeo and a number of ex-Ministers over the allocation and sale of prime seaside property at Sparendaam to themselves.
Crime Chief, Wendell Blanhum, questioned about the status of investigations, yesterday disclosed that a file prepared by the State Assets Recovery Unit (SARU), and recommending actions, has been received.
It is being studied by the police legal advisor to determine how investigators will proceed, the Crime Chief disclosed.
SARU, headed by economist, Professor Clive Thomas, was appointed by the David Granger administration to retrieve properties believed stolen or acquired through illegal means by government officials.
The case of the Sparendaam property, known as Pradoville Two, located on the East Coast of Demerara, was the first major one announced by SARU that has recommended charges.
And it could go no higher than Jagdeo whose two terms as President of Guyana was dogged by accusations of corruption.
There has been impatience with the pace of investigations under the new administration which had vowed to investigate all reports of corrupt transactions that allegedly took place under Jagdeo’s rule.
While there have been questions over what charges are likely and whether Jagdeo has presidential immunity, legal experts have also not ruled out civil actions being filed.
The Pradoville Two deal itself had raised eyebrows as the property was not opened for ordinary citizens to have a shot at acquiring.
SARU’s report last month noted that in 2010, the Jagdeo Cabinet made a decision authorizing the
National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) to privatize state lands. NICIL is the body tasked with overseeing the privatization of state assets.
It reportedly spent more than $200M to develop the seaside community without the knowledge and blessings of the National Assembly and other relevant bodies.
The said lands were then secretly sold to the former ministers and known friends and associates of the previous regime.
At the time of the sale, the report said, the lands were grossly undervalued and sold substantially lower than the market value for the land thereby depriving the state of its full benefits.
Jagdeo himself paid only $9.8M, giving himself two acres of lands that overlooked the Atlantic Ocean.
SARU argued that the former Ministers could be held liable for misconduct in public office and in the absence of legislation for the unit, that the Attorney General, Basil Williams, may institute proceedings against the former Ministers.
The unit said that the actions of the former cabinet Ministers have shown that they willfully neglected to perform their duties without reasonable excuse or justification to such an extent that it amounted to an abuse of the public trust in the office holders, hence its belief that criminal charges are indeed warranted.
The report cited several court cases regarding public officials as its basis for recommending that criminal charges be brought.
Providing a brief history of the nature of the Pradoville Two deal, SARU reported that Tract A of Sparendaam, East Coast Demerara was once deemed as Communal Lands, thereafter owned by Demerara Sugar Estates prior
After independence, it said that this plot of land was owned by the State of Guyana. The land remained State Lands until 2010 when the Central Housing and Planning Authority (CHPA) privatized the land and sold it to the former Ministers and associates of the former regime.
In 2010, Jagdeo was sold 1.5 acres of land, Block III, Parcel 246 Lot 246 Plantation Goedverwagting and 0.4603 acres, Block III, Parcel 241.
Former Agriculture Minister, Robert Persaud, was sold Lot 239 Goedverwagting, Block III, which is 0.3030 acres. The report noted that on September 20, 2011 the land was transferred to Kamini Persaud and Robert Persaud Jnr. The land with the house was then sold on September 18, 2014 to LSR Inc. Company for $90M. LSR’s public records indicate that its Secretary and Director is Andrew Pollard.
Also benefitting was former Public Service Minister, Dr. Jennifer Westford, who was sold a Lot 238 Goedverwagting, Block III; former Education Minister, Priya Manickchand, was sold Block IV, parcel, 176. She later sold the property to one Dave Naraine on February 21, 2013 for $100M.
Other beneficiaries included Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Shalimar Ali-Hack; former Head of the Private Sector Commission (PSC), Ramesh Dookoo; former Cabinet Secretary, Dr. Roger Luncheon; PPP General Secretary and former Home Affairs Minister, Clement Rohee; former Labour Minister and Dr. Nanda Gopaul.
The lands were transferred to the persons on various conditions- one of which included that the transferee shall not be at liberty to sell, lease, transfer or part with possession of the said property within ten years of transfer without the written consent of the Minister responsible for Housing.
According to the SARU report, however, Manickchand sold her land three years after purchasing it and she did so without written permission from the CH&PA, thereby breaching the conditions. Persaud also breached the conditions, SARU said.
Given the history and nature of the deal, SARU, believed that it has a strong case for the former Ministers to be charged with misconduct in public office.
SARU said, “There is a direct link between the misconduct and the abuse, of powers and duties of their position. The former Cabinet members knew they were doing a wrong in transferring state lands into their names and that of their acquaintances for undervalued market prices for the land. The lands were sold for $114 per square foot at the time.”
“Public officers ought to carry out their duties not for the benefit of themselves but for the benefit of the public as a whole. If they neglect or misconduct themselves by their actions in the course of their duties this may lead to a breach or abuse of the public’s trust. The act of the cabinet members for their benefit is serious enough to amount to an abuse of the public’s trust.”
SARU added that former President Bharrat Jagdeo would not be exempt from the charges.
The Pradoville Two transaction had drawn widespread criticisms from the public after the details came to light.
While Jagdeo and other beneficiaries paid $114 per square foot for the lands, ordinary Guyanese were made to $317 by CH&PA.
Remigrants, who were encouraged to come back and live in Guyana, paid more than ten times the price Jagdeo paid for the same size house lot. They paid $1,111 per square foot.
To make way for the Pradoville Two scheme, Jagdeo and his Cabinet spent more than $100M to remove a transmitting tower of the National Communications Network.
Last month, Attorney General, Basil Williams, did not rule out a civil action against former Cabinet ministers and Jagdeo.
Williams is reported as saying that Jagdeo can only be immune from certain decisions he may have taken as President, provided these were legal actions.
Misappropriating state lands is considered a legal action, Williams said.
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