Lawyers for former Minister of Public Service, Dr. Jennifer Westford, and her Personnel Officer, Ms. Margaret Cummings, presented extensive arguments yesterday in their bid to persuade the court to dismiss the multi-million-dollar simple larceny charges levelled against their clients.
Dr. Westford and Ms. Cummings have denied 24 simple larceny charges which alleged that between August 2011 and April 2015, while being employed in the Public Service of Guyana, they stole $639,420,000.
They are currently out of $4.8M bail each.
According to court facts, Westford was employed as Minister of Public Service from 2001-2015, while her co-accused was the principal personnel officer of the Ministry. Cummings of Lot 709 Section ‘A’ Diamond, EBD was also in charge of the Ministry’s accounts department.
It was discovered that on numerous occasions Westford signed memoranda amounting to $639,420,000 and sent them to the Office of the President for approval. Approval was granted and cheques were prepared and encashed by Bank of Guyana (BoG).
The monies were requested to carry out various activities throughout the 10 administrative regions. However, personnel from the various regions were contacted and denied ever receiving the cash. Investigations were carried out but the monies were never recovered.
Following the close of the prosecution’s case which is headed by State Counsel Natasha Backer and State Counsel Teshanna Lake, lawyers for the duo including Senior Counsel Neil Boston and Dexter Todd were given up until yesterday to present a no-case submission.
It is the lawyers’ contention that the prosecution has failed miserably to prove that a criminal offence was committed by the women. First of all, the lawyers have argued that the charges filed against Dr. Westford are “not legitimately and lawfully made out.”
Citing a decade old Court of Appeal case, the lawyers asserted that in accordance with the law, Dr. Westford is not a Public Officer, and therefore, the charges against her have no legal basis.
“The prosecution has failed to prove that the monies were stolen and that the monies were stolen by the defendants. The prosecution has brought no evidence in their case which prima-facie establishes the elements of the charge of Larceny by the Public Officers,” the lawyers have argued.
According to the legal minds, the prosecution has ignored the lawful meaning of Public Officer when they proceeded to try a then Minister under an offence which cannot be established in law.
Lawyers for the duo told the court, “The prosecution’s case points to no acting in concert of two parties to steal monies issued to the Ministry. It is trite law therefore that where two persons are jointly charged where the case fails against one, the other must be acquitted of same offence.”
Stressing that it is the prosecution that has to prove that the defendants indeed stole the monies, the lawyers pointed out that prosecution’s case is based on circumstantial evidence.
“The circumstantial evidence in this case does not point to one conclusion. It is again the respectful view of the defense that when a court deals with circumstantial evidence where the defence leads to more than one conclusion that can reasonably be drawn; the court cannot convict on the circumstantial evidence.”
To convict Dr. Westford and Ms. Cummings for the offence they are charged, the lawyers reminded the court that the following questions must be answered: Who took the money; was the money stolen; was the money stolen by the defendant or by someone else; was there evidence that the money was stolen by the defendants jointly.
Emphasizing that the evidence against Cummings is woefully lacking, the lawyer said that it is clear that the transaction involving Cummings were legitimate transaction and that all legitimate procedure for issuing monies from the then Office of the President were followed.
“In this case witnesses are all saying “I am unaware” and “I was not a part” but I am not saying conclusively activities were not conducted. Therefore the courts are left to consider that there was a likelihood that the activities were conducted and witnesses did not participate.
Their non-participation does not lend to a conclusion that crime was not committed it is the respectful view of the defense that the case against the defendants ought to be dismissed for insufficient evidence,” the lawyers for Dr. Westford and Ms. Cummings concluded.
Dr Westford and Ms. Cummings are to return to court on August 9, next, when the prosecution will reply to the defence submissions.
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