The failure of Special Prosecutor, Lawrence Harris, to turn up at court yesterday has caused Guyana the loss of yet another corruption case. On this occasion Magistrate Leron Daly threw out four charges against the six former high-ranking officials of the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB).
These officials were slapped with fraud-related charges and placed on $500,000 bail each for failing to make a proper entry into a register of a company with the intent to defraud $362M from the entity’s Republic Bank account.
The six officials charged are former GRDB General Manager, Jagnarine Singh; former Deputy General Manager, Madanlall Ramraj; General Secretary of the Rice Producers Association (RPA), Dharamkumar Seeraj; former Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Amerindian Affairs, Nigel Dharamlall; former General Manager of the Guyana Oil Company, Badrie Persaud, and the Deputy Permanent Secretary (Finance), Ministry of Agriculture with , Prema Roopnarine.
Attorneys Glenn Hanoman, Anil Nandlall and Sase Gunraj represented the defendants. They all walked out of the Georgetown Magistrates’ Court with big smiles plastered on their faces after hugging and shaking each other’s hands triumphantly.
The charges alleged that between January 1 and December 31, 2012, with intent to defraud, they omitted or concurred to be omitted $77.3M from the general ledger of the GRDB’s Republic Bank account.
Similarly, between January 1 and December 31 of the years 2013, 2014 and 2015 with intent to defraud the entity, they omitted or concurred to be omitted from the said Republic Bank account, $9.7M, $130M and $145M for the three respective years. They all had pleaded not guilty to the charges.
In August 2019, following the dismissal of the first charge against the officials, the defence counsel had asked for the other charges to also be dismissed.
The charge had alleged that in 2011 at 166 -177 Cowan Street, Kingston, Georgetown, they omitted to enter some $52M in the GRDB ledger.
Special Prosecutor Harris, who is working for the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU), was given time to be briefed by SOCU and report to the court whether they are proceeding with the charges or withdrawing them against the defendants.
The Special Prosecutor failed to return to the court and an order was made by the magistrate for a court notice to be sent to him.
On October 2, last, which was the adjournment date after the court notice, the prosecutor did show up, however, his report remained the same – that he had to be briefed by SOCU.
Another adjournment was given and again the prosecutor did not show up. According to information, the prosecutor did not show up on three different occasions and the defence counsel kept fighting for a dismissal of the charges.
Magistrate Daly upheld their fight yesterday and dismissed the charges against the officials.
GRDB is the authority charged with overseeing the rice industry throughout the country. Upon entering Government in May 2015, the David Granger-led administration immediately ordered a number of forensic audits to determine the health of the state agencies.
With regards to the GRDB report, it was noted that over a three to four-year period, more than US$500M from the PetroCaribe proceeds (Venezuela rice-for-oil deal) would have passed through the accounts of the entity.
Among some of the “anomalies” found were loans without proper paperwork or promissory notes. There were other instances of persons in the agency using GRDB’s money to trade in foreign currency.
The losses for the Government would have been significant, especially if the money was traded for less than it should have been.
The Auditor General and the forensic audit reports have all pointed to severe deficiencies in the manner the monies of the state have been handled by the entities.
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