Jul 24, 2016 News
It appears that the contentious Pradoville Two case would not be stalled for much longer. In fact, officials at the State Asset Recovery Unit (SARU) said that they are approaching the conclusion of the valuation of lands which it believes were attained at “next to nothing” prices by former President Bharrat Jagdeo and others, and subsequently sold for a fortune.
Just a few days ago, Police Legal Advisor, Justice Claudette Singh, opined that the lack of valuation of the controversial lands was one of the loopholes in SARU’s case.
Singh said she made it clear to the investigators that if their claim is that the public officials got state lands at “dirt cheap prices”, and then resold it for a fortune, they must first determine what the original cost of the lands was at that time.
In doing this, Justice Singh said she would be able to evaluate by how much the lands were undersold.
The Police Legal Advisor said, “If they get the valuation of the lands at that time then we can move forward. I made that clear to them weeks now and I am still waiting on that valuation.”
Justice Singh made it pellucidly clear that while investigators may want to pursue the criminal route on this matter, it would be incumbent on them to ensure that all the necessary, concrete evidence is available to put forward a “tight case” in the court.
“They need to have a tight case with this matter. They have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that embezzlement or fraud took place. While there is not enough at the moment to move forward with criminal proceedings, I did explain that the option of civil proceedings is still open to the investigators.”
SARU Head, Dr. Clive Thomas, said that he has noted the advice and findings of the Legal Advisor and the Unit has already taken steps to improve the case accordingly.
SARU is expected to have the “improved case” returned to the Police Legal before the beginning of August. Dr. Thomas said that the matter is one which remains a priority to the Unit and as such, will take all necessary steps to ensure “no stones are left unturned.”
It was in early October 2015 that SARU completed a report which stated that in 2010, the Bharrat 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 seafront 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 at a price substantially below the market value, thereby depriving the state of its full benefits.
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 to 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.”
In a letter addressed to Public Security Minister, Khemraj Ramjattan, SARU had said that based on its findings, it is requesting that Ramjattan’s Office proceed to further investigate unlawful aspects of this matter, with the aim of establishing whether criminal action should be instituted.
“It is the duty of this Unit in the Ministry of the Presidency to ensure that no Minister of Government in Guyana would be the beneficiary from any acts of misconduct or unlawful conduct while being holders of Public Office.”
SARU had also informed the Public Security Minister that it has also forwarded its report to the Attorney General (AG) and Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams, along with a copy of a Legal Opinion on the potential misconduct in Public Office by the former Ministers.
The document on the Legal Opinion says that there is legal scope for the argument of willful neglect by the former Ministers in performing their duties without reasonable excuse or facilitation to an extent amounting to an abuse of the public trust.
Further, based on the cases cited, the document outlines that the Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, has Legal Standing on this matter.
Once sufficient evidence is gathered by his Chambers, Williams had said that civil action against the former Cabinet Ministers will be instituted. He had explained to the media that former President Bharrat Jagdeo could face prosecution.
The SARU report however lists the DPP, Miss Shalimar Ali-Hack, as a beneficiary of the controversial Pradoville Two deal. The report said that on September 7, 2011, the DPP bought Lot 184 Sparendaam, ECD, Block IV, which is 0.2767 acres of land.
Asked how this looming situation of conflict of interest would be dealt with, Williams had said, “She would have to recuse herself in the determination of the matter.”
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