Government currently has its eyes on a few attorneys-at-law to form the crucial Special Prosecution Team that will be tasked with overseeing the Pradoville Two case.
This was revealed yesterday during a post cabinet press briefing at the Ministry of the Presidency, hosted by Minister of State, Joseph Harmon.
There, the Minister was asked to reveal the names of the persons who would have been proposed to Cabinet for the Special Prosecution Team.
While he could not remember the names, Harmon said that the list comprises Guyanese. He said, too, that there were two recommendations made for persons who reside abroad, but are from the Caricom region.
“The actual names of the persons I don’t specifically remember now. They are all attorneys in private practice in Guyana right now, who have actually agreed to be part of that team.”
The Cabinet Secretary added, “When you engage an attorney you have to have some kind of retainer arrangement and a contract, and that is why I think the Attorney General, Basil Williams, has not released their names as yet, because I think they are still looking at what retainer arrangement can be put in place”
The Minister of State said while that arrangement is being sorted out, the persons whom the Minister of Legal Affairs contacted, expressed a willingness to be part of the team.
Harmon said that even those who were not contacted heard about it and spoke with the Attorney General, indicating their eagerness to provide their services as well.
“So what we are getting is a pool of legal talent. They are prepared to work with us to ensure that the wrongs of the case are dealt with in a swift manner.”
Asked if the prospective persons for the Prosecution Team had spoken with officials of the Special Organized Crime Unit (SOCU) or the State Asset Recovery Unit (SARU), Harmon said, “I can’t be specific with that, but there are some people who are helping with the financial analysis work to be done by SARU”.
He added that the assistants are attached to the World Bank. He said too that last year they provided their expertise on finishing the legislation for SARU, which is currently before Cabinet.
It is officially over a year since investigations started into the Pradoville Two case and a strong case is yet to be crafted. This was confirmed by officials attached to SARU.
SARU’s Chief Executive Officer, Aubrey Heath-Retemyer, said that SOCU is taking the lead in investigations into the criminal aspect of the case, while SARU is providing whatever support is needed along the way.
The SARU official said, “Work is ongoing in this matter. This case has a criminal aspect and a civil one. We are looking at the latter. With regard to the criminal aspect, it was known by now that investigators had to get the valuations for the lands at Sparendaam.
“These were sold to officials with strong ties to the former regime. But even after this was secured, SOCU is still without a strong case.”
Retemyer said that plaguing the criminal side of the case for SARU is securing statements from persons within the various agencies that would have been involved in the Pradoville Two scheme.
He said, “We were able to get the valuations of the lands, but SOCU was subsequently advised that there were still other requirements. They are still to get corresponding statements from government agencies that are implicated in the entire scandal.”
The anticorruption advocate continued, “These agencies include the Central Housing and Planning Authority, Lands and Surveys Commission and the Deeds Registry.
I believe SOCU has about 60 persons that it has taken statements from. We are still putting together a strong case for the civil and criminal aspect.”
In early October 2015, 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.”
The Department of the Ministry of the Presidency said that 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.”
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