Senior Counsel Neil Boston has made it clear that the 24 allegations involving the theft of $639M by his clients Dr. Jennifer Westford and her former Personal Assistant, Margaret Cummings, are “Mickey Mouse charges”.
This was before his clients were ordered to post a total of $9.6M bail after being slapped with several charges relating to fraud committed at the Ministry of Public Service.
The charges came following advice from the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
Yesterday, just after noon the former Public Service Minister and her ex-Personal Assistant appeared before City Magistrate Judy Latchman in the Georgetown Magistrates’ Courts.
The charges allege that between August 2011 and April 2015, while being employed in the Public Service of the Government of Guyana, Westford and Cummings stole $639,420,000 belonging to the state. They allegedly received the money by virtue of their employment.
Prior to the indictable charges being read to them, the women were ordered to stand in the prisoner’s dock. They were also not required to plead. They will return to court on February 22, for reports.
They were each ordered to post bail in the sum of $4.8M. Bail was set at $200,000 on each charge. Additionally, they were both ordered to surrender their passports to the police.
Westford of 55 ‘AA’ Victoria Avenue, Eccles, East Bank Demerara (EBD) and Cummings, a mother of three, of 709 Section A, Diamond, EBD, were accompanied by a team of Attorneys including Senior Counsel Rex McKay. The other Attorneys seated at the table were Mr. Neil Boston, Keisha Chase, Eusi Anderson, Bibi Shaddick, Brandon Glasford and Dexter Todd.
Senior Counsel McKay applied for bail on behalf of Dr. Westford. He told the court that his client has all intentions of attending every court hearing to vindicate herself. He said that since investigations were launched into the matter Westford had been released on $200,000 station bail.
McKay said that his client is a medical doctor with over 15 years of experience in the practice. The lawyer said, too, that Westford served as Minister of Public Service from 2001 to 2015 and is currently a serving Member of Parliament.
According to the lawyer, the purpose of bail is not to punish the accused, even as serious as the charges appear.
During Mr. Boston’s bail application for Cummings, he affirmed that his client is “one hundred percent” innocent on all charges. He said that Cummings has provided outstanding service during her tenure at the Ministry. He stated that during her 17 years of employment, she had applied herself beyond the call of duty.
Boston told the court that his client was indeed an asset to the Public Service Ministry until the allegations surfaced.
“Since August 2015, these allegations have been flying about… that so much money has been stolen from the Office of the Presidency.” On this notion, the lawyer asserted that his clients have already been tried and found guilty by the public.
Boston pleaded with the Magistrate not to allow the public’s judgment to hinder her decision in granting the accused bail. He assured the court that his client will not tamper with the court process and told the Magistrate that his application lies in the heart of her discretion.
The case of the prosecution was led by Police Corporal Bharrat Mangru. He informed the court that Westford was employed as Minister of Public Service from 2001-2015, while her co-accused was the principal personnel officer of the Ministry.
Mangru said that Cummings was also in charge of the Ministry’s accounts department. The prosecutor added that it was discovered that on 24 occasions Westford signed memoranda amounting to $639,420,000 and sent them to the Office of the President for approval.
Mangru related that approval was granted and cheques were prepared and encashed by Bank of Guyana.
The prosecutor added the monies were requested to carry out various activities throughout the 10 administrative regions. However, Mangru stated that personnel from the various regions were contacted and denied ever receiving the cash.
According to Mangru, investigations were carried out but no money was recovered.
Mangru strongly objected to bail for the accused, citing the seriousness and penalty attached to the offences. He also pointed out the amount of money that was allegedly stolen. He argued that bail be denied because the women might not return to court for trial, noting Westford’s status in society. But his objections were overruled by the Magistrate.
Last July, Westford was brought before the courts for allegedly attempting to transfer eight state vehicles to four individuals. The Member of Parliament was not alone. Her former assistant also faced charges relating to the transfer of the vehicles. She was charged with four counts of forgery. It is alleged that she forged documents for the purchase of the eight motor vehicles.
Westford and Cummings both denied the charges and were released on a total of $2M bail. These matters are still engaging the attention of the court.
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