Lawyers for former Minister of Finance Dr. Ashni Singh and former head of the National Industrial and Commercial Investment Limited (NICIL), Winston Brassington, are expected to make further oral arguments in the High Court action which seeks to challenge the legality of ‘misconduct in public office’ charges filed against the duo.
The arguments are to be made on September 28, when the hearing continues at the High Court in Georgetown.
The arguments were supposed to be presented to the court on Tuesday by Attorney-at-Law Anil Nandlall who is among the battery of lawyers representing the duo. However, Nandlall was unavailable, and the matter was put off to the aforementioned date by Chief Justice (ag) Roxanne George before whom the challenge is being heard.
In May, the Special Organized Crime Unit (SOCU), an arm of the Guyana Police Force, filed charges for ‘Misconduct in Public Office’, against the two former high ranking government officials over the sale of three tracts of lands on the East Coast of Demerara without or without due regard for valuation.
A month later, a similar charge was filed against the men. Together, they are facing four joint charges.
According to the first charge, Dr. Ashni Singh in his then capacity of Minister of Finance and Chairman of NICIL—is accused of selling on May 14, 2011 at Lot 126 Barrack Street, Kingston, Georgetown—a tract of land being 10.002 acres of Plantation Turkeyen, East Coast of Demerara, property of the State of Guyana for the sum of $185,037,000, without first having procured a valuation of the said property from a competent valuation officer.
It is further alleged that Dr. Ashni Singh and Brassington on December 30, 2008 at Lot 126 Barrack Street, Kingston, Georgetown, by way of Agreement of Sale and Purchase without due diligence, sold to Scady Business Corporation, a 4.7 acres tract portion of Plantation Liliendaal, East Coast Demerara, for $150M, knowing that the said property was valued at $340M by Rodrigues Architects Associate, a competent valuation officer.
A similar charge alleged that the two on December 28, 2009 at 126 Barrack Street, Kingston, Georgetown, by way of Agreement of Sale and Purchase, acted recklessly when they sold to National Hardware Guyana Limited a tract of land at Plantation Liliendaal, Pattensen and Turkeyen, situated on the East Coast of Demerara, being 103 acres, being property of the State of Guyana for the sum of $598,659,398 (VAT exclusive) without first having procured a valuation of the said property from a competent valuation officer.
The last charge against the duo states that, “Dr. Ashni Singh, being and performing duties of Minister of Finance, and Chairman of the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited, a company owned by the Government of Guyana; and Brassington, being and performing duties as the Chief Executive of NICIL, a company owned by the Government of Guyana, between October 26, 2010 and December 20, 2010 at Lot 126 Barrack Street, Kingston, Georgetown, by way of Agreement of Sale and Purchase, acted recklessly when they sold to Queens Atlantic Investment Inc, Sanata Textiles Complex, with building and erections thereon, that is to say, Parcel 4702, Part of Plantation Ruimveldt, situated on the East Bank Demerara, being 18.871 acres, being $697,864,800.00 plus VAT, knowing that the said property was valued at the sum of $1,042,403,500.00, and was therefore being sold at a price that was grossly undervalued, thereby creating a breach of their duties”.
In relation to the first three charges, the men have been each released on $6M bond. Dr. Singh and Brassington are still to answer to the last charge.
Following the charges being laid, lawyers for Singh and Brassington moved to the High Court contesting that the charges were unconstitutional. Chief Justice Roxanne George and Justice Franklin Holder have granted interim stays on the magistrates’ courts proceedings pending the hearing and determination of the application to throw out the charges.
During a court hearing in July, the Chief Justice consolidated the four charges into one substantive challenge since they are all of a similar nature.
Among other arguments, the lawyers are contending that to charge the men for the offence of ‘Misconduct in Public Office’ contrary to common law is an abuse of process, malicious, biased, capricious, arbitrary, and without proper evidential basis. Further, the lawyers are arguing that the charges are made in bad faith, unreasonable, discriminatory, unlawful, and influenced by irrelevant and improper considerations and motives, null, void, and of no effect.
However, Solicitor General Kim Kyte-Thomas maintained that the application to have the charges quashed has no realistic prospect of success, and that the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Shalimar Ali-Hack was within her power to institute the charges against Dr. Singh and Brassington.
The Solicitor General is contending that lawyers for the defendants cannot establish any malfeasance, or that the DPP acted in bad faith or any exceptional circumstances or that the charges are bad in law.
According to the Solicitor General, “The charge (Misconduct in Public Office) is a very good charge. It is a common law charge. It is provided for under the laws of Guyana.”
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